Where the Open Exchange of Ideas is Most Protected and Valued


“[A] commonly held, and wrong, belief is that colleges and universities suppress speech as a matter of course. In fact, the higher education sector is where the open exchange of ideas is more protected and valued than most other sectors in society.”

That’s Sigal Ben-Porath, a philosopher at University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, in an interview at 3:AM Magazine chock full of wisdom about many of the current debates about speech, politics, and inclusion in colleges and universities.

Professor Ben-Porath’s views on these matters is shaped by the historical and philosophical big picture, as well as her empirically-informed work on and experience with campus issues (see her Free Speech on Campus). The perspective is clarifying and informative.

Below are some excerpts from the interview, beginning with some general remarks about what universities are about:

Questions about viewpoint diversity, the boundaries of acceptable speech on campus, the need to encourage or discourage certain forms and types of expression on campus out of concern to maintaining an atmosphere of open minded inquiry, all these are the lifeblood of campus. It is what we do every day when we do our work well, and what we aim to teach our students to do. This does not mean that universities and colleges are perfect; we do fail when we create conditions that chill speech, when we discourage the expression of dissenting views, when we fall into patterns of dogmatic thinking. But to present higher education as a context where young people are being indoctrinated into certain political views, and where free speech is under attack, is to misunderstand research and teaching or to ignore the realities of campus life.

Interviewer Richard Marshall asks about some “common myths” regarding these issues. Professor Ben-Porath replies:

There are over 4000 colleges and universities in the United States, some of which are actively dealing with speech tensions, and there are many institutions of higher education globally which are dealing with similar tensions. The issue is commonly portrayed in the public debate as a matter of tension between a commitment to open expression on the one hand, and a commitment to inclusion on the other. This is a false dichotomy and a misguided representation of the two values—inclusion and freedom (especially freedom of expression)—as mutually exclusive. In fact, college campuses have many ways to address both commitments at once, by ensuring a robust and open inquiry. In the vast majority of cases, an inclusive climate is one in which more people and more views are protected and expressed. Focusing on marginal (though important) cases in which speech, especially bigoted, biased, and controversial speech, is exclusionary and undermines the equal standing of diverse members of the campus community is sometimes important, but it also distracts from the fact that for the most part the two values go hand in hand especially in the higher education context.

Another commonly held, and wrong, belief is that colleges and universities suppress speech as a matter of course. In fact, the higher education sector is where the open exchange of ideas is more protected and valued than most other sectors in society. Businesses regularly limit speech by their employees, as Elizabeth Anderson discusses in her recent book Private Government; schools are increasingly permitted to limit student and teacher speech, as Catherine Ross shows in Lesson in Censorship; social media platforms are run by private entities whose commitment to neutral protection of speech is questionable. Universities, while flawed, stand out as institutions where free speech is upheld. That does not mean we have nothing to improve—sometimes concern about hurt feelings can become exaggerated and chill speech; in some places viewpoint diversity should be more of an active concern than it is; and in many contexts some students are effectively silenced because their identities or ideologies are not equally valued. Free speech is regularly negotiated as part of our mission to expand and disseminate knowledge, and that is a constructive aspect of our work.

What’s going wrong in current debates is not an over-valuing of free speech, but an ideological co-opting of its banner:

While free speech has been politicized and even weaponized in recent years, I do not think that the correct response would be to downgrade it as a central concern for democracies generally and specifically for institutions of higher learning… Without wide protection for speech we lose part of the bedrock of our democratic values, in that we fail to protect the ability of individuals not only to think for themselves but also their ability to communicate their thoughts to others.

If we fail to protect speech in colleges and universities, and abandon the distinct ways in which it deserves and requires protection in the context of the pursuit of knowledge and its dissemination, we lose our ability to push the boundaries of what we know both as individuals and as a collective (meaning, the knowledge held by a discipline, or by society). Institutions of higher education are built on the assumption that knowledge is evolving and progressing, and if we suppress speech we are sure to lose a key way in which our understanding of the world continues to grow. Downgrading speech as a key dimension of this work, and permitting its suppression, would mean halting the effort to expand and refine our shared knowledge, as well as limiting our ability to communicate and relate the knowledge we have to our students and peers. Hence I do not see freedom of expression as overly valued in the current debate; I do see it as sometimes improperly framed or wielded to advance ideological goals. To correct for that we—those who care about democracy and about research, teaching and learning—must not cede it to ideologues but rather hold on to its role as a cornerstone of both democracy and scholarly work.

Professor Ben-Porath emphasizes that we should not think that free speech and inclusion are necessarily in conflict:

I see freedom and inclusion as generally aligned and complimentary, and I suggest that tensions between them exist not at the core but only in the margins of their application. I reject this tension as inherent to the relations between these two important values, and I also reject it as it applies to the functioning of a university. If freedom as a general democratic value, understood negatively as lack of undue governmental restraints or positively as ensuring the substantive opportunity to act by one’s will, is respected and implemented, it ought to apply to all members of the democratic community. In applying freedom properly, we also recognize and implement a vision of inclusion, understood as creating access to all for participation as equal contributing members and to benefiting from all that the relevant community has to offer. I don’t think this is a particularly controversial vision of either freedom or inclusion…

While freedom, especially freedom of speech, is key to our mission, we cannot fulfil our mission if we fail to ensure that all of our members can openly speak and be heard—in other words, without true inclusion our mission to protect free expression as a way to maintain an atmosphere of free inquiry and leaning cannot be realized. For example, if members of racial minorities are consistently devalued and questioned, if women are consistently intimidated or ridiculed when they participate etc., than we do not in fact uphold and maintain an atmosphere of free inquiry, because we effectively silence or fail to hear what many in our community are contributing to the discussion. This does not mean that bigoted or biased speech must be censored to protect an inclusive climate, but it does mean that such speech—which is marginal to the overall endeavor—should be considered in light of its disproportionate impact on some members of our community. The university community, or some of its members (for example, student clubs, department, or the administration) can decide to take steps in response to exclusionary speech, for example by elevating the voices of those who are silenced by exclusionary speech, by emphasizing and enacting the inclusive aims of the campus, or by ensuring that there are groups, practices, and conditions that allow for all to participate and be heard.

I encourage you to read the whole thing.

Mohammad Ehsai, untitled

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Caligula's Goat
Caligula's Goat
3 years ago

Thanks for the report and link.

I pre-emptively hope that this thread doesn’t bog down into personal anecdotes that are taken to contradict Professor Ben-Porath’s empirical data / research. The point made in the final paragraph in particular is spot on and too often neglected in these discussions. Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
3 years ago

As is the norm with the establishment, you need a translation manual to interpret what’s really being said. I won’t attempt to translate the entire post, but I’ll get people started by doing the first paragraph.

“open minded inquiry” = enquiry that is aligned with the establishment left

“teach’ = brainwash

“conditions that chill speech” = allowing a dissident non-liberal opinion to be heard

“dissenting views” = must be read as restricted to acceptable liberal dissent

“free speech” = our speech

“indoctrinated” = taught false views, where liberal views are obviously true

Translating the first paragraph, we get this.

Questions about viewpoint diversity, the boundaries of acceptable speech on campus, the need to encourage or discourage certain forms and types of expression on campus out of concern to maintaining an atmosphere of inquiry aligned with the establishment left, all these are the lifeblood of campus. It is what we do every day when we do our work well, and what we aim to brainwash our students to do. This does not mean that universities and colleges are perfect; we do fail when we create conditions that allow non-liberal dissent to be heard, when we discourage the expression of acceptable liberal dissent, when we fall into patterns of dogmatic thinking. But to present higher education as a context where young people are being taught certain false political views, and where our speech is under attack, is to misunderstand research and teaching or to ignore the realities of campus life.

I think that pretty much does it. Thanks for playing.

Report

Chris Sistare
Chris Sistare
Reply to  Postdoc
3 years ago

I’m sorry you thought this was about some kind of game/play. You say you will not attempt to ‘translate’ the OP; I wonder if you read it. This is a very serious issue, and always has been. When I was a youngling in college, ‘the women’s movement’ was considered either a joke or some kind of threat by most of my profs and many other students. I do not know whether it is worse to be dismissed as an idiot or as a bigot, but the struggle to honestly provide room for *real discourse* seems to be an unending one.Report

Invisiblessed
Invisiblessed
Reply to  Postdoc
3 years ago

What a fair and charitable reading of Professor Ben-Porath’s views. A very thoughtful analysis. Oh wait, it’s not thoughtful at all. But maybe there is something I’m not getting. Let me try playing this game. As is the norm with any comment, you need a translation manual to interpret what’s really being said. I won’t attempt to translate the entire comment, but I’ll get people started by doing the first part:

“As is the norm with the establishment, you need a translation manual to interpret what’s really being said. I won’t attempt to translate the entire post, but I’ll get people started by doing the first paragraph.”= My name is Postdoc, and I was dropped on my head as a kid about 8 times too many. I have no self-awareness, and I’m trash. Liberals scare me, but not as much as members of marginalized groups.

I think that pretty much does it. Hey, this game is sorta fun!Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
Reply to  Invisiblessed
3 years ago

Haha! Loved it. I actually starting laughing out loud. Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Postdoc
3 years ago

At this point, I sort of wish you were right about the ‘liberal’ conspiracy on college campuses everywhere. I mean, might as well do the crime if you’re gonna get the rap for it anyway, right?Report

MotusAnimi
MotusAnimi
3 years ago

The problem with censorship isn’t college campuses/administrators. It’s the students themselves creating a system of norms that involve both censorship of others and create an atmosphere of self-censorship. The quote this opens with suggests that the concern is with “colleges” but this is too vague to know exactly what is meant.Report

Chris Sistare
Chris Sistare
Reply to  MotusAnimi
3 years ago

I think there is much truth to this. If we add in student teaching evaluations, secret videoing, and bad word of mouth, I find it surprising that any professor is willing to ‘teach’ any controversial mater at all.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Chris Sistare
3 years ago

Not to mention the madness of “concealed carry” which state legislators are trying to bring to my school.Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

On the flip side, if you started packing I bet your students would be more polite! Personally, I’d try to install an AA gun in my podium. Better safe than sorry.Report

Joe
Joe
3 years ago

While this is a thoughtful and interesting interview, it may have a flaw that many such discussions have, that is, of pragmatically signalling that some people *deserve* to have their voices protected more than others do. After all, who could disagree with a principle that says: “Permit speech, but be mindful of the way that some speech silences the voices of others?” It’s a perfectly reasonable principle, and I applaud Ben-Porath for advocating it. But literally every single example of hers is of a silenced or negatively affected minority/woman/POC/etc. Women come up three times, “marginalized groups” once, “racial minorities” twice… and no-one else is even mentioned.

So the articulated principles make sense, but people often ignore the fact that their *application* can be blatantly politicized, such that only some voices actually end up getting protected. And when people focus solely on one type of potentially affected group, they encourage this very misapplication. The closest Ben-Porath comes to advocating for balance on this issue is when she admits that: “in some places viewpoint diversity should be more of an active concern than it is; and in many contexts some students are effectively silenced because their identities or ideologies are not equally valued.” That’s right, but is it so hard for we progressives to simply name the real phenomenon here? Most professors and PhDs are left-wing, this results in the silencing of some right-wing persons and perspectives on many campuses. There, I said it. If we don’t actually say it, we cultivate an atmosphere in which perfectly reasonable principles aren’t applied consistently, in which we, rather ironically, are the ones that end up weaponizing the right to free speech.Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Joe
3 years ago

“But literally every single example of hers is of a silenced or negatively affected minority/woman/POC/etc. Women come up three times, “marginalized groups” once, “racial minorities” twice… and no-one else is even mentioned.”

I didn’t realise that racial minorities and women formed a singular, unified “type of potentially affected group.” Unless you mean to suggest something like a not-white-not-male catchall, which would be, well, typical..Report

Joe
Joe
Reply to  JT
3 years ago

Uh, wait… isn’t that exactly what we’re supposed to think? There is a property that some people have: “being a member of a historically silenced and oppressed group.” In the context of the contemporary West that spits out a certain cluster of people, which we can easily refer to as a “type”, not because we think they are all the same in all respects, but because they share a property? Isn’t that virtually a consensus commitment of virtually everyone on the left these days? You’re… a left-leaning person… snarking at me for mentioning a core commitment of… the left?Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Joe
3 years ago

Actually, while there is much less agreement on the ‘left’ than you suggest (recall the Stocker-Bettcher debate), on point there is a fair amount of agreement on is that different groups face different forms of oppression with different cultural and historical sources.Report

Jt
Jt
Reply to  JT
3 years ago

Oops. I caught the auto correct messing up Bettcher’s name, but missed that it changed Stock’s into Stocker-Bettcher somehow. My apologies.Report

Joe
Joe
Reply to  JT
3 years ago

Claim 1: “There is a collection of groups that have been historically silenced and oppressed.”
Claim 2: “Different groups are silenced and oppressed in different ways, via different sources, etc.”

If you would like to continue this discussion, please tell me how what I said (Claim 1) is in tension with what you just said (Claim 2). Otherwise I will have to draw the conclusion that almost everyone reading your first comment will already have drawn, namely, that you’re trying to find reasons to argue back at me because I am even remotely concerned about the plight of silenced conservatives. Report

Ray
Ray
Reply to  Joe
3 years ago

I think it’s a bit more complicated than that, Joe. You appear to be attributing an essentialist/universalistic view to the left. That is, you appear to think the left believes there is some property that all people in marginal groups have in common, and it is in virtue of sharing that property that people can be said to be members of that group. But, as far as I can tell, even a passing glance at the literature on philosophy of race, gender, or disability critiques, if not outright rejects, this philosophical framework. In fact, they often cite this sort of thinking as deeply problematic, and, in part, one source of discrimination that some people experience. For example, historically, black people were thought to share some common property in common that, in turn, implied they were inferior to white people. Quite a few people on the left, from what I understand, not only reject the fine-grained details of these sorts of views, but also the very methodology of classifying people as a unified group, with different essences and the such. All that to say, it seems to me that your belief about the left believing members of a marginalized group share essences seems a bit off. It certainly isn’t the case that this sort of essentialism is a consensus on the left, and I’m not entirely convinced that most people on the left believe people of different racial backgrounds, disabilities, or genders can be “easily referred” to as a “type.” Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
3 years ago

Here’s a much simpler argument for free speech on college campuses: self-preservation. If liberals try to disenfranchise conservatives they can expect the humanities departments in all of the red states to be gutted. (To think that blue states will remain unaffected by this is naive.) You have to be absolutely daft to think that taxpayers and parents are going to be willing to pay you to insult them and then silence the people who have the audacity to defend the idea that they aren’t complete scum. Report

JT
JT
Reply to  YAAGS
3 years ago

How is being paid (ha!) to “insult them and then silence the people who have the audacity…” equivalent to disenfranchising ‘conservatives’? Is that ‘disenfranchise’ in the same sense in which GOP ‘conservatives’ have tried to prevent black people from voting through thinly veiled voter ID laws putatively aimed at nearly nonexistent voter fraud? Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
Reply to  JT
3 years ago

No, the disenfranchisement comes from refusing to hire conservatives or given them a platform to speak. This is a form of disenfranchisement if anything is, though perhaps you think it is morally justified because conservatives try to politically disenfranchise the poor and minorities. Unfortunately, this does not change the fact that they can still vote to defund humanities departments in their states. The left keeps acting as if it has some sort of absolute power to shake conservatives and then they are SHOCKED when they fight back. It’s almost as if they make up an equal share of the country. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
Reply to  YAAGS
3 years ago

*give *shameReport

JT
JT
Reply to  YAAGS
3 years ago

“No, the disenfranchisement comes from refusing to hire conservatives or given them a platform to speak.”

And yet, they seem to find ways to speak and get paid for it all the same. Even Ann Coulter (still!). Also, if the idea is that we should hire academics of their ilk just beause they hold the purse-strings and reins of power and are threatening to gut our departments if we don’t, then I’d argue that we ought not negotiate with terrorists.Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
Reply to  JT
3 years ago

If you see conservatives as morally equivalent to people that behead journalists and intentionally blow up hospitals then you should be killing them in the street whenever you see them. Of course, you don’t actually believe that. But whatever. Have fun being homeless, I guess. Report

Alex
Alex
Reply to  YAAGS
3 years ago

I’m a big fan of free speech, but pretending that conservative legislators’ opposition to humanities departments (and higher education generally) has much to do with the suppression of conservative speech on campuses is either disingenuous or naive.Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
Reply to  Alex
3 years ago

The point was that it can be used as an excuse to gut them, not that it was the motivator. If the academy was less radically liberal they wouldn’t have the support to do it, even if they know it would help fill the purse of their corporate overlords. They are still beholden to their voters, which is why they didn’t repeal the ACA even after all of their bluster.Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
3 years ago

Inclusion is exclusion
Free speech is censorship
open inquiry is dogmatism

Having thought about this post more, I think it’s important for me to translate another gem.

“The issue is commonly portrayed in the public debate as a matter of tension between a commitment to open expression on the one hand, and a commitment to inclusion on the other. This is a false dichotomy and a misguided representation of the two values—inclusion and freedom (especially freedom of expression)—as mutually exclusive. In fact, college campuses have many ways to address both commitments at once, by ensuring a robust and open inquiry. In the vast majority of cases, an inclusive climate is one in which more people and more views are protected and expressed. Focusing on marginal (though important) cases in which speech, especially bigoted, biased, and controversial speech, is exclusionary and undermines the equal standing of diverse members of the campus community is sometimes important, but it also distracts from the fact that for the most part the two values go hand in hand especially in the higher education context.”

‘inclusion’ = a rich liberal atmosphere where liberal ideas are promoted and non-liberal ideas demonized. That this is the correct translation is provided by this sentence later on: ‘an inclusive climate is one in which more people and more views are protected and expressed.’ The key words are ‘more views are protected.’ Non-liberals do not believe in inclusion in the way that liberals do. For a non-liberal, an inclusive climate is one where everyone respects that everyone else has a right to disagree with them no matter how it might make them feel. The non-liberal definition of free speech has nothing to do with protecting people’s views but with protecting the right that people have to express their views. An important difference. An Orwellian equivalence statement can thus be created: inclusion (in the traditional non-liberal sense) = exclusion (in the liberal sense).

‘freedom’ = our freedom, our speech, our rights, and censoring the opposition

‘Exclusionary speech’ = speech that’s controversial to liberals. The translation clue is given by these words: ‘Focusing on marginal (though important) cases in which speech, especially bigoted, biased, and controversial speech, is exclusionary and undermines the equal standing of diverse members of the campus community is sometimes important.’ You can see that ‘controversial speech’ is taken to more or less equate with exclusionary speech. Moreover, ‘undermining equal standing’ is a unique liberal notion, the rough non-liberal translation being ‘questioning the values, beliefs, or life styles of liberal protected groups.’

‘robust and open inquiry’ = dogmatic inquiry aligned with the establishment left

Okay, we can now rewrite the initial sentences so as to understand their true meaning.

“The issue is commonly portrayed in the public debate as a matter of tension between a commitment to dogmatism on the one hand, and a commitment to a rich liberal atmosphere on the other. This is a false dichotomy and a misguided representation of the two values—a rich liberal atmosphere and our (liberals only) freedom of expression—as mutually exclusive. In fact, college campuses have many ways to address both commitments at once, by ensuring an enquiry aligned with the liberal left. In the vast majority of cases, a rich liberal atmosphere is one in which more people and more views are protected and expressed. Focusing on marginal (though important) cases of speech which are controversial to liberals is sometimes important, but it also distracts from the fact that for the most part the two values go hand in hand especially in the higher education context.”

Thus translated the text is true and the author speaks truly, but we should reject the false equivalences it relies on:

Inclusion is exclusion
(The traditional idea of inclusion is in fact exclusionary.)

Free speech is censorship
(Free expression is the expression of liberally aligned ideas and the censoring of all others.)

Open inquiry is dogmatism
(A robust and open inquiry is liberal left inquiry only.)

Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Postdoc
3 years ago

“For a non-liberal, an inclusive climate is one where everyone respects that everyone else has a right to disagree with them no matter how it might make them feel.”

So I take it that you are committed to respecting the right of me and all my friends on the ‘establishment left’ to disagree and refuse to associate with you (even if, according to you, we are committed to exactly the opposite, or whatever)? Or would that exclusionary silencing on your view? Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
Reply to  JT
3 years ago

We are committed to opposite things and that makes it difficult to communicate, because our words generally don’t mean the same thing. For me as a non-liberal, freedom of association means the freedom to associate with whomever wants to associate with me. That’s part of inclusion in the non-liberal sense. For a liberal, it would be exclusionary to allow a hole host of associations. Only liberally aligned associations can be allowed. Thus, inclusion is exclusion. As I have ‘controversial’ ideas that might ‘undermine the equal standing of diverse members of the campus community’, for you it is inclusionary to exclude me from working at a university entirely. However, from my perspective, and from the perspective of non-liberals throughout the entire world, your inclusion is really exclusionary. And when you really push liberals on this they agree. They want to exclude anyone who is a challenge to their principles and beliefs from working at a university. Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Postdoc
3 years ago

“For me as a non-liberal, freedom of association means the freedom to associate with whomever wants to associate with me.”

Right, so by your lights, it wouldn’t be exclusionary for me and all my friends to want nothing to do with you. What’s confusing me, though, is that you also seem to suggest that it would be exclusionary for us to do so insofar as this would make it hard for you to continue “working at a university entirely” given that we are, apparently, legion.Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
Reply to  JT
3 years ago

Yes, it’s consistent with inclusion, as the non-liberal understands the term, for us to allow people to have associations with whomever wants to associate with them. This is the traditional idea of freedom of association. The idea of inclusion for the non-liberal isn’t one where certain views are protected, certain associations denied and others protected, etc. It is the idea that we all respect that each and every one of us can believe, say, think, and associate with whomever we want. Inclusion doesn’t mean forced associations, it means free associations, but ‘free’ also means something different to the non-liberal.

If there wasn’t in force a huge emphasis on exclusion (for you read, ‘inclusion’) there would be people at the university who wanted to associate with me. However, as anyone who disagrees with liberal ideas is demonized, it is hard for me to find associations. For the liberal it is necessary to protect certain associations, theirs, and ban other associations, not theirs. Doing this is how the liberal assures an exclusive campus (for you read, ‘inclusive.’)Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Postdoc
3 years ago

“If there wasn’t in force a huge emphasis on exclusion (for you read, ‘inclusion’) there would be people at the university who wanted to associate with me.If there wasn’t in force a huge emphasis on exclusion (for you read, ‘inclusion’) there would be people at the university who wanted to associate with me.”

Oh, I see. Your claim is that because me and all my friends disagree and want nothing to do with you and openly declare as much (I take it that this is what you mean by ‘demonize’), no one else in the university wants to associate with you, presumably because we are the ‘establishment’ and so get to set the agenda. You seem to suggest that this is tantamount to a ban on the sorts of associations you’d like to form because if it weren’t for us in the ‘establishment’, there’d be people that’d want to associate with you. Perhaps. But unless you also think that the only reason they’re avoiding you is because they’ve been intimidated or coerced into compliance, it is hard to see why this is a ban on your view and not just the free exercise of our respective rights to speech and association.

Also, let’s stop pretending that you’re ‘interpretive manual’ is getting anywhere close to mine or anyone else’s view, OK?Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
Reply to  Postdoc
3 years ago

“But unless you also think that the only reason they’re avoiding you is because they’ve been intimidated or coerced into compliance, it is hard to see why this is a ban on your view and not just the free exercise of our respective rights to speech and association.”

When a mass of people band together and demonize another group then they’re not simply associating with whom they want to associate but are actively trying to stop the targeted group from having associations. At least half of the United States does not identify as liberal (Trump was elected president not long ago, remember?), but yet the majority of universities are majority liberal. How did this happen? The answer is that for decades liberals have practiced exclusivity (again for you read ‘inclusivity’). In fact, liberals make being liberal part of the job description, so that it’s in fact impossible to be an academic without being a liberal. Non-liberal academics are threatened and silenced. One way this is done is by banning normal English words and idioms, and using these words as shibboleths to differentiate the in and out groups. As non-liberals do not believe in changing the language in these ways they can’t speak. Liberals believe in exclusivity (for you read ‘inclusivity’) and only their right to speak (for you read simply ‘free speech,’ while non-liberals believe in inclusivity (for you read ‘exclusivity’) and everyone’s right to speak (for you read ‘bigoted, biased, and controversial speech’).

“Also, let’s stop pretending that you’re ‘interpretive manual’ is getting anywhere close to mine or anyone else’s view, OK?”

Liberals should stop pretending that they care about the same things as non-liberals or mean the same things by their words. I understand that forming the false equivalences I point out is part of the propaganda mechanism used by the left, but non-liberals have caught on.

Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Postdoc
3 years ago

1. “When a mass of people band together and demonize another group then they’re not simply associating with whom they want to associate but are actively trying to stop the targeted group from having associations.”

Again, if there is no actual conspiracy or use of force, I don’t see how this is demonization. I mean, if no one hires the bagpipe-nu-metal wedding band because no one likes how they sound, that doesn’t mean that bagpipe-nu-metal is being demonized–that just means no one likes that sort of noise at their weddings. It’s not as if anyone is actually going out of their way to make sure that you have no friends.

2. “At least half of the United States does not identify as liberal (Trump was elected president not long ago, remember?), but yet the majority of universities are majority liberal. How did this happen? The answer is that for decades liberals have practiced exclusivity (again for you read ‘inclusivity’). In fact, liberals make being liberal part of the job description, so that it’s in fact impossible to be an academic without being a liberal.”

Fyi, Trump had less than half of the popular vote, and doesn’t exactly have a high approval rating now (and is also, you know, a walking moral atrocity). But anyway, the academy has been perceived to be ‘too liberal’ by Republicans on a number of disparate grounds for a while now. Once upon a time, it was feared that we were all Soviet spies. Later on, it was thought that we were blaspheming against God by teaching evolution and wrecking the economy with our worries about climate change. Now, it’s apparently that we’re straight up out for you and your freedoms and your jobs on behalf of the cultural Marxists at the gates in the name of postmodernism, which is apparently just brute anti-science moral relativism. It’s all very ad hoc, isn’t it? It’s almost like the Republicans decided to create a label that can be conveinently attached to whatever happens to be the object of the various anxieties of their base so that it’s clear to everyone who is the enemy. So, perhaps, instead of being because there is some great liberal conspiracy, universities are ‘liberal’ places in which good ‘conservatives’ don’t belong because of how Republicans have defined it as a threat to the worldview of their supporters. I mean, if believing in evolution already made universities ‘too liberal’, I don’t think the answer is to hire more creationists.

3. “One way this is done is by banning normal English words and idioms, and using these words as shibboleths to differentiate the in and out groups.”

What ban? I didn’t realise we on the Left had this kind of power–unless you mean the power to individually not associate with people who say things we don’t like. Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
Reply to  Postdoc
3 years ago

“Fyi, Trump had less than half of the popular vote, and doesn’t exactly have a high approval rating now (and is also, you know, a walking moral atrocity).”

Whatever his approval rating, the point is that he won. Whatever the exact numbers, the point stands that a ton of Americans do not think of themselves as liberal. I don’t think Trump is a walking atrocity. I think he’s better than Obama. This is what many many many Americans think. Liberals cannot respect this though. The middle class white people who were worried about their jobs and their culture are just racist bigot deplorables.

“So, perhaps, instead of being because there is some great liberal conspiracy, universities are ‘liberal’ places in which good ‘conservatives’ don’t belong because of how Republicans have defined it as a threat to the worldview of their supporters. I mean, if believing in evolution already made universities ‘too liberal’, I don’t think the answer is to hire more creationists.”

Conservative and other non-liberal ideas don’t belong on campus right? Because universities are only concerned with robust and open inquiry, and that’s not what non-liberal ideas are about? Only liberal inquiry is real inquiry. Everyone else is just dogmatic or unscientific or stupid and must be banned.

Yes, I know that’s how liberals think. That’s part of my point, hence

Inclusion is exclusion
Free speech is censorship
open inquiry is dogmatism

“But anyway, the academy has been perceived to be ‘too liberal’ by Republicans on a number of disparate grounds for a while now. Once upon a time, it was feared that we were all Soviet spies. Later on, it was thought that we were blaspheming against God by teaching evolution and wrecking the economy with our worries about climate change. Now, it’s apparently that we’re straight up out for you and your freedoms and your jobs on behalf of the cultural Marxists at the gates in the name of postmodernism, which is apparently just brute anti-science moral relativism.”

I’m not a republican and I’m not speaking as a republican. I don’t have to own everything republicans have said about the Academy, nor does anyone who doesn’t approve of modern liberalism.

Marxists would defend the working class. Liberals no longer do. It is true though that liberals don’t actually believe in science. Science isn’t dogmatism, but the liberal has redefined science as dogmatism.

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YAAGS
YAAGS
Reply to  Postdoc
3 years ago

Postdoc, why don’t you just pretend to be liberal? I’m hardly an arch-conservative but even I recognize that there’s a lot of crazy political nonsense in Academia. When your professors spew that nonsense you just nod your head, the same as when they spout some crazy philosophical view. Read some damn Machiavelli.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Postdoc
3 years ago

Just a remark in passing on the ‘half of the country voted for Trump’ issue.

Like many Americans, I found myself dismayed by the last presidential election cycle. In response I found myself reading a bunch of stuff from the founders. In doing so I came across a letter Thomas Jefferson sent to James Madison from Paris in 1787 while the former was the U.S. Minister to France. In it he wrote

“I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries; as long as they are chiefly agricultural; and this will be as long as there shall be vacant lands in any part of America. When they get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, they will become corrupt as in Europe.”

Of course, Jefferson was the plantation-owning former governor of Virginia so one might reasonably disagree with that assessment. Still, we created an Electoral College for the same reason we created a Senate in addition to a House of Representatives–so as to balance the right of individual states to maintain an identity of their own within a nation that allows large centers of population to sway the democratic process one way or the other.

For that reason it is worth considering that while Clinton won the popular vote by a bit under three million, the votes from the Electoral College were far more slanted in the other direction. We might question whether a ‘winner takes all’ allocation of Electors is the best way of doing things, of course. But as anyone who saw a county-level breakdown of the election discovered, Clinton’s votes were centered around urban areas. And the most revealing division separating Clinton and Trump concerning the popular vote was decided by six counties: the five counties that make up New York City and L.A. County. Clinton beats Trump by nearly 4 million to 1 million in those counties, whereas Trump beats Clinton by roughly 60 million to 58 ½ million everywhere else (Laura Ingraham, “HIllary Clinton’s Holdouts on a Collision Course with History, LifeZette, November 27, 2016).

I happen to be living in Europe at the moment, and I think it’s really quite lovely. Haven’t seen much of what I’d consider the ‘corrupt cities’ Jefferson talks about. Nevertheless, when it comes to decrying an election where the winner loses the popular vote it’s worth considering where the popular vote was decided and why the system was set up so that such a result could happen.

Again, that’s not to say the system should be set up this way. But the fact that Clinton won the popular vote doesn’t begin to strike at the issues underlying the results of that election.Report

Lowlygrad
Lowlygrad
Reply to  Postdoc
3 years ago

Preston: ” Nevertheless, when it comes to decrying an election where the winner loses the popular vote it’s worth considering where the popular vote was decided and why the system was set up so that such a result could happen.”

So slavers would be in the union.
http://time.com/4558510/electoral-college-history-slavery/Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Postdoc
3 years ago

‘Such a result’ refers to one where a majority of the population living in urban centers does not dictate what happens to a more diverse community spread across the States, just as we have a Senate and a House. And I think I did due diligence when it comes to flagging interests like Jefferson’s.Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Postdoc
3 years ago

Also, fyi, the ‘translation manual’ bit is really, really pedantic, and needlessly so.Report

Ray
Ray
Reply to  Postdoc
3 years ago

I’m with JT on the “translation manual” bit. Not only is it pedantic, but it’s pretty off from what the person was getting at. Consider, “inclusion is exclusion.” Is that really what they meant? It seems to me that Ben-Porath was a bit more careful than that and was struggling to juggle competing values, as many pluralists do when presented with difficult cases. To reduce what Ben-Porath said to this is hermeneutically repugnant, if not completely fallacious. Report

Bharath Vallabha
3 years ago

This debate is so ridiculous. Both sides seem mired in self deception.

Was academia in America in the 1950s a space for free and open debate, a bastion for the open exchange of ideas? Of course not, because it can’t be a bastion of open exchange when mainly white men are the ones having the exchanges.

Fast forward 60 years. Is academia in America now a space for free and open debate? Just take academic philosophy: how diverse is academic philosophy? Do people working in certain parts of feminism, or African-American philosophy, etc feel that they can pursue any questions and topics they want without worrying about their professional future? Given that philosophy is crucial to critical thinking, does the lack of diversity in philosophy imply something deeper about free thinking in academic more generally?

The conservative is right that academia is failing to live up to its ideals; but wrong if there is any implication, as there in political contexts, that academia got worse in the last 50 years (that is truly absurd). And the liberal is right that academia got better in the last 50 years; but wrong in the implication that academia now is somehow living up to its ideals (which is equally absurd).

There is a natural alliance waiting to form between conservatives and minorities in their critiques of academia. The whole debate will be interestingly reoriented once that happens.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
3 years ago

If – like me – you read the OP and were skeptical, I’d strongly encourage you to to follow Justin’s advice and read the whole thing. It’s really good (which isn’t to say I agree with all of it) and I don’t think Justin’s excerptions do it justice. (That’s not really a criticism: it’s really hard to do these kind of brief excerptions, and different readers have different priorities.)Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
3 years ago

If ‘conservative’ here includes the alt-right, then I don’t see how such an alliance could be possible until they put away their dog whistles and hoods.Report

Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
3 years ago

Bharath Vallabha,
This is wonderfully fair and thoughtful comment. We shouldn’t confuse “We can still do better” with “We haven’t made any progress at all.”
I find your last line particularly interesting. I’m somewhat skeptical that it will happen, but I hope to be proven wrong. I’d like to hear more about how you see this developing and where you think the natural points of alliance between minorities and conservatives are. I do know that as a whole many minorities tend to be more religious than the liberal, educated, upper class white people who disproportionately make up academia. So pushing back on the open disdain many academics have for religion of pretty much any form might to my mind be a natural point of alliance. But don’t let me put words in your mouth!Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Sam Duncan
3 years ago

Yes, the tension between religion and academia is a natural point of alliance, for pretty much the reasons you give.

More broadly, the point of alliance is the mutual affirmation of cultures and traditions as fundamental to one’s identity and even to human rationality; so a mutual rejection of the idea that thinking for oneself implies stepping altogether out of one’s culture and into a universal space of pure reason. Some post-colonial philosophy, feminism, African-American philosophy, etc. involves being critical of the very possibility of such an idea of universal reason; and especially, critical of institutional power structures which use the claim of such reason to minimize and silence perspectives. Conservatives make similar points. If we take post-colonialism and conservatism out of images that are associated to them in the political realm (say, leftist commies and racist fascists), and look at just the philosophical ideas, there is a striking similarity. Not total agreement of course, but similarity.

This similarity is hidden because in the pubic conversation “Is academia open to debate?” functions more as a way to mark tribal associations. As a question, it is so vague as to be unanswerable. It’s like if you go to a family reunion, and the question is, “Is our family open to talking about pain?” The answers wouldn’t track some objective reality, but simply people’s experiences. Those who feel their pain was heard will say “Yes! it is such a reflective family!”, and those who feel they had to hide their pain will say, “No! Grandfather was oppressive and stifled discussion.” Progress in the family function doesn’t come from defending the right answer, but simply by listening to each other better.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
3 years ago

Sorry, the comment above wasn’t intended to be a reply to Bharath Vallabha – I just messed up the interface.Report

skef
skef
3 years ago

“The specific implementation of this view is a matter of some debate, as is the line that differentiates dignitary attacks from intellectual exploration. This is again where identity comes into the picture, as students suffer dignitary harm most often when it comes to how they are treated as members of their identity groups. Dignitary safety means that I should not be expected to conceal aspects of my identity, and I should not be consistently shamed or ridiculed for these attributes without having any recourse.”

Unless it is supposed to serve as a sort of definition of “dignitary safety”, I find the second sentence in this quote very questionable. It also seems to be an idea, along with “free speech”, that has been “politicized and even weaponized”.

In particular, much of the debate over acceptable campus speech, even when in one sense restricted to the areas that Ben-Porath suggests, takes for granted that dignitary safety is a matter of relative identity. This, combined with her point about civility being an imperfect guide, have the result that statements can be arbitrarily uncivil without violating dignitary safety as long as they have the right “direction”.

If I could make a plea, it would be for the integration into this picture of a notion of individual dignitary safety. (Or alternatively of getting rid of the idea entirely, so that an analogous norm could evolve.) Report

Bharath Vallabha
3 years ago

Postdoc, Your comments resonated with me. Sounds like you are a conservative who finds him/herself fighting against blinkered power structures in academia (if not, sorry for assuming). If so, I feel the same way, from a different angle. The translating you did is what I do when I read grand claims in academic philosophy about how philosophy started in ancient greece, or how in academic philosophy one can “question anything”. To me that such self-congratulation seems clearly, in academic philosophy and academia broadly, just a way to reaffirm the status quo.

What do you think is required for academia to be a bastion of open debate? 50/50 conservatives and liberals?

For me, whatever the right answer is about conservatives and liberals, that doesn’t touch the many other ways that academia fails to foster open debate. For example, in overcoming the several centuries of in built privilege of white European culture, when in reality America is much more diverse. What do you make of the need for rectifying this kind of blinkeredness in academia as well?Report

Postdoc
Postdoc
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
3 years ago

“What do you think is required for academia to be a bastion of open debate? 50/50 conservatives and liberals?”

I think we need to give up the false equivalences I mention and return to traditional values. Not all traditional values mind you. I’m not talking about taking the vote away from women, putting homosexuals back in the closet, etc. Liberals have done a lot to advance the culture, and I don’t want to role back all the improvements they’ve given us. However, liberals, at least modern liberals, have abandoned too many good, foundational, traditional values. Both conservatives and liberals have something to offer society. Conservatives understand many things that liberals don’t:

1. You can’t create real inclusion by protecting women and minorities by more or less silencing anyone who might upset them. Inclusion requires everyone to respect everyone else’s right to speak what they think, feel what they feel, love what they love, and so on. Real inclusion means that disagreeing parties civilly respect and discuss each other’s views, even when the groups find the other’s position offensive. Real inclusion takes incredible maturity, and it’s a value we should strive for, not safe places, not shouting down speakers, not whining. Real inclusion believes in the power of good will, of argumentation, and of the human intellect to solve our problems and our differences, and improve the world.

2. Free speech doesn’t mean protecting the views of marginalized groups. Free speech means protecting the right that everyone has to have their opinions be heard. There are two reasons why we have to respect everyone’s right to speak. A. When people stop talking to each other, they start killing each other. When we no longer believe in the power of good will, of argumentation, and of the human intellect, then what’s left is the power of the human fist. B. Humility. Discovery, whether it be moral, metaphysical, or scientific requires discussion and disagreement. If we only let select groups with certain views talk, we become dogmatic. A dogmatic society quickly ceases to improve, and if a society isn’t improving, it’s declining.

3. Open inquiry doesn’t mean laughing at creationists/designers, ostracizing them, and running them out of the Academy. More generally, open inquiry isn’t just working on the acceptable theories. Open inquiry has to be just that ‘OPEN’, meaning that we respect people’s rights to investigate what they think is promising. This doesn’t mean that we can’t have standards for research; it just means that the standards can’t include what you research. Open inquiry requires free speech, and without it we have dogmatism. There is no such thing as dogmatic science. A theory you are not allowed to question without being ostracized isn’t really a scientific theory. Real science is humble, but that’s certainly not how many (evangelical) scientists act today. Science has become a tool of the left to silence opposition. If that continues, science will not.

Anyway, this list is not supposed to be exhaustive. There are other important contributions that conservatives can make. For example, I think conservatives are right about immigration. Flooding a country with tons of foreigners is destabilizing and dangerous. Just because you don’t want to be flooded with foreigners doesn’t mean you’re racist. There are many good reasons to want to have controlled borders. However, I’m going to leave the discussion here, at least for now. Thanks for reading, and I appreciate that we can have a open discussion on Dailynous. Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Postdoc
3 years ago

Thanks for the your response. I find it inspiring and very sensible. I hope for such an open academia. I probably disagree about creationism in academia, but I am not going there now.

What I find really interesting – and I totally agree – is your point that we need a way to hold on to the advances made by liberals while holding on to good, traditional values advocated by conservatives. I bet this is the most productive way forward. Liberals tend to throw the baby out with the bath water, and have an irrational confidence in our ability to ditch thousands of years of cognitive infrastructure and create a just society anew.

An example is hierarchy in academia. There is a reason why schools from their beginnings valued students looking up to their professors. Yes, this “looking up” enabled a lot of sexism, racism, etc. But the solution isn’t to act like professors and students are just friends; what we are seeing is this also enables a lot of sexism. So doing away with hierarchy in social interactions isn’t the solution. It is how professors can lead the students (a novel concept!) such that the looking up can be justified.

Seems to me, conservatives also need to take ownership of how to lead better, and not just push for tradition as a magic solution. Immigration is a great example. America has every right to limit or even end immigration (maybe not best economically, but a country has a right and I respect that). So suppose immigration is completely stopped. Well, there are still people of many different cultures and values in the country (even within whites, some of whom are atheist or buddhist or hindu, and don’t want to be christian). How is all this diversity to be dealt with? Hence my second question to you. What is the conservative response to this, or what should it be? I would love to know what you think.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
3 years ago

Thank you, Postdoc, for keeping at it. And thank you Bharath for so wonderfully embodying an interest in speaking across boundaries. If half the people commenting at Daily Nous adopted that kind of attitude there’d be a lot more mutual understanding around here. I don’t know that we can reasonably hope for agreement about a lot of this stuff, but we sure could do better when it comes to mutual understanding. Thanks again.Report

Erik H
Erik H
3 years ago

I reject this tension as inherent to the relations between these two important values, and I also reject it as it applies to the functioning of a university.

Huh? This “rejection” is sort of like making a claim and ending it by saying “Period!” as if it makes the claim better.

If freedom as a general democratic value, understood negatively as lack of undue governmental restraints or positively as ensuring the substantive opportunity to act by one’s will, is respected and implemented, it ought to apply to all members of the democratic community.

That’s a pretty important “OR” there. You’re talking about two entirely different things.

Negative freedoms (governmental or otherwise) carry no inherent obligations on anyone else. One doesn’t “implement” them, one “protects” them from being violated.

All positive freedoms involve some sort of social debt, which must be paid by someone, somehow. Positive freedoms require active “implementation” because unlike negative freedoms they cannot be self-fulfilling.

It’s hard to cogently make any argument for “freedom”, much less a cogent argument rejecting conflicts, while conflating two entirely different things. Frankly, I’m not convinced the author really understands what freedom of speech is.

In applying freedom properly,

As defined by WHO? Me? The author? Our political enemies? What the heck does “properly” mean?

Negative rights are designed, in part, so that when they are executed by your worst enemy, you can still get by. Positive rights require “implementation”–someone has to give out Party access, after all–and therefore it becomes more and more important for that someone to be someone you like. Bad news, though, when it is your enemy.

we also recognize and implement a vision of inclusion, understood as creating access to all for participation as equal contributing members and to benefiting from all that the relevant community has to offer. I don’t think this is a particularly controversial vision of either freedom or inclusion

Oh, for Pete’s sake. it’s only non-controversial if you surround yourself in an echo chamber. The fact that the author doesn’t even SEE it as controversial is incredibly bizarre.

I can’t even bring myself to go on. This post is ridiculous.

Look, I know philosophers are really smart and all that, but when it comes to things like freedom of speech, do you think you could occasionally consider that a bunch of smart lawyers have been arguing about it for centuries? This isn’t first-principles stuff here. Go read Mark Randazza’s blog, or something.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
3 years ago

Finally got around to reading the interview with Ben-Porath last night. Wallace was right—it really is a much better interview than the selections can indicate. Her discussion of inclusive freedom was thought-provoking, and her stance on the role of the academic as an educator is one that academic ideologues (of all stripes) would do well to consider:

“Intellectual risks and challenges are at the heart of the academic process: students come to college to have their current knowledge, beliefs and perspectives challenged and expanded, and it is the responsibility of faculty and others to raise questions and encourage students to reconsider their well-established practices and positions, and to try on new knowledge and views…. I do not think speech codes or other restrictions on speech are either justified or effective. I also would want to avoid the chilling of speech that an intense focus on hurt feelings and potential claims about bias can bring about. Nonetheless we have to recognize that many students are quite young, and that their experiences before coming to campus, if they came straight from high school, did not necessarily help them develop the necessary tools for dealing well with diversity of views, open conflict among opinions even if simply for its intellectual value, or protections for open expression. The goal in universities and colleges should be to cultivate an awareness of these matters rather than to assume their importance and reprimand those who do not comply.”

She’s also done an admirable job balancing her concerns for social justice with a respect for free speech, on which front I thought this was emblematic:

“Speech is not distinct from action, rather it is a form of action, and one which offers a primary way of exercising freedom of thought…Without wide protection for speech we lose part of the bedrock of our democratic values, in that we fail to protect the ability of individuals not only to think for themselves but also their ability to communicate their thoughts to others.”

Nevertheless, I had reservations about some of it. In the interest of encouraging dialogue over diatribe (which I think she, Bharath, postdoc, and others are doing so well), I’ll try to spell some of those reservations out.

To begin, there’s the increasingly common refrain about the ‘weaponizing’ of free speech, something that echoes a recent article in the New York Times (which Justin decided not to link to) that argues that the First Amendment is being used by conservatives to support a conservative agenda and which details the rising trend on the left to reject free speech because “free speech disproportionately protects the powerful and the status quo” (I’ll include links in a separate post so this doesn’t get hung up in moderation). Larry Sanger, PhD in philosohy (Ohio State) and co-founder of Wikipedia, wrote a rejoinder to that essay at Quillette.

I’m also puzzled by repeated appeals to institutional oversight of speech on college campuses, coupled with the lack of specific prescriptions about what that oversight would involve. When she writes

“The university community, or some of its members (for example, student clubs, departments, or the administration) can decide to take steps in response to exclusionary speech, for example by elevating the voices of those who are silenced by exclusionary speech, by emphasizing and enacting the inclusive aims of the campus, or by ensuring that there are groups, practices, and conditions that allow for all to participate and be heard”

I’d like to know just what she’s calling for. Does shouting down invited speakers, or mounting campaigns to get them disinvited, count as “enacting the inclusive aims of the campus”? Should such behavior be supported by “departments or the administration”? If so, are those who disagree with various of the shibboleths of contemporary identity politics entitled to the same “steps in response to exclusionary speech”?

This last point is connected to a concern about her partial repudiation of norms of civility. She writes of “epistemic injuries” and says “The pain and anger they cause cannot always be expressed in civil ways”. We should be very careful about lowering the bar for what counts as ‘violence’, and to lower that bar while repudiating civility only exacerbates problems of communication across diverse points of view (my favorite instance of this phenomenon occurred in the debacle over Rebecca Tuvel’s article in hypatia, where Nora Berenstain accused Tuvel of “egregious levels of liberal white ignorance and discursive transmisogynistic violence”).

Finally, I think these conversations would benefit from more attention paid to the work being done by the members of the Heterodox Academy. In response to the spate of essays earlier this year that tried to downplay the rise of illiberal tendencies on college campuses and attacks on free speech, Sean Stevens and Jon Haidt published three essays at HxA that documented the growing trend of political intolerance and changing attitudes toward free speech on college campuses.

And it isn’t just a matter of free speech on campus—the ideological distortions going on in some parts of the academy are affecting the quality of the research conducted there, for which see the article in Behavioral and Brain Sciences that Duarte, et al published in September of 2015 (“Political Diversity will Improve Social Psychological Science”). In the course of responding to 33 critiques of the article, the authors note that there was “near-universal agreement” with the following two claims:

1. Social psychology is now politically homogeneous
2. This homogeneity sometimes harms the science

There’s much to agree with in Ben-Porath’s piece, and I’ll end with something she says that should be a point on which all parties can agree:

“Institutions of higher education are built on the assumption that knowledge is evolving and progressing, and if we suppress speech we are sure to lose a key way in which our understanding of the world continues to grow. Downgrading speech as a key dimension of this work, and permitting its suppression, would mean halting the effort to expand and refine our shared knowledge, as well as limiting our ability to communicate and relate the knowledge we have to our students and peers. Hence I do not see freedom of expression as overly valued in the current debate; I do see it as sometimes improperly framed or wielded to advance ideological goals. To correct for that we – those who care about democracy and about research, teaching and learning – must not cede it to ideologues but rather hold on to its role as a cornerstone of both democracy and scholarly work.”
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Erik H
Erik H
3 years ago

As someone who does a lot of work and reading on freedom of speech, I am a bit concerned that the language choice here is very poor in a way non-obvious to others and that the conclusions are likewise suspect.

For example.

The reason that [freedom and inclusion] are understood to be in tension has to do with one feature of free action that individuals might take, which is the act of discriminating against others or acting on bias and prejudices against certain groups. Thus freedom of association would allow me to admit only people of a certain type – for example, people who share my religious views, or people who I find to be funny – into my faith organization or my comedy troupe.

But this is not really true.

The reason freedom and inclusion are in tension is because one is an individual negative right, and one is a group positive right. You and I can both be free at the same time; you and I can even execute conflicting freedoms as we each shout out for our preferred outcome. But I cannot be “included” by you without also coercing or bargaining for you to include me; nor can you be “included” by me without a degree of coercion or bargaining.

It is true that freedom of association–specifically, the freedom to actively exclude someone from your life–is one direct way in which freedom and inclusion come up at odds. But it is by no means the only way and in academe is not even close to the most common way. That is because modern demands for “inclusion” have an alarming tendency to expand beyond any rational sense of the word.

Look at the word as used in a classroom.
Originally, to be “included” meant you could enroll, listen, attempt to participate, and submit for a grade. To be “excluded” meant you couldn’t do those things.

Now, to be “included” often means you can enroll, listen, attempt to participate, and submit for a grade… and also that you “feel respected,” that you do not feel like you are an underrepresented minority; that the teacher does not openly disagree too much (as you define) with your views; that the teacher does not permit too many (as defined by you) other students to disagree with your views; that you “feel welcome;” and so on.

This is where it all goes south: Nobody is really excluding, but the whiners are claiming of lack of inclusion.

By failing to distinguish between group and individual rights, and by failing to continually track positive and negative rights, it seems the author isn’t really doing a great job of explaining freedom here.

This might be judged as unfairly exclusive by others who would like to join too and whom I bar from sharing my sermons or my jokes.

This, perhaps unintentionally, shows a crucial issue. The freedoms she discusses are mostly subjective experiences of exclusion or inclusion, which is why so much of freedom of speech law deals with subjectivity problems. She is clearly smart enough to know that, but she doesn’t do a great job addressing or explaining it here.

While this tension is inherent to the relations of freedom and inclusion, and central to the understanding freedom of association, it is not a central feature of all other liberties, and it is a marginal aspect of freedom of speech.

The problem of subjective-listener-hatred of speech is–almost literally–THE MAIN aspect of freedom of speech. If nobody dislikes it you don’t need freedom of speech in the first place, any more than you require freedom of association if you’re living alone on your own planet.

Expressions of bigoted, biased or otherwise exclusionary speech are protected by the First Amendment in the United States (and partially protected in Canada and most of Europe). But they are not central to the protection of free expression in the same way that exclusion is essential to many forms of associational freedom

Bollocks.

“bigoted, biased” speech is COMPLETELY central, because you are otherwise giving a judge the ability to stop all your speech merely by classifying your speech (and perhaps the subsequent protest of the judgement) as bigoted/biased. Like they do, say, in some other countries.

For example, take these not-uncommon beliefs:

“people who are majoring in elementary education usually aren’t as smart as people majoring in philosophy or physics.”
“Compared to black people, white people are more likely to be racist towards black people”
“men are more likely to be sexual predators than women are”
“on average, black people have lower tested IQs and less education than white people”
“If you want more smart people, you should selectively advertise at Stuyvesant rather than a random NYC public school.”
“most false rape claims are filed by women, and a substantial number of rape accusations are not entirely accurate.”
“it’s perfectly sensible to hire an employee without a disability, than an equivalent employee with a disability; the latter one may cost tens of thousands of dollars in ADA compliance and raise the risk of suit if you fire them for performance reasons.”

Both “bias” and “prejudice” carry (or used to carry,) an express or implied aspect of unfairness or inaccuracy. The above examples are actually perfectly accurate, from a factual perspective. So are many other, more-offensive things. But many of those would be a problem for “bias”, especially if you start saying them in reverse.
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Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Erik H
3 years ago

Concerning your last set of remarks, Lee Jussim (Heterodox Academy member) has done much to show that widely espoused bromides about the inaccuracies of stereotypes are false. Stereotype accuracy offers some of the most robust and replicable results in social psychology, and Jussim is careful to distinguish the descriptive from the prescriptive or normative elements of stereotyping. Unfortunately, as you point out, when the descriptive claims are de jure interpreted with a negative normative valence it becomes impossible to so much as consider the question without facing charges of bigotry, etc.

Here’s the abstract for “The Accuracy of Demographic Stereotypes”, published with Sean T. Stevens and Nathan Honeycutt and available at PsyArXiv:

“This paper reviews evidence on the accuracy of demographic stereotypes. Doing so requires first discussing how to define stereotypes and how to assess their accuracy. Evidence is then reviewed showing that race, gender, and age stereotypes tend to be moderately to highly accurate. Recent work on “implicit bias” also shows that implicit stereotypes primarily reflect social realities rather than prejudices. Evidence on person perception is also reviewed showing that people tend to rely on the most diagnostic information when judging others and, in general, that means relying on individuating information. Nonetheless, relying on a stereotype has generally been found to increase rather than reduce the accuracy of person perception. Because prior theory and research has focused primarily on sources of inaccuracy in stereotypes, it seems to have largely missed the mark. Therefore, we also review research on several processes that might help explain these relatively high levels of stereotype accuracy. Last, limitations to existing research on stereotype accuracy are discussed, as are directions for future research.”

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Erik H
Erik H
Reply to  Preston Stovall
3 years ago

Yes, I have read all of Jussim’s writings on stereotype accuracy. I intended to cite to him and originally typed it in the post but it apparently got deleted in editing 😉Report