Kentucky State’s updated Student Code of Conduct contains an expanded list of “offenses against persons” that — in addition to wholly reasonable bans on physical abuse, harassment, threats, and the like — includes a ban on “embarrassment.”Campaign ads??? If ever there was a time to invoke my dad's question, "why compare yourself with the worst?"
Yes, you read that correctly — at Kentucky State, you can face disciplinary action for embarrassing another person. This directly affects students’ ability to engage in unfettered, free-wheeling debate and argument on important political and social issues. In the heat of a political argument or contest, people often say things to embarrass or discredit those they disagree with.
Need evidence? Just look at some presidential campaign ads.
That provision has all sorts of potential for students to employ against professors and teaching assistants so sure of their moral authority, or so unsure of their own arguments, that all they have by way of rejoinder is hectoring, condescending, deplorable-shaming. That might be great fun for fans of the likes of Phil Donahue or Stephen Colbert or the Crying Jimmies posing as late-night comedians. But it's not terribly edifying. Steven Pinker explains. "[S]cholars can’t hope to understand the world (particularly the social world) if some hypotheses are given a free pass and others are unmentionable. As John Stuart Mill noted, 'He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.'" Furthermore, think of how differently Marquette University's suspension of John "Marquette Warrior" McAdams might have turned out if the student whose complaint about a graduate teaching assistant's engagement with a question about same-sex marriages could have simply said, "Ma'am, you can't suggest I'm homophobic, that's an attempt to embarrass me. Engage the question, or suggest it's outside the scope of the course."
Now, let's apply that line of thinking to the recent adventures of Duke historian Nancy McLean. She's still not able to rebut substantive claims about errors of fact and interpretation in Democracy in Chains. It's easier to go in front of sympathetic audiences and suggest that advocates of libertarian politics more generally aren't right in the head.
According to MacLean, there is a connection between autism and libertarianism, and that connection is not feeling "solidarity or empathy," and having "kind of difficult human relationships sometimes." The implication is that libertarianism is similarly cold and unfeeling, and attracts people who don't care about others.The Unitarian Church of All Souls. Isn't that special. Oh, snap! That's an attempt to embarrass the self-styled progressives gathered in congregation there, isn't it?
This decidedly unempathetic assertion was MacLean's answer to a question from the audience at NYC's Unitarian Church of All Souls: "Where do [Buchanan's] motivations lie? Are they ones of personal greed? It seems like it's a little grander, is it malevolence?"
MacLean's comments were captured on video (skip to the one hour mark). In case there was any doubt about what she meant, another audience member asked whether Buchanan's ideas were spreading "to other universities and so that we've got this constant flow of libertarians, autistic libertarians." MacLean smiles and chuckles before responding.The video is embedded in Reason's story. It's that sort of academic smugness that Mr Pinker has in mind in another of his objections to the identitarian tendency in academic work.
The third problem is that illiberal antics of the hard left are discrediting the rest of academia, including the large swaths of moderates and open-minded scholars who keep their politics out of their research. (Despite the highly publicized follies of academia, it’s still a more disinterested forum than alternatives like the Twittersphere, Congress, or ideologically branded think tanks.) In particular, many right-wingers tell each other that the near-consensus among scientists on human-caused climate change is a conspiracy among politically correct academics who are committed to a government takeover of the economy. This is sheer nonsense, but it can gain traction when the noisiest voices in the academy are the repressive fanatics.The good news is that Duke students are asking for intellectual integrity, even from their academic superstars. (Basketball is another matter, but I digress.)
“Professor MacLean is obviously a brilliant woman,” [Hunter] Michielson said, noting that he did not want to pass judgement on her other works, which he has not read. “I struggle to accept that she actually believes libertarianism or conservatism is the result of autism. The question is then why she would say something like this.”Exactly. Points 1 and 3 are both in play here. Playing at Phil Donahue in front of an audience at a Unitarian church is performance art, not scholarship. That it's an attempt to hector, to deplorable-shame, to embarrass dissenters is an expected part of the act. Perhaps it's intended to make those dissenting views go away.
After reflecting on the incident, Michielson said that he does not entirely blame academics like MacLean when they make offensive comments about those with whom they disagree. “I think it could be emblematic of lack of exposure,” the Duke senior opined, pointing out that “maybe these academics don’t actually encounter conservative views.”
“I think sometimes it can be easier to level ad-hominem than to actually confront their arguments,” he explained. “I think that this is emblematic of a larger phenomenon that happens at campus across the country.”
What about Mr Pinker's second point? "The second is that people who suddenly discover forbidden facts outside the crucible of reasoned debate (which is what universities should be) can take them to dangerous conclusions, such as that differences between the sexes imply that we should discriminate against women (this kind of fallacy has fueled the alt-right movement)." Whoop! There it is! "The point is this: if you cannot tell the difference between Ross Douthat and Richard Spencer, you’re not marginalizing Ross Douthat, you’re mainstreaming Richard Spencer." (Read that essay in full.)
The good news is, maybe the identity politics types are beginning to catch on.
It is the case that when the white supremacists come to town special attention should be paid to protecting, supporting and involving the groups – immigrants, African Americans, gays and lesbians, Jews, Muslims, etc - that the white supremacists are targeting. Can you do that in a way that speaks to the white frat guy too, that makes him feel like this is his fight, that he’s got something at stake and something to contribute? This is in part a challenge of framing. I think Empowered Minorities vs White Supremacists is a perfectly understandable framing. But I think America (or UT) vs White Supremacists is better.Rediscover assimilation. Stop treating the guys as toxic. Stop the privilege-shaming. Eschew problematic talk. Or expect the Donahue tactics to be applied right back.