Framing Free Speech

The news reporting, along with public debate, on free speech has been typical. It’s not just dissatisfying but frustrating. It pushes a narrative that infects many a mind, including more than a few outside of the ‘mainstream’.

I found an example of this, although I’m not in the mood to directly link to the piece. On the individual’s About page, he obviously prides himself on being an independent thinker who looks down upon ‘Puny mortals’ who “come by their worldviews by accepting in good faith what they have been told by people they perceive to be smarter or better informed than they.” He is so anarchist that he doesn’t think other anarchists are anarchist enough. Yet he is basing his own view on controlled rhetoric designed to manipulate public perception and opinion.

I guess he is so anarchist that he has looped back around to the other side of the spectrum, maybe with his anti-intellectualism trumping his anti-authoritarianism. After all, he describes himself as a white working class anarchist, which apparently means anyone with a college degree is his enemy, including working class traitors who decide to better themselves by seeking higher education. Or maybe he is simply yet another example of an ideologically confused American.

In the piece he wrote, he goes off on some weird sociopolitical rant. It has little connection to the larger world outside of an internet echo chamber. He is shadow boxing the phantasmagoric demons lurking inside his skull and apparently finds it to be a gleeful sport where, as he is the referee of this self-inflicted mental pugilism, he always wins. But what interests me is that his demons just so happen to take the shape of the caricatures portrayed in much of corporate media, with a clear right-wing slant of the populist variety. He writes that,

Well, unfortunately, because of recent riots at Berkeley, we can’t really say that anymore. Now, a lot of those involved or allied will say that, because this action was undertaken by a ‘rebel faction’, and not an established power, it’s actually a righteous insurrection, rather than authoritarian oppression. But given the fact that these are the children of Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and Microsoft, many of whom are ‘Trustifarians’, their proletarian cred is highly suspect. If you can afford to live and go to school in that area of the country, you probably do not come from a poor background.

It’s muddled thinking. This misses so much of the reality of the situation.

The protesters are a small group or, to be more accurate, a mix of small groups. Most of them may or may not be students at Berkeley. Many of them probably are locals or outside agitators taking advantage of the situation, an opportunity for two sides to fight and maybe having little to do with the student body itself. There could even be some agent provocateurs among them. There is absolutely no evidence that they represent most people who are either college students or on the political left. I doubt these people represent a ‘rebel faction’ either, whatever that is supposed to mean. For damn sure, I doubt that many of “the children of Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and Microsoft, many of whom are ‘Trustifarians’” are involved in political activism of the direct action variety, the kind that can lead to becoming a target of violent troublemakers or else violent police.

I share the words of this particular anarchist only because it captures the dark fantasy created by corporate media, especially right-wing media, although sadly much of the supposed ‘liberal’ media as well. It’s bizarre. And it is highly infectious.

Even if these protesters were all Berkeley students, one should note that a fair number of middle class and even working class people get into college. The majority of Berkeley students aren’t the inbred spawn of the plutocratic elite.

According to recent data: 99% of Berkeley students come from the bottom 99.9% in terms of family income, 96.2% from the bottom 99%, 77% from the bottom 97%, 62% from the bottom 90%, 46% from the bottom 80%, and 7.3% from the bottom 20%. Considering that Berkeley has about 40,000 enrolled, those poorest of Berkeley students number several thousand and there are 4.9% that “came from a poor family but became a rich adult.” Other data shows that, depending on class year and such, 21-32% of students have parents with income below $40,000, which would be around 8-12 thousand students. About a quarter of freshman and about half of transfers are the first generation in their families to attend college. I might add that the vast majority of Berkeley students are minorities, with less than a third of freshmen being caucasian.

It’s possible that the protest disproportionately attracted students from the lower classes and from among minority groups who have had a lifetime of dealing with prejudice, the kind of people more likely to be offended by rich white assholes like Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos. From the same piece I initially quoted, the self-styled anarchist stated that, “You’re wrong about the working class, I hope they kick your Berkeley ass.” It’s not so clear to me who will be kicking whose ass, considering the demographics of Berkeley students and considering the real conflicts in our society. It is ludicrous to think it is the privileged rich white students who are protesting against these privilege rich white supremacists. As Alex Schmaus explains about an earlier protest, targeted minorities were fighting back against attempted oppression (The far right goes on a rampage in Berkeley):

It was rumored that Yiannopoulos would be launching a campaign to target undocumented students and their supporters on sanctuary campuses like Berkeley. But he and the College Republicans were unable to carry out this plan after they were confronted by some 2,000 or more students and community members chanting, “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here!”

The February 1 protest was inaccurately portrayed in the media as violent because a contingent of 100 or so masked Black Bloc activists carried out their own unannounced action–starting more than an hour after the much larger picket had begun–setting off fireworks and smoke bombs, pulling down police barricades, breaking windows and starting fires.

Reports of small numbers of far-right Yiannopoulos supporters trying attempting to intimidate protesters were ignored in almost every mainstream media account. Eventually, university administrators canceled the event, citing safety concerns.

I have no idea who are all of the groups of people at the various protests. I’m sure they represent a diversity of people on all sides with various ideologies and agendas, along with many innocent bystanders who simply got caught up in altercations that escalated quickly. My point is that most people with opinions about such issues are speaking from ignorance and that includes most corporate media reporters. No one seems to bother to find out. That said, I bet the FBI knows the exact identity and maybe even ideology of nearly every person that showed up, not that the FBI is going to share that info with the rest of us.

Here is what bothers me most of all. The political right is so much more effective in silencing opposition and frustrating free speech. But they do so in a highly controlled and devious way. A conservative college would stifle the free speech of both speakers and protesters. So, there would be no protest because there would be no opportunity. Free speech would be snuffed out in the crib. There would be nothing to report because nothing would happen. The corporate media tends to ignore what doesn’t happen (i.e., the muzzled dog that doesn’t bark) and why it doesn’t happen. The lack of free speech on conservative campuses is accepted as normal, not worthy of investigating or reporting.

Why doesn’t anyone complain that conservative Christian colleges don’t regularly have as guest speakers such people as anti-authoritarian pacifists, welfare statists, proud communists, radical anarchists, secular atheists, intersectional feminists, LGBT activists, moral relativists, sexual libertines, Pagan practitioners, Islamic fundamentalists, and Palestinian freedom fighters? These colleges also receive government funding but, unlike the larger universities, simply ensure nothing that isn’t conservative ever makes it within their walls. There are few non-conservatives and non-Christians in a conservative Christian college, along with few such people ever invited to speak. As such, there is rarely anyone to protest or any event to be canceled. An event that is never allowed to be planned can’t be cancelled, much less protested. It’s exclusion by design and we the taxpayers fund it, as Katha Pollitt put it (The Schools Where Free Speech Goes to Die):

If students are being denied a broad, mind-stretching education at universities often considered among the best in the world, what about the biased, blinkered, partial education that students are receiving at religious colleges? What about the assumption that no changing of the mind shall be permitted? Isn’t education supposed to challenge one’s settled beliefs?

And with Title IX exemptions in hand, colleges are free to ban and expel LGBT students, discriminate against women, use the Bible as a science text, and fire professors who disagree—without putting their federal funding at risk. The truth-in-advertising principle may protect the right of private colleges to do this. But the last time I looked, separation of church and state was still in the Bill of Rights.

Conservatives create an entire echo chamber of institutions and media. They shut out all alternative voices. There isn’t allowed any perception of other views. Their idea of free speech is to allow everyone they agree with to speak freely. Then they complain that conservatives aren’t allowed to dominate all forums and platforms of speech throughout the rest of society.

Yet, conveniently, conservatives don’t seem bothered when leftists are oppressed by suppression of free speech, such as those fighting Zionist apartheid. Howard Schwartz, as one random example among many, lost his position at a university for his lack of groupthink support for Israeli apartheid. Also, consider all of the careers and lives destroyed during the Cold War because of accusations of communism or communist sympathy. If conservatives had the opportunity, most of them would enthusiastically have a new era of McCarthyism.

It’s understandable that conservatives deceptively push the narrative that more than a tiny percentage of people on the political left care about shutting down free speech. The fact of the matter is there are far more people on the right who fear free speech. But we’ve grown so cynical about right-wingers that we assume they always have bad intentions toward a functioning democracy and, as such, we’ve stopped holding them accountable. Instead, even the supposed ‘liberal’ media seeks to silence protesters by promoting this conservative narrative, without much concern about petty factual details.

Why doesn’t the ‘liberal’ corporate media regularly do some genuine investigative reporting? They could research the larger context of what is going on. They could interview people to find out who are those involved and not involved. They could look at all sides such as seeing the role of right-wing instigators and outside agitators in fomenting conflict and violence. They could do surveys to find out what are the actual views and values of various groups, instead of making false accusations and unsubstantiated generalizations.

But if the corporate media allowed that kind of journalism to become the norm, they would no longer be serving corporate interests in a corporatist system that pushes rhetoric to further divide the public, ensuring that actual democracy remains hobbled. And you can see how highly effective is this tactic. Consider again the example of the avowed anarchist who has been pulled into this divisive narrative framing, without even the slightest clue that he is being manipulated. As I often repeat, never doubt the power of propaganda, especially not in the US where the propaganda model of media is more pervasive and subtle than maybe any ever devised in all of world history.

This is similar to how the corporatist Democrats used their narratives of identity politics. Sanders’ supporters were called Bernie Bros, as young women were attacked as gender traitors and young minorities were ignored, as both had been won over by Sanders’ genuine progressivism. Similar to how college students are caricatured, Sanders’ supporters were portrayed as violent radicals who are a threat to the supposed moderate and mainstream ‘liberalism’ of the corporatist ruling elite, despite the fact that the majority of Americans agree with Sanders on major issues.

We Americans are so propagandized that most of us can’t see straight. We are drowning in a flood of bullshit. Fortunately, there are a few voices that manage to get heard, even occasionally in the broader public debate. Yet the dominant narratives never change, as they continue to frame nearly all discussion and reporting.

* * * *

Ann Coulter’s Berkeley controversy isn’t really about free speech.
by Juliet Kleber

As Aaron Hanlon argued in the New Republic earlier this week, choosing not to host Ann Coulter or Milo Yiannopoulos on campus is not a suppression of their free speech. Academia certainly has an important place in selecting and elevating certain voices to relevance in a broader culture, but let’s not forget that a college isn’t a town hall: it’s a particular community of people engaged in intersecting missions of education. Coulter is not a member of that community and she has no claims upon it. Campus life is curated, and none of us outside of it are guaranteed access to that platform. Aside from safety concerns, that doesn’t mean trying to cancel her appearance was necessarily the right decision—it very well may be true that students should challenge her views face-to-face—but doing so is still not a violation of her rights.

That cannot be said, however, of the Fordham case. As Singal notes, Fordham is a private university, and as such the question of free speech in this case relates not to the Constitution but the university’s own policies. But unlike Coulter, who has a regular platform on television and in publishing, the students of Fordham are truly limited by what their university will and will not allow as protected speech. Those students have been denied the opportunity to engage in the political action they find meaningful. They have been punished for peacefully protesting that decision. At Berkeley, the College Republicans who invited Ann Coulter to speak presumably retain their official club status and likely their budget.

Berkeley Has NOT Violated Ann Coulter’s Free Speech Rights
by Robert Cohen

It was only after an ugly riot and arson by non-student anarchists on the night of the Yiannopoulos talk (leaving more than $100,000 in property damage on the Berkeley campus) that the chancellor reluctantly canceled the talk in the interests of public safety.

Fearing a recurrence of the Yiannopoulos violence, the Berkeley administration sought to postpone Coulter’s speech, and in the end asked that in the interest of security it be delayed a week. The administration cited threats it had received against Coulter, which is not surprising given that she is an intemperate nativist. Coulter and her College Republican and Young American Foundation sponsors responded with claims that the administration was trying to stifle conservative speech and that it had caved in to Berkeley’s “rabid off-campus mob” in doing so.

There are very few students on the Berkeley campus who see this week’s delay of the Coulter speech on public safety grounds as a free speech violation. That’s why the lawsuit the College Republicans filed this week against the UC administration had no Berkeley student sponsors other than the College Republicans. Think of the contrast with 1964, when there was a genuine free speech violation and a mass free speech movement; it mobilized virtually every Berkeley student group from left to right and even created a new organization of students, the independents, so that those who had been unaffiliated with any political group could be a part of the Free Speech Movement. In 1964 thousands of Berkeley students marched and hundreds engaged in civil disobedience when free speech was genuinely under threat. Not so today.

No, this is not a real free speech movement at Berkeley today, and that is because there has been no free speech violation by the UC administration. What the Coulter affair really amounts to is a “time, place, and manner” quibble.

Who’s behind the free speech crisis on campus?
by Dorian Bon

These rants in the mainstream press botch the facts of the stories they present, smearing thousands of mostly peaceful protesters as violent thugs, while disregarding the sincere debate on the left about how to confront the right on college campuses.

But that’s not even the worst of their mistakes. Their more spectacular failure is in attributing the crisis of free speech in American universities to the behavior of students.

There is, indeed, a crisis of free speech today, one that is steadily eroding the rights of students, faculty and staff in thousands of institutions of higher learning all across the country. But the blame lies with university administrators and bosses, not the student activists they loathe.

On campus after campus, university administrations are systematically rolling back decades of hard-fought gains for free speech, threatening students with suspension and expulsion for speaking out and clamping down on their right to assemble and organize. […]

THESE CHANGES occurred in tandem with a broader transformation of higher education, orchestrated to better serve the interests of business and the U.S. state, while placing the cost of education increasingly on the backs of students and faculty. […]

THE TRANSFORMATION of the university into a neoliberal regime has intensified the crisis of free speech on campus.

Contingent professors are justifiably afraid to express themselves openly with very little job security and power to defend themselves from their employers. Students, saddled with debt, cannot afford to risk discipline or suspension when their hopes of financial security depend on getting their diplomas and finding employment. To top it off, campuses are now dominated by an army of administrators policing student and faculty activity.

Conservatives Have Only Themselves to Blame for Today’s Campus Wars
by Jim Sleeper

This time, it was conservatives assailing colleges as too “liberal”—never mind that many campuses have already been transformed by the very corporate, capitalist incentives and pressures that most conservatives champion, with disturbing consequences that they’re trying to blame on liberal political correctness.

Some censorious “liberals” have indeed only helped to turn undergraduate liberal education into a dance of careerism, power-networking, and self-marketing. Many rail at glass ceilings that must be broken by women and people of color, forgetting that breaking the ceiling doesn’t improve the foundations and walls unless wholly different challenges are posed to the structure itself. Federal bureaucratic overreach has compounded the problem by enabling campus sexual-assault regimens to endanger the due process that is essential to liberalism.

Still, the accommodations of some left-liberals to the increasingly business-oriented and bureaucratic drift of higher education and of civil society are mainly symptoms, not causes, of our civic decay. Now that the Republican presidential campaign has elevated a financer of casinos and a vulgar, predatory self-marketer whom most of the Party denounces, even as its members asphyxiate free speech and open inquiry in Congress, the rest of us—some honorable conservatives included—are wondering just what kinds of “free” and “robust” speech right-wingers are willing to accept and what kinds of “political correctness” they themselves have imposed.

The students whom Deresiewicz called “entitled little shits” and whom conservatives characterize as coddled and frightened don’t exist in a vacuum. They are products of an increasingly frightening, atomizing society that turns college students from co-participants in universities’ historic scientific and social missions into isolated, heavily indebted consumers of career training. This model of education serves the casino-like financing and omnivorous, predatory, intrusive marketing that conservatives themselves have championed, even as it incubates a racially “diverse” global managerial elite that doesn’t consider itself accountable to any democratic polity or moral code. Absent massive public funding like that of the 1950s and ‘60s for higher education as a crucible of citizenship, students must mortgage themselves to future employers by taking courses and programs that private donors and trustees choose to fund.

It makes little sense to preach civic-republican virtues such as the fearless pursuit of truth through reasoned dialogue when conservative trustees and administrators are busy harnessing liberal education only to facilitate market priorities, not interrogate them.

It’s precisely because conservatives consider themselves so decent and principled that they’re in denial about their responsibility for the transformation of elite universities into training centers for wealth-making, power-wielding, and public relations, and that they’re campaigning so energetically to discredit those who want to keep liberal education somewhat independent of both markets and the national-security state.

Hoping for Another Battle, Nativist Trump Supporters and Antigovernment Extremists Again Descend on Berkeley
by Ryan Lenz

As the birthplace of the free speech movement decades ago, the debate surrounding Coulter’s speech put Berkeley in the precarious position of protecting its staff and students while ensuring freedom of speech, especially in a political climate where the possibility of violence between alt-right extremists and antifascist protesters becomes more frequent. Two previous appearances by far-right and conservative speakers have turned violent at Berkeley, including a protest on April 15 that left 11 people injured and six hospitalized. Police arrested 21 people on a variety of charges then.

Lawrence Rosenthal, chair and lead researcher of the Berkeley Center for Right-Wing Studies, issued a written statement on the day’s events. Rosenthal warned people not to be cowed by the alt-right’s claims of censorship and noted that the university had two concerns to consider in cancelling Coulter’s appearance — the unequivocal support of free speech and security.

“The situation at the University of California does not conform to the claims of suppression of free speech that conservative politicians and commentators have been trying to tie it to. Neither student groups nor the University administration are responsible for the threats of violence that surround Ann Coulter’s proposed appearance on this campus,” Rosenthal wrote.

Rosenthal also criticized Spencer for “exalt[ing] in the violence,” as he did in a YouTube video recounting the event.

“The deepest significance of the ongoing ‘Battles of Berkeley’ is the attempt by the alt-right to move the country toward fascist-anti-fascist violence,” Rosenthal said. “Conservative politicians and commentators wishing to use the Berkeley situation as a cudgel in the name of the free speech run the risk of enabling the dark goals of the alt-right.”

A white supremacist is accused of punching a protester. Classmates say he makes them feel ‘unsafe.’
by Lindsey Bever

In a video posted April 15, Damigo was seen talking about Identity Evropa, which he said is “interested in promoting and preserving European culture and values.”

He said his group was at the protest “because we believe that free speech is a European value and there are many people here who are wishing to use violence to silence other people. And so we feel that’s important to be here today to ensure that people are able to speak without having violence used against them and that they’re able to get their narrative out there and just start a conversation, start a dialogue and let people know that there are certain things they disagree with and some things they do agree with and they’re not going to be intimidated when these people come out here to promote violence.”

That was the same day Damigo was apparently seen in a video punching a female protester in the face and then running into a chaotic crowd.

The Schools Where Free Speech Goes to Die
Some of the worst offenders against the First Amendment are religious colleges.

by Katha Pollitt

 

 

A Ruling Elite of Well-Educated Sheep

Here is an interesting dialogue of articles about higher education. It is from The New Republic magazine.

The initial article is by William Deresiewicz. It is based on his book, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life. There were two critical responses I came across, one by Steven Pinker and another by J.D. Chapman. The last article is Deresiewicz’s response to his critics.

I didn’t care too much about the issue in and of itself. I don’t know enough about higher education to have an informed opinion, and so I won’t claim to know whether or not Deresiewicz makes sense about that issue. What interested me was the conclusion Deresiewicz offered, the opposition between a false meritocracy and a functioning democracy. That central point goes way beyond any aspect of education. It touches upon the root of nearly every problem in our society.

On this issue of democracy, Deresiewicz hit a raw nerve. I didn’t get the sense that Pinker grasped this aspect of the argument, as is indicated by his own conclusion where he seems to praise meritocracy in place of democracy. Pinker seems to genuinely believe in meritocracy, not just in theory but as it functions in our society. I get a bit of a reactionary vibe from Pinker (see this post by Kenan Malik, Human Conditions, and also notice how much attention Pinker gets by a popular neoreactionary like hbdchick).

Chapman disagreed with much of what Deresiewicz wrote. However, in his own conclusion, he supported the severe doubts about meritocratic claims.

In his final comments, Deresiewicz restates his basic case for an education based on an egalitarian vision. The only thing I wish is that he had grounded this into the larger problems we face with growing inequality, unemployment/underemployment, mass incarceration, structural racism, and a permanent underclass. What is at stake is far more than access to quality education for all citizens.

He does point in that direction, and so he is far from ignoring the implications. I understand he was purposely keeping his focus more narrow in order to deal with a single issue. His personal bias is from working in higher education and so that is where he naturally focuses his attention. That is fine, as long as the larger context is kept in mind.

 * * * *

Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League
The nation’s top colleges are turning our kids into zombies
By William Deresiewicz

“Not being an entitled little shit is an admirable goal. But in the end, the deeper issue is the situation that makes it so hard to be anything else. The time has come, not simply to reform that system top to bottom, but to plot our exit to another kind of society altogether.

“The education system has to act to mitigate the class system, not reproduce it. Affirmative action should be based on class instead of race, a change that many have been advocating for years. Preferences for legacies and athletes ought to be discarded. SAT scores should be weighted to account for socioeconomic factors. Colleges should put an end to résumé-stuffing by imposing a limit on the number of extracurriculars that kids can list on their applications. They ought to place more value on the kind of service jobs that lower-income students often take in high school and that high achievers almost never do. They should refuse to be impressed by any opportunity that was enabled by parental wealth. Of course, they have to stop cooperating with U.S. News.

“More broadly, they need to rethink their conception of merit. If schools are going to train a better class of leaders than the ones we have today, they’re going to have to ask themselves what kinds of qualities they need to promote. Selecting students by GPA or the number of extracurriculars more often benefits the faithful drudge than the original mind.

“The changes must go deeper, though, than reforming the admissions process. That might address the problem of mediocrity, but it won’t address the greater one of inequality. The problem is the Ivy League itself. We have contracted the training of our leadership class to a set of private institutions. However much they claim to act for the common good, they will always place their interests first. The arrangement is great for the schools, but is Harvard’s desire for alumni donations a sufficient reason to perpetuate the class system?

“I used to think that we needed to create a world where every child had an equal chance to get to the Ivy League. I’ve come to see that what we really need is to create one where you don’t have to go to the Ivy League, or any private college, to get a first-rate education.

“High-quality public education, financed with public money, for the benefit of all: the exact commitment that drove the growth of public higher education in the postwar years. Everybody gets an equal chance to go as far as their hard work and talent will take them—you know, the American dream. Everyone who wants it gets to have the kind of mind-expanding, soul-enriching experience that a liberal arts education provides. We recognize that free, quality K–12 education is a right of citizenship. We also need to recognize—as we once did and as many countries still do—that the same is true of higher education. We have tried aristocracy. We have tried meritocracy. Now it’s time to try democracy.”

The Trouble With Harvard
The Ivy League is broken and only standardized tests can fix it
By Steven Pinker

“So why aren’t creative alternatives like this even on the table? A major reason is that popular writers like Stephen Jay Gould and Malcolm Gladwell, pushing a leftist or heart-above-head egalitarianism, have poisoned their readers against aptitude testing. They have insisted that the tests don’t predict anything, or that they do but only up to a limited point on the scale, or that they do but only because affluent parents can goose their children’s scores by buying them test-prep courses.

“But all of these hypotheses have been empirically refuted. We have already seen that test scores, as far up the upper tail as you can go, predict a vast range of intellectual, practical, and artistic accomplishments. They’re not perfect, but intuitive judgments based on interviews and other subjective impressions have been shown to be far worse. Test preparation courses, notwithstanding their hard-sell ads, increase scores by a trifling seventh of a standard deviation (with most of the gains in the math component). As for Deresiewicz’s pronouncement that “SAT is supposed to measure aptitude, but what it actually measures is parental income, which it tracks quite closely,” this is bad social science. SAT correlates with parental income (more relevantly, socioeconomic status or SES), but that doesn’t mean it measures it; the correlation could simply mean that smarter parents have smarter kids who get higher SAT scores, and that smarter parents have more intellectually demanding and thus higher-paying jobs. Fortunately, SAT doesn’t track SES all that closely (only about 0.25 on a scale from -1 to 1), and this opens the statistical door to see what it really does measure. The answer is: aptitude. Paul Sackett and his collaborators have shown that SAT scores predict future university grades, holding all else constant, whereas parental SES does not. Matt McGue has shown, moreover, that adolescents’ test scores track the SES only of their biological parents, not (for adopted kids) of their adoptive parents, suggesting that the tracking reflects shared genes, not economic privilege.

“Regardless of the role that you think aptitude testing should play in the admissions process, any discussion of meritocracy that pretends that aptitude does not exist or cannot be measured is not playing with a full deck. Deresiewicz writes as if any correlation between affluence and Ivy admissions is proof that we don’t have a true meritocracy. But that only follows if the more affluent students are without merit, and without a measure of aptitude that is independent of affluence, how could you ever tell? For the same reason, his conspiracy theory of the historical trend in which Ivy students have been coming from wealthier families—namely that the Ivies deliberately impose expensive requirements to weed out poorer families—is glib. Hoxby has shown that the historical trend was propelled by students’ no longer applying to the closest regional colleges but to the ones with the most similar student bodies anywhere in the country. The law of supply and demand pushed the top schools to raise their academic admissions standards; the correlation with parental income may just be a by-product.

“After first denying that we have ever tried meritocracy, Deresiewicz concludes by saying that we have tried it, and now should try “democracy” instead, by which he seems to mean a world in which the distribution of incomes of Ivy League families would be identical to that of the country as a whole. But as long as the correlation between wealth and aptitude is not zero, that goal is neither possible nor desirable.

“Still, he’s right that the current system is harmful and unfair. What he could have said is that elite universities are nothing close to being meritocracies. We know that because they don’t admit most of their students on the basis of academic aptitude. And perhaps that’s what we should try next.”

Send Your Kid to the Ivy League!
The New Republic’s article against elite education is destructive to my students
By J.D. Chapman

“I agree with Deresiewicz that liberal arts colleges like Sarah Lawrence and Reed are uniquely positioned to nurture and challenge students, and I champion them when I can. I don’t believe the Ivies are for every bright kid, and I have occasionally counseled students capable of admission to them to favor other options. And I agree that class lines are hardening in dangerous ways; the Ivies have too much money and power; and meritocracy is a delusion. That does not mean that an Ivy League diploma isn’t valuable, especially for someone whose family has no history of access to elite careers like teaching at Yale or writing for The New Republic. It means that it is valuable. Whether it should be is another discussion altogether.”

Your Criticism of My Ivy League Takedown Further Proves My Point
By William Deresiewicz

“Nor was it—or is it—an either/or situation: Either a general, liberal arts education or a specialized, vocational one; either building a soul or laying the foundation for a career. American higher education, uniquely among the world’s systems, makes room for both. You major in one thing, but you get to take courses in others. The issue now is not that kids don’t or at least wouldn’t want to get a liberal education as well as a practical one (you’d be surprised what kids are interested in doing, if you give them a chance). The issue is that the rest of us don’t want to pay for it.

“That is finally what’s at stake here. Are we going to reserve the benefits of a liberal education for the privileged few, or are we going to restore the promise of college as we once conceived it? When I say, at the end of my book, that the time has come to try democracy, that is what I am talking about.”

Online Debates: Ideology, Education & Psychology

Internet discussions more often than not drive me bonkers.  I’ll mention some data and immediately someone will question and criticize the data.  If they’re a more worthy opponent, they’ll ask for specific sources.  I usually comply and then add even more data just to further support my argument.  The other person may offer data too, but they rarely cite the data and it’s even more rare for them to offer multiple sources.  Most “debates” never get past mere opinionated nitpicking.

I mentioned one example in a previous post.  I gave specific data and quotes from specific sources and framed it within the larger context of scientific consensus… and the other person acted like it meant nothing at all.  As a person who respects facts, I find it odd that many adults (who are potential voters) have such a dubious relationship to facts.  If someone shares facts with me that prove I’m wrong, I accept my being wrong and I do further research to better inform myself.  This attitude of intellectual humility and curiosity seems not to be shared by many people… or at least not many people I meet online which may or may not be a representative example of the American public (but if I had to guess, I’d think that the average internet user is more intelligent and better informed than the average non-internet user).

I just experienced another example.  This one was on Youtube and it was also about the scientific consensus of climatology experts.  Youtube has very limited word count for comments which makes intelligent debate a bit constrained, but I was up for the challenge.  I first mentioned some facts withou citing them, partly because Youtube doesn’t allow comments with url addresses in them.  Some person questioned the validity of my data and offered some other data which they didn’t cite either.  I felt lazy and didn’t want to try to figure out where he was getting his data, and I wasn’t in a mood for debating to any great extent.  So, I just offered the url addresses (by replacing the “.” with “DOT” which Youtube allows) of several scientific articles and Wikipedia articles (and the Wikipedia articles cited many scientific articles). 

My “debate” partner responded by saying that what I was referring to wasn’t peer reviewed and I assumed he must be talking about the first set of data I mentioned.  I had been looking at this data recently and I knew it came from the University of Illinois, but I didn’t know if it was or wasn’t peer reviewed.  I did a quick websearch and found it had been peer reviewed.  This is so typical.  If you look at people’s nitpicking, it is often unfounded.  I suppose people like this just hope you won’t actually check it out for yourself.  Why would this person lie to me just to try to win a debate?  It only took me maybe a minute or so to disprove his claim.  Does this person normally get away with such lies?  Are most people unwilling to check the facts for themselves?  Do most people not know how to use a search engine to find information quickly?

The ironic part was this person said the media is always lying.  So, I pointed out to him that, whether or not the media was lying, it appeared that he was lying or else uninformed.  He never responded back to further challenge me nor to admit to being wrong.  His only objective was to “win” the debate at all costs.  When it became apparent he wasn’t going to “win”, he simply abandoned ship.

I have an online “debate” like this probably on average of once a week (sometimes less when I’m not in a commenting mood).  I don’t go looking for idiots.  It’s just that the idiots are often the ones most willing to brazenly challenge any opinion (no matter how factual) that disagrees with their opinion.  To be fair, there are also many reasonable people online.  My experience, though, that the line between idiotic and reasonable often becomes rather thin when it comes to political and religious ideology.  Even when faced with the facts, few people are willing (or able?) to change their mind.

Why is this?  I’ve studied psychology enough to realize that humans are mostly irrational creatures, but I’m constantly amazed by how irrational certain people can be.  I seem unwilling and unable to accept the fact that most people aren’t capable of intelligent debate.  Part of me thinks that if I present the facts in a fair manner and make a reasonable argument that I can expect the same in return.  Apparently, I’m the irrational one for feeling frustrated by the inevitable irrationality of human nature.

But I do have reason for my irrational hope for rationality.  I occasionally have very intelligent debates with people online and these people even sometimes change their minds when offered new information… I even change my mind sometimes when presented with new information by an intelligent person.  Most often these people seem to be more liberal, libertarian or independent-minded. 

I’ve found that the only subjects that regularly attract intelligent conservatives are economics and sometimes philosophy/theology, but these are subjects that aren’t as easily determined factually according to scientific research (including psychological research).  Conservatives tend to argue more from a perspective of principles that they support with historical examples.  To conservatives, the past is where they look to verify a theory or claim.  I guess that is fine as far as it goes, but it makes for difficult debating because the attempt to understand principles and history is easily swayed by subjective biases.

For example, many libertarians and fiscal conservatives like to talk about free markets.  The problem is that it’s almost impossible to ascertain what this means.  The idea of a “free market” is highly theoretical if not outright idealistic.  No free market has ever existed.  Furthermore, no free market could ever exist because it’s merely a relative label of a market being more free than some other market.  There is no ultimate freedom of markets.  So, these debates lead off in all kinds of directions such as referencing “experts”.  The issue I have with experts in fields such as economics is that expertise is much more subjective in that there is less hard data.  Many of the economic models that have been relied upon have been proven wrong.  It’s almost impossible to scientifically study markets in that confounding factors can’t be easily controlled.

But even intelligent libertarians sometimes are wary of actual scientific data.  Libertarians don’t trust government.  Since scientists sometimes get government grants, scientists can’t be entirely trusted either.  For some reason, libertarians think corporate sponsored scientists would be more trustworthy.

Conservatives in general are more mistrusting of objectivity.  I’m not quite sure what is the reasoning behind this.  Some intelligent conservatives I’ve met actually agree with me about humans being irrational and that seems to be their reason for mistrusting objectivity, but this is a more intelligent argument and probably doesn’t represent the opinion of average conservatives.

To be fair, the smartest people of all probably are independents.  From the data I’ve seen, independents (and the American public in general) are socially liberal and fiscally conservative.  The question is which is the cause?  Do smart people tend to be socially liberal and fiscally conservative?  OR do social liberals and fiscal conservatives tend to be smart?  Or is there a third causal factor?  MBTI iNtuition and FFM “openness to experience” correlate with testing high on intelligence and correlate with high representation in college.  Also, these psychological functions/traits correlate to liberal attitudes, but I’m not sure how they may or may not correlate to fiscal conservatism.  (There is a nice site about politics and psychological types: http://www.politicaltypes.com.)

Some of the most intelligent debaters will be the MBTI NT types (iNtuition Thinking).  I know that INTPs tend to be self-identify as politically independent and I suspect the same would be true for INTJs.  NTs probably either vote with Democrats for reasons of social liberalism or with libertarians for reasons of it being a third party, but I some NTs might vote Republican for reasons of fiscal conservatism or else for reasons of principles.  I’m not sure how many NTs vote Republican, but polls I’ve seen show that ENTJs are more conservative (probably because TJ – Extraverted Thinking – is their primary function).

So, I can presume that most often, when I’m enjoying an intelligent discussion, I’m probably interacting with a socially liberal iNtuition type.  I don’t know what good this knowledge does for me.  Maybe it helps me to be more forgivng (this person sure is stupid… it’s too bad they were born that way). 

To be more optimistic, psychological research doesn’t show that most people fit in absolute categories.  Most people can learn non-preferred thinking styles and learn to develop weak traits.  Education should teach people how to use all parts of their mind.  The fact that so many people lack critical thinking skills is a failure of our education system and shouldn’t be blamed on individuals.  College favors iNtuition types.  Most professors and college-level teachers are iNtuition types and most of the coursework is more appealing to iNtuitive types.  It’s hard for a strong Sensation type to do well in traditional schooling.  Who can blame them that they don’t go to college or have bad experiences at college?  Who can blame them for falling prey to the notion that college is controlled by liberal elites?

Considering that the MBTI shows Sensation types represent the largest portion of the population, it is quite sad that our education system has the hardest time reaching this category of person.  Sensation types don’t have as much natural talent for abstract thinking and critical thinking.  Sensation types are better with concrete information and concrete learning.  Too much of higher education deals with abstractions and theories.  Dumbing down higher education isn’t the answer.  I think we should have more alternative routes of education. 

When I was in highschool, my best friend was very much a Sensation type who took many alternative classes involving technology.  He was good working with machines and with computers, but he wasn’t extremely smart in terms of intellectuality.  Alternative classes served him well in terms of preparing him for a job in the real world.  The potential criticism, though, is whether he was prepared for being a well-rounded and well-informed citizen.  I suspect not.  The highschool I went to didn’t require students take classes in logic and critical thinking.  The classes in general seemed rather dumbed down.  Unless you were taking college prep classes, you wouldn’t be intellectually challenged.

I feel frustrated.  I don’t want to blame the average person for not being well educated, but I do feel pissed off that our education system has failed these people and so created an intellectually inferior society.  Even news reporting seems dumbed down for the masses.  Shouldn’t the education system and the media, instead, serve the ideal of uplifting the masses by informing them?

Even with intelligent people, I think the education system has often failed.  College is less focused on providing a liberal education and created well informed citizens.  College has merely become a career path.  Many have talked about the problem of specialization of knowledge.  People go to college only to become isolated in some particular field and outside that field they may be largely ignorant. 

People, whether well educated or not, seem less capable of understanding the larger context.  Maybe it’s always been that way.  If so, I hope it’s changing.  I probably shouldn’t expect the education system to do anything more than create good workers… as that seems to be its primary purpose.  My hope is more in the realm of media technology.  The traditional media has been failing for a long time, but the new media has been very successful.  The most well informed people are those who use the new media to inform themselves.  And, because of the new media, the uninformed (be they the average public or the average politician) can no longer spout misinformation without being challenged.

So, to return to the original topic of online debates, maybe a purpose is served by all of the ideological conflict found in the forums and comments sections around the web.  The people who weren’t educated well in school get confronted, whether they like it or not, with new information and with actual critical thinking skills.  Some people might just become even more ideological in response, but many others will learn to be more intelligent debaters.  Even debates where people deny expert opinions may serve a purpose in that a discussion then ensues about the definition of ‘expert’.  The question about the new media is whether the positives will outweigh the negatives.  The uninformed have the opportunity to become even more polarized and entrenched in their views by isolating themselves in forums of the likeminded, but those who want to be informed have more opportunity than ever to do so… and there are many in the middle who are neither extremely ideological nor extremely motivated to learn.

My hope is that the internet remains an open resource and open platform for public debate.  My other hope is that the internet my force the education system to improve by offering both teachers and students to become more well informed.  Students now no longer have to solely rely on the information given by teachers, and teachers no longer have to solely rely on the information that was given to them when they were students.

News IQ, Education & Politics

I just took the Pew News IQ Test.  I surprised myself by getting 9 out of 12 right.  My results apparently mean I’m more well informed than 78% of Americans.  I don’t know if that is true because the test is rather short and limited.  It basically is only testing for factoids which I generally don’t test well on, but the multiple answer format allowed me to make educated guesses on a few questions. 

I’m more well informed about socio-historical context (poll data and demographics, history of ideas and movements, etc) and I think socio-historical context is more important than specific factoids.  Any motivated person of reasonable intelligence can look up a factoid, but understanding socio-historical context takes years and decades of wide-ranging study.  Memorizing factoids is less relevant in this age of search engines and Wikipedia.

I’ve seen different surveys over the years that show different groups as being most well informed about news and politics.  At one time, Rush Limbaugh’s audience was one of the most well informed about politics.  I think a later survey showed that Jon Stewarts audience was the most well informed.  The ironic part is that neither Limbaugh or Stewart are news reporters.  I took the Pew Political Typology Test a while ago, and I tested as a Liberal (59% Democrat; 40% Independent/No Preference, 1% Republican) which I felt proud of because it’s the mostly highly educated group and one of the top groups in following the news.  Related to this Liberal demographic, I’ve mentioned a number times recently the fact that most scientists identify as Democrat or Independent which means they’d probably fit into this Pew-defined category of Liberal.

My point for bringing up those examples is that I’m not sure what it ultimately means.  Does it matter whether Limbaugh’s conservative audience or Stewart’s liberal audience is the most well informed about news factoids?  A better measure would be how well people understand the context of those factoids, and I think general education would be a better measure of the larger context of knowledge.  The ideal of the liberal college education was that it gave you a broad range of knowledge and so made you a well informed citizen.  If every citizen could be made to memorize some basic factoids, it would probably be a good thing… but would it really create a well informed citizenry (and would it increase rational, thoughtful, and insightful public debate)?  Without knowledge of the history of culture and ideas, without knowledge of the social sciences and the physical sciences, how can one understand the larger meaning of news factoids?  Without having learned philosophy, logic, and critical thinking skills, how can the public analyze the news, look past the spin, and gain deeper insight?

Many conservatives argue that the education system is biased towards the liberal and some even believe the world is ruled by an intellectual liberal elite conspiracy.  Even ignoring the conspiracy theories, I don’t see any evidence that liberals are controlling education in any obvious way.  It’s just as likely (or even maybe more likely) that being well educated makes it more probable that one will lean towards liberal values.  A major liberal value is trying to understand from multiple perspectives (which moral conservatives dismiss as relativism).  Another liberal value is the ideal of ideological neutrality (whether or not such a thing is possible) when assessing data (whereas moral conservatives take pride in openly embracing ideology).  This is why liberal reporters have the tendency to always give equal time to both sides of any disagreement.   And this is why a Republican scientist is so rare.

Recent poll data I’ve looked at shows that the American public leans towards Progressive values and the demographics show a shift towards liberalism on many issues.  I’d be curious how this correlates to levels of higher education and general knowledge.  In the last half century, the number of college graduates has increased and so I wonder if that relates to the increase of liberalism.  Also, I wonder if an increase in higher education has led to an increase of general knowledge and specifically political knowledge.  College education has become even more important than it was in the past because there are fewer working class jobs available.  Because of this, college has become more of a career path and so has strayed from it’s original liberal education purpose.  If college was refocused on creating well informed citizens and if more people went to college, would this mean that America would become even more liberal?