Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Political diversity on campus

You may find it confusing that the title refers to something that does not exist - but if the title does not exist, it does not necessarily imply that one can't write an article about it. :-) It may be a good idea to try to convince you that the diversity on campus does exist if you look carefully enough.

Let's start with some optimistic comments.

The Crimson informs that a feminist tried to learn some wisdom from Prof. Harvey Mansfield of Harvard University. Mansfield has explained in his talks and in his new book that manliness is confidence in a situation of risk, and it is a characteristically male feature. Naomi Wolf, a feminist writer, interrupted Mansfield's speech by her comment that Mansfield was very charming. She has also asked Prof. Mansfield whether a certain tool is needed to have authority, and Prof. Mansfield has patiently answered his new student that it helps. You can see the whole lecture on Sunday at 3:00 pm, on C-SPAN 2. :-)

In another article, Prof. Ruth Wisse has deconstructed the methods used by political correctness to avoid any kind of debate - simply by labeling any different viewpoint than the "obviously official one" as "extreme". Well, I have known this strategy for quite some time. More precisely, I have known it for many years before 1989 and the recent events have simply reminded me of these nearly forgotten memories.

At the end of the first paragraph, Prof. Wisse also mentions that there apparently exist two junior professors at Harvard who share her opinions about ROTC and the Middle East controversy. I can't understand these people. If they share such opinions about these questions, they could equally well create a website and write on the second line that they are reactionaries. It's just crazy and unthinkable. :-) Prof. Wisse will take the secret who are these two mysterious people to the grave. So don't ask me who is the second one: I don't know and it was wise not to inform me because 340,000 people could know the secret as early as tomorrow. ;-)

More seriously, some recent as well as older debates - although the term "interrogation at a PC police station" could sometimes be more accurate than the word "debate" - have demonstrated one point related to Prof. Wisse's main observation: the left-wing senior professors, despite their unquestionable talents, simply can't (or don't want) to understand that there can be anything such as right-wing politics. They must be convinced that the existence of right-wingers must be a myth created by the moderate left-wingers to confuse the progressives.

For example, almost everyone was completely shocked back in 2004 that Bush had won the elections even though the polls had indicated quite clearly that he would become the winner. Apparently, they innocently assumed that the U.S. nation is politically similar to the Harvard faculty.

And if some of these respected colleagues of ours believe that the right-wing politics exists, they obviously assume that its advocates must have horns and a tail - or they must differ from other humans in some comparable dramatic fashion. Those who read this blog carefully know something about my politics but even some of those who occassionally read my blog and who often talk to me - mostly about non-political issues - still find it incomprehensible how someone at Harvard could think that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were heroes, among dozens of other examples. The possibility that people who look almost just like them could be right-wingers is something that apparently contradicts the laws of Nature as they understand them.

After intense efforts, you can eventually convince other people to accept the hypothesis that you really fail to be a leftist. But even in this case, the left-wing majority apparently believes that your (or my) political opinions must be a fluctuation that is surely going to change after one discussion. It does look like they are convinced that this is how things work and I just can't understand it. I have been personally thinking about these universally important matters for 25 years or so and holding these opinions despite the regime whose official ideology was codified in the constitution and enforced by police and secret police.

And what is the situation in the U.S.? The feminist, socialist, communist, environmentalist, and other opinions are not even defined in the U.S. constitution to be the only allowed opinion. So how can they expect people like me to accept these viewpoints that I consider deeply flawed? But most of my colleagues quite obviously assume that everyone who is not left-wing will surely become left-wing after an hour of discussions. The idea that different political opinions could exist at timescales longer than the Planck time is just unthinkable for them. ;-)

This fact is even more fascinating because of the obvious lack of their own thinking about all these issues. Take the example of the intrinsic aptitude. Although I am among those who find questions in theoretical physics very important in comparison with other questions, I am very far from thinking that every question about physics is more important than any question outside physics. And the basic questions about the origin of intelligence and other characteristically human properties have always been among the important ones - much like the features of evolution of life, character and mechanisms of human thinking, and many others. I have been evaluating these things for 20 years or so and got an imperfect but pretty good, quantitative idea what are the reasonable expectations in dozens of detailed questions related to the intrinsic aptitude. Many of them have been checked and re-checked and they have passed many consistency checks. Some of these ideas may be wrong but most of them are quite certainly correct.

When you discuss with those who share the "dominant" opinion, it becomes abruptly clear that they have not thought about these issues at all. Their attitude is that "no one has an idea about these things" and "why should we assume XY" and "any reseearch of these issues is guaranteed to be wrong" and so forth. I, for one, find it unimaginable for a curious person to live for 30 or 50 years without having tried to answer these simple and rather universal questions. But the colleagues from the "majority" find it very natural. In fact, they find it unnatural to ask these questions at all. There is simply a point at which all rational thinking must be turned off. You may be a professor of physics but you must simply stop your brain whenever questions like the differences between the sexes are being discussed; the political beliefs must take over.

As far as the knowledge of actual data goes, an average worker or farmer could very well have richer and more complete opinions about these matters.

Of course, this effect of "turning rational thinking off" is nothing new for me either. In Prague, various classmates of ours were Christians. They could learn how to create good programs. Some of them learned physics. But whenever we were thinking about any topic that had the potential to contradict the Bible, the brain had to be abandoned. Of course, they would never admit that their brain was turned off. By definition, a brain controlled by God is running perfectly. Nevertheless, the answers were decided according to the ultimate religious dogmas instead of critical rational thinking. Those who believed the creation according to Genesis had to stop their brains whenever the history of the Earth older than 6,000 years was considered. Different people were turning their brains off at different moments but the general mechanism was always the same.

From this viewpoint, political correctness is just another type of religion. While the Academia is extremely rational about many "politically insensitive" topics, it is extremely irrational about "politically sensitive" topics. I feel that it is very wrong. Also, my opinion is that a scholar in certain interdisciplinary fields should not be dogmatic about his or her being a "scientist" or a "social scientist". Whether or not the methods and insights of science or social science are more relevant to answer an XY puzzle is a question that often can't be decided a priori, and a scholar should evaluate the relevance of different approaches rationally, using the well-established scientific methods, including the method of trials and errors.

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