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The Weblog at The View from the Core - Tue. 11/09/04 07:25:25 AM
   
         
         
   

"Liberal Groupthink Is Anti-Intellectual"

A great article by Mark Bauerlein at The Chronicle Review, dated Nov. 12:

.... The first protocol of academic society might be called the Common Assumption. The assumption is that all the strangers in the room at professional gatherings are liberals. Liberalism at humanities meetings serves the same purpose that scientific method does at science assemblies. It provides a base of accord. The Assumption proves correct often enough for it to join other forms of trust that enable collegial events. A fellowship is intimated, and members may speak their minds without worrying about justifying basic beliefs or curbing emotions.
The Common Assumption usually pans out and passes unnoticed — except for those who don't share it, to whom it is an overt fact of professional life. Yet usually even they remain quiet in the face of the Common Assumption. There is no joy in breaking up fellow feeling, and the awkward pause that accompanies the moment when someone comes out of the conservative closet marks a quarantine that only the institutionally secure are willing to endure....

After Nixon crushed McGovern in the 1972 election, the film critic Pauline Kael made a remark that has become a touchstone among conservatives. "I don't know how Richard Nixon could have won," she marveled. "I don't know anybody who voted for him." While the second sentence indicates the sheltered habitat of the Manhattan intellectual, the first signifies what social scientists call the False Consensus Effect. That effect occurs when people think that the collective opinion of their own group matches that of the larger population. If the members of a group reach a consensus and rarely encounter those who dispute it, they tend to believe that everybody thinks the same way.
The tendency applies to professors, especially in humanities departments, but with a twist. Although a liberal consensus reigns within, academics have an acute sense of how much their views clash with the majority of Americans. Some take pride in a posture of dissent and find noble precursors in civil rights, Students for a Democratic Society, and other such movements. But dissent from the mainstream has limited charms, especially after 24 years of center-right rule in Washington. Liberal professors want to be adversarial, but are tired of seclusion. Thus, many academics find a solution in a limited version of the False Consensus that says liberal belief reigns among intellectuals everywhere....
The final social pattern is the Law of Group Polarization. That law — as Cass R. Sunstein, a professor of political science and of jurisprudence at the University of Chicago, has described — predicts that when like-minded people deliberate as an organized group, the general opinion shifts toward extreme versions of their common beliefs. In a product-liability trial, for example, if nine jurors believe the manufacturer is somewhat guilty and three believe it is entirely guilty, the latter will draw the former toward a larger award than the nine would allow on their own. If people who object in varying degrees to the war in Iraq convene to debate methods of protest, all will emerge from the discussion more resolved against the war....
The problem is that the simple trappings of deliberation make academics think that they've reached an opinion through reasoned debate — instead of, in part, through an irrational social dynamic. The opinion takes on the status of a norm. Extreme views appear to be logical extensions of principles that everyone more or less shares, and extremists gain a larger influence than their numbers merit. If participants left the enclave, their beliefs would moderate, and they would be more open to the beliefs of others. But with the conferences, quarterlies, and committee meetings suffused with extreme positions, they're stuck with abiding by the convictions of their most passionate brethren....

For this entry, I did what I should have done a long time ago: I made a new educational category. I may put some older entries into this category as I come across them.

(Thanks, Michael.)

[Follow-up: "Academia ... and the Truth".]

Lane Core Jr. CIW P — Tue. 11/09/04 07:25:25 AM
Categorized as Educational.

   
         
         

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