I think the dominance of liberalism in academia and the resulting lack of alternate views is harming our society. I think there are a lot more H. E Babers (see below) in the world than we realize.
Most of you here know I’m an unabashed fan, some might say groupie, of the work and person of Jonathan Haidt. I honestly believe that his work, and especially his book “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics And Religion” offers a Rosetta Stone for understanding the political divide.
One of the reasons I like Haidt is that he tries really, REALLY hard to avoid taking sides. He studies morality almost as an anthropologist studies civilizations. He tries to describe only what is; only what the science shows. He tries to avoid saying any morality is better than any other, just that they are different.
Many of my posts here are based on his findings which are, briefly, that natural selection has placed in the human psyche a predisposition to favor/avoid six specific phenomena in our social world; care/harm, fairness/cheating, liberty/oppression, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation. He finds that liberal morality is built on the first three (and of those mostly the first one), and conservative morality is built on an equal balance of all six.
He maintains a web site for his book . Part of that web site is a blog where he occasionally posts articles which support his work or which show how current events might be better understood through his work. His blog posts are open for comment by interested readers.
His most recent blog entry is called Look How Far We’ve Come…Apart . It is a summary and a pointer to a more in depth article of his about the depth of the political divide which was published in the New York Times.
I found one comment to that post particularly….well….interesting. It is from one H. E. Baber, a professor of psychology at the University of San Diego. In this post the acronym WEIRD stands for Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic. This requires a little explanation which I’ll let Haidt do himself in this quote:
Behavioral scientists routinely publish broad claims about human psychology and behavior based on samples drawn entirely from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic societies.” The acronym there being WEIRD. “Our findings suggest that members of WEIRD societies are among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans. Overall, these empirical patterns suggest that we need to be less cavalier in addressing questions of human nature, on the basis of data drawn from this particularly thin and rather unusual slice of humanity
The New Science of Morality
To put it more crudely, but about as accurately, most social scientists, who are practically all liberal, arrive at their generalizations about human nature after studying only liberals. Haidt did a presentation on this topic titled The Bright Future of Post-Partisan Social Psychology in which he claimed that the dearth of non-liberals in the field of social science hurts the science. It caused quite a stir. It, and much of the stir, is available at the link.
So, with that brief background, here’s the comment from University of San Diego Philosophy Professor H. E. Baber offering her interpretation of the political divide:
It’s class warfare, i’n’it: the dip in party polarization comes during the period Krugman characterizes as “the Great Compression”—when the gap between the richest and poorest Americans narrowed.
So, Haidt: let me ask you something after reading your book. Why should we regard the moral universe of the lower classes and primitive people as a consequence of their ability to taste more moral flavors than those we poor WEIRDs can distinguish? Why not regard it as a failure of discrimination on their part, in particular, their inability to make fine discriminations between moral intuitions and feelings of irritation or disgust?
This seems to be supported by your interviews with lower class people try to give a rationale in terms of harm for their gut feelings that sex between siblings, cleaning toilets with flag rages, etc. is bad by contriving scenarios involving harm. These poor, dumb, ignoramuses have a sense that their gut feelings by themselves shouldn’t license moral judgments, but they’re too stupid, unreflective and ignorant to figure out what’s going on.
I’m a liberal, one of your WEIRDs, and an academic. But I have nothing but hatred and contempt for working class Americans and members of non-Western cultures. And, c’mon Haidt: don’t you think that if these people get some education and financial security, they’ll become as WEIRD is us? The 6-dimension moral structure you describe is a defect—the illusion of stupid, unreflected, uneducated people. Our aim should be to dismantle their detestable s*** cultures, to make everyone WEIRD! Look How Far We’ve Come…Apart
I think the problem of liberalism in academia is worse than Haidt suggest in his Post-Partisan talk. I think the problem affects not just academic social science, but our entire culture. Those same scientists are also our kids teachers, and not just in social science, but in most other subjects as well. These people – people like H. E. Baber – are who our kids look up to and trust to give them the “straight scoop” about the human condition. How can professors’ personal world views and cognitive styles NOT creep into their lectures? How can the trusting kids NOT pick up on those messages and style? How is that trust NOT betrayed by the dearth of non-liberals in academia?
And the Post-Partisan problem is not contained within academic social science, or even in higher education, it also exists in K-12 education.
Through our education system the Post-Partisan problem is being propagated outward into our entire culture, and has been for decades. Entire generations of kids have been and are being taught to think by people who think like Baber. Our kids for the most part are not exposed to any other world views or cognitive styles. Our kids are not being taught how to think. They’re being taught how to think like liberals.
The wonder of it all is that we actually wonder why the political divide is as bad as it is. Newt Gingrich (who Haidt blames for a lot of the partisanship in Washington because he took steps that helped to segregate liberals and conservatives in congress) is the least of the causes. He is a deck chair on the Titanic. How is the Post-Partisan problem in academia NOT the iceberg that caused the gash in the ship (and arguably on the cover of Haidt’s book)?
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