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Viewpoint Diversity is Only Half the Battle

Heterodox Academy’s crusade for viewpoint diversity is worthwhile to be sure, but it’s insufficient to win The War On Partisanship.  

What if all those diverse viewpoints are misinformed and mostly wrong? Then what? If all we create is a diversity of dunces then what have we really achieved? The image of the food fight from Animal House comes to mind.

The greatest single reason for partisan rancor that we have any real control over is the stunning lack in Western culture of even a rudimentary knowledge of fundamental human nature. The “Social Animal” has an extremely poor understanding of itself.

For example, very VERY few people understand basic facts like 1) intuition comes first, strategic reasoning second, 2) there’s more to morality than care and fairness, 3) morality binds and blinds, 4) moral foundations are some of the primary forces that drive intuition and morality, 5) cognitive style is another primary force, 6) the moral foundations themselves, 7) ideologies vary in the degree to which they employ the moral foundations, 8) Ideology, morality, and religion are different names for the same underlying aspect of human nature; groupishness 9) reason is for winning, not truth finding, 10) elementary rules of evidence and argumentation.

Most people have NO IDEA that facts like those enumerated above even exist, never mind how they affect the way we think and relate with one another. And because of that ignorance most of us are left with no logical alternative but to conclude that people who think differently from us must be, can only be, afflicted with some sort of cognitive, social, or psychological disorder.  And we wonder: “What’s the Matter with Kansas?,” “What makes people vote republican?”, and what’s “wrong” with The Republican Brain? Indeed. It’s because we’re mostly ignorant of what we really are that we so often characterize one another as something we’re not and then demonize each other for being that something (which we’re not).

Viewpoint diversity alone does not address this problem.  On the other hand, addressing this problem would go a long way toward achieving viewpoint diversity.

The War On Partisanship is a multi-front war. Viewpoint diversity is admittedly one of the fronts, but only one, and in my way of thinking it’s likely not the most damaging one. Widespread general ignorance of basic facts of fundamental human nature like those enumerated above is the other front, and it’s devastating. And unless and until we attack both fronts with equal vigor then I fear we run the very real risk of digging our ideological trenches deeper and fortifying them even more; the “viewpoint” equivalent of World War One. The best weapon against the Coming Apart, I suggest, is to engage on the battlefront of ignorance.

Think of it this way; in order for viewpoint diversity to work the magic that Heterodox Academy expects it to work there must be some basic foundation level of common understanding of items like those in the above list. Without a common understanding of basic facts like those there’s no guarantee we won’t have the same types of problems we already have; people with different “viewpoints” who use the exact same words to express concepts that are diametrically opposed and even mutually exclusive. Depending on which “viewpoint” one has, concepts like liberty, equality, justice, and fairness can have practically opposite meanings. It’s the lack of common understanding that allowed that to happen.

The battle to increase viewpoint diversity seems to rest on the presumption of basic agreement on, and common understanding of, a fundamental set of facts and tenets about human nature. But it seems to me that the presumption is false. And if the presumption is false how can the battle that’s based on it be effective?

The good news:

Thanks to social science we already have more than enough knowledge and information to fight and I’d dare say win the battle against ignorance. And what’s more, we even already have the infrastructure in place to do it (hint: K-12).

The Even better news:

It requires only adjustments to current curricula, not a complete reset or major revolutionary overhaul.

The basic items enumerated above could be sprinkled in to high school curricula in civics, history, economics, literature, and even health. Students could be given homework assignments that ask them to identify the moral foundations at work in a particular speech, or historical event, or economic program, or novel. They could be taught about basic biases that affect everyone, and simple rules of evidence and argumentation.

In the lower grades, the books that are read aloud to young students and the messages of civics, citizenship, and behavior that are displayed on posters in the school could extol the positive virtues and values of ALL the foundations (rather than just the individualizing ones, as seems to happen now).

A program like this should appeal to anyone and everyone interested in true diversity, tolerance, inclusiveness; and to anyone and everyone interested in expanding and advancing knowledge ABOUT the social animal among the social animals.

In other words, a program like this should appeal to educators. The members of academia should be its biggest fans and proponents.


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I Support Viewpoint Diversity


A politically diverse group of social scientists, natural scientists, humanists, and other scholars who want to improve our academic disciplines and universities. We share a concern about a growing problem: the loss or lack of “viewpoint diversity.” When nearly everyone in a field shares the same political orientation, certain ideas become orthodoxy, dissent is discouraged, and errors can go unchallenged.

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