Articles like The Big Uneasy, the interview of Timothy Garton Ash, and many others highlighted by Heterodox Academy as these were, or written by its members, remind me of the fable of the blind men and the elephant, in which each blind man touched a different part of the elephant and concluded he had encountered a creature quite different from that encountered by the other blind men, and all of them were at best only partially right.
If we step back and look at the big picture of the entire elephant of Western Civilization that is provided by these articles and others – like the research and findings of Heterodox Academy, and even that of social science as a whole – some scary and discouraging profound truths about the current social environment are revealed, but also some concrete suggestions as to approaches we can take to help improve it.
Mere viewpoint diversity is nowhere near enough to make significant progress toward ameliorating our current problems. An equal if not greater prerequisite of that goal is a great deal of “mythbusting;” replacing the deeply entrenched falsehoods upon which many of our current problems can be blamed, with basic truths about fundamental human nature. Mark Twain was right when he said “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Twain’s sentiment, I suggest, is an accurate statement of the root causes for much of the partisan divisiveness we see in our culture today.
Liberal hegemony in academia, especially K-12, for all practical purposes NO-PLATFORMS a) the empiricist, holistic, Aristotelian, intuition-and-practical-knowledge-based cognitive style, b) the binding moral foundations, and c) the wit, wisdom, values, virtues, viewpoints, and insights that follow from them (of which there are volumes).
It allows ONLY a) the idealist, WEIRD, Platonic, rationalist and abstract-reason-and-technical-knowledge based cognitive style, b) the individualizing moral foundations, and c) the relatively narrow set of ideas and ideals that follow from them.
In this way it essentially shuts down one of the two main avenues of human intellectual development, inquiry, and exploration, and deprives Western culture and the world of the far wider and deeper understanding of fundamental human nature it might otherwise achieve.
It stifles and limits rather than encourages and expands the advancement of knowledge itself. It slows and constricts rather than facilitates and expands human progress.
It not only allows but inculcates into the collective psyche of Western civilization beliefs, assumptions, and presumptions about human nature that are blatantly false, but that nonetheless become the basis of much of our understanding of human nature, and many of our ideological beliefs and public policy recommendations. Examples of the sorts of false beliefs I’m talking about include the following, from Heterodox Academy’s statement of The Problem:
•Humans are a blank slate, and “human nature” does not exist.
•All differences between human groups are caused by differential treatment of those groups, or by differential media portrayals of group members.
•Social stereotypes do not correspond to any real differences.
Given that we humans tend to fear, demonize, and vilify that which we do not understand…
…liberal hegemony in academia cements into Western culture many things know for sure about human nature that just ain’t so, which in turn lead directly and I’d say inevitably to the current state of extreme partisan divisiveness and rancor; it not only limits, but actually REDUCES the human ability “of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this.” (aka EMPATHY, from Merriam-Webster.com).
In the name of empathy, tolerance, inclusiveness, and diversity, liberal hegemony in academia, in actual fact, achieves precisely the opposite.
Mere viewpoint diversity in academia is insufficient to “change the path” of short sighted, small minded, and narrow thinking of the “two hundred year tangent” on which the intuitive elephant of Western culture is still deeply entrenched. What good are diverse viewpoints if they’re based mostly on false beliefs?
Academia must ALSO work equally hard, if not harder, to replace the falsehoods that form the basis of so much of Western culture with known truths about that nature that social science research findings reveal.
Most such truths apply equally to all humans regardless of entrenched ideology or even the ideological predispositions whith which each of us is born. They are benign in the sense that they are non-partisan – they hew to no particular ideological party line, but instead are universal among all humans – and should therefore encounter little if any resistance from those in the education professions who care deeply about equipping our children with the science and evidence-based truth about the human condition so that they can best find their own way in the real world and make informed decisions about how to live their lives. Is that not the ultimate purpose of education? If not that then what?
I bet that if a few of the professors of Heterodox Academy met for lunch in a room with a white board they could generate a list of fundamental truths in a matter of minutes. My own brainstorming yields a suggested start of that list:
1. Intuition comes first, strategic reasoning follows, in every sense of the word “follow.” i.e., reason is chronologically after, and is intellectually and conceptually led by, intuition.
2. Morality binds and blinds
3. Reason evolved to help us win arguments, not find truth.
4. Humans evolved to form into groups of like minded individuals which then compete with other groups for scarce resources and political power.
5. “Like minded” means the individuals in the group share a set of values, or an outlook.
6. Value sets or outlooks go by names like “ideology,” “morality,” “religion,” and “narrative.” These are different words that all describe the same underlying aspect of human nature.
7. Ideologies, moralities, religions, and narratives vary in the degree to which they employ a set of “evolved psychological mechanisms” that were pre-wired into the human brain by natural selection as we became The Social Animal.
8. Some values become “sacred” in the sense that they are held to be inviolable, unquestionable, ground truth.
9. We can develop irrational commitments to our sacred values. When they are challenged or threatened the first thing we throw under the bus in their defense tends to be truth, evidence.
10. Reason is influenced by a slew of cognitive biases like confirmation bias, reason-based choice, fundamental attribution error, and on and on.
11. Items from a similar set of logical fallacies and rhetorical tricks also tend to find their way into our arguments. (There’s overlap between this list and the list of cognitive biases, but there are some unique items in each too.)
12. We humans are quite skilled at seeing the speck in the eye of those with whom we disagree, and quite incompetent at seeing the log in our own.
Viewpoint diversity is a laudable goal, but if we really want to “drain some of the heat, anger, and divisiveness out of these topics and replace them with awe, wonder, and curiosity,“ and INCREASE rather than decrease empathy, then we must ALSO work with equal if not greater energy toward the goal of mythbusting the untrue “truths” about human thought and action that underlie so much of the partisan divisiveness we see in our culture today.