In Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard Chip and Dan Heath show that the cultural environment in which we live acts as a “behavioral autopilot” that shapes our behaviors, thoughts, and intuitions.
The autopilot of American popular culture leans strongly to the left because it is owned and operated by the inhabitants of the left wing ideological bubble of coastal elites via their near monopolistic control of academia, media, and entertainment; the Megaphones of our Culture. That autopilot of American popular culture is a super-moral-matrix within which the moral matrices of liberalism and conservatism float, and through which they are studied, analyzed, and understood. It is chock-a-block full of orthodoxies and conventional wisdom, much of which is false.
The left-leaning autopilot is exceptional at seeing the speck of authoritarianism in the eye of the political right, and it of course answers Yes to the question “Can I believe it?” But it never even thinks to ask “Must I believe it?” and it is utterly oblivious to the fact of the log of authoritarianism that has been in its own eye for centuries, and is a defining trait of its psychological profile.
The blindness toward its own defining trait of authoritarianism and the hypersensitivity toward even a hint of authoritarianism on the right, more than any other factor, explains the lemming-like groupthink of the prevailing conventional wisdom that The Key to Trump is Stenner’s Authoritarianism, or nationalism, or white nationalism, or racism, or bigotry, or hate, or some other dog whistle code for fascism that constantly flows from the punditry, including from some on the right. It’s a textbook case of the pot calling the kettle black.
That “wisdom” says far more about the “Can I believe it?” intellectual and moral-intuitive myopia, groupthink, and INcuriosity of American popular culture than it says about Trump, Brexit, or the people who voted for them.
This is the problem I’ve been trying to communicate for a while now but feel has not yet gotten through. As great as the work of Haidt and Heterodox Academy (HxA) is, they still see the world through the leftist lens, and will continue to do so unless and until social science studies liberalism as closely and as skeptically as it studies conservatism. Specifically we need to see interpretations like those suggested in Is Social Science Politically Biased from Scientific American (quoting Haidt and others):
one could just as easily characterize liberals as suffering from a host of equally malfunctioning cognitive states: a lack of moral compass that leads to an inability to make clear ethical choices, a pathological fear of clarity that leads to indecisiveness, a naive belief that all people are equally talented, and a blind adherence in the teeth of contradictory evidence from behavior genetics that culture and environment exclusively determine one’s lot in life.
Without offering interpretations like the above HxA’s calls for viewpoint diversity begin to look like the intellectual equivalent of expecting a class in ethics to create ethical behavior, and the effort begins to become repetitive and stale. We may as well admonish people to “be good” or “do better.” Unless and until people actually see concrete examples of real viewpoint diversity they’ll be dumbfounded as to the need for it, prone to ask “What’s the big deal?” and likely to shrug it off as yet another well meaning yet essentially meaningless effort like The Asteroids Club or No Labels.
Over the past couple of years I’ve been trying to point out the leftward tilt of America’s groupthink and I’ve been trying to offer alternate views. For my troubles I’ve been called an “angry polemicist.” For some examples of these alternate views take a look at my latest post, The Left Wing Tilt of American Popular Culture Distorts Our Grasp of Current Events and peruse the list of Recent Posts on my Home Page.
And for heaven’s sake read Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought, Expanded Edition. It’s more relevant today than ever:
There are many reasons to read Plato, among them the beauty and plasticity of his thought and the delightful character of Socrates, but surely one of the best reasons to read him is to be horrified. Read The Republic, putative wellspring of Western values, and you find that once you look past the glittering facade of Plato’s rhetoric you are face to face with the ethic of the totalitarian regime. It was that Republic of Plato’s which John Locke, David Hume, and the other founding fathers of the liberal epistemological regime rebelled against and, eventually, overthrew. But though they put the Platonic Republic on the defensive, they did not extinguish the life in it. Plato’s shining vision is immediately appealing, and you have to think hard about it to see why it is bad. It holds out the promise of governance by the enlightened and humane, of relief from the foolish and unreasonable, of shelter from uncertainty and change. Today, as ever, it is a magnet drawing millions of people, including many American intellectuals, toward the political regulation of inquiry.