Male: 00:00:06 Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats. This session will begin momentarily.
Male: 00:01:39 Has- Have you done this room before?
Male: 00:01:39 No.
Male: 00:01:41 It’s funny how much … It has really good acoustics. It’s a very warm space.
Male: 00:01:46 [crosstalk 00:01:46] conferences and so I think [crosstalk 00:01:46].
Male: 00:01:46 Yeah, I can hear you. [crosstalk 00:01:46]
Male: 00:01:46 It’s a good space.
Male: 00:01:47 Yeah, I have to do all these [crosstalk 00:01:52]
Kmele Foster: 00:01:52 Hello? Thank you so much folks. We’re gonna get started here to keep on time, if that’s all right. Don’t mind taking your seats, please, thank you very much. My name is Kmele Foster, um, I am a partner in a company called Freethink. We are a media production company, we create a lot of original content, uh, as we describe it, “for and about the next generation of leaders.” Um, I am delighted to be here today. Thank you very much to, to John and to everyone at Heterodox. This is a real privilege and I think we’ve got a really great panel lined up for you. I’m gonna do my best to stay out of the way today, um, and try to keep the conversation going.
Kmele Foster: 00:02:36 Uh, there is a diversity of perspectives that are represented in this great panel. I’m gonna have everyone introduce themselves as they provide their opening remarks. Um, but what I- I wanna highlight are a couple of things about the panel. First, that their academic and intellectual pursuits, uh, sort of run the range of some of the most discussed and controversial issues, um, in our society and culture in politics. Um, it’s race, gender, sex, um, and religion, and increasingly, something that might be described as the free speech crisis. Um, here we’ve talked about it a lot in the context of university, um, but there is obviously a broader context, as well. People leave the university and they do various other things. And I’m sure, um, some of you have encountered, uh, what you might perceive as a changing cultural climate in your everyday lives. Uh, we’re going to try to expand the conversation to- to some of those broader things, uh, right now.
Kmele Foster: 00:03:38 Um, along the way, we’ll also devote some attention to something else that’s been mentioned a few times, this- this concept of viewpoint diversity, um, and we will, I think investigate the challenges that are inherent in achieving it and maintaining it. Um, and we’ll also talk a bit about the limitations of viewpoint diversity and potentially its drawbacks. Uh, something else important that I’d like to highlight really briefly is that within this diversity of perspective, there are certainly some shared values: inclusiveness, well-being, open inquiry, uh, productive debate. These are things that everyone arrayed here, um, are generally interested in. There may, in fact, be some definitional questions there that we’ll have to get to, uh, because oftentimes we’ll use the same words and not necessarily mean the same things. Uh, but I think we will have a great, robust exchange.
Kmele Foster: 00:04:27 Last thing I’ll say about viewpoint diversity, uh, briefly because I think it might be helpful to contextualize it for folks watching at home who may just be tuning in, um, is that while this is the raison d’etre of Heterodox, I don’t think it’s fair to say that it is an end in itself. It is a methodology. The goal is to try to achieve those values via viewpoint diversity, um, and also to try to overcome these cognitive biases that we all are subject to in various contexts. To the extent we can do that, um, it may be a necessary condition, uh, but it isn’t, uh, sufficient in and of itself, um, and there may, in fact, be ways in which is creates challenges for us.
Kmele Foster: 00:05:09 Um, so with that said, I’m gonna kick this to the speaker, uh, and to begin the conversation, I’m gonna do it with a, with a question, uh, just to open things up and we’ll sort of roll down. And again, please introduce yourselves, uh, as you’re answering. But the first question is with respect to the academy and society more broadly, how would you describe the prevailing culture of free expression? Uh, do you detect some sort of erosion in our collective capacity for productive discussions and as you’re answering the question, I’m particularly interested in the factors that lead you to your particular conclusion.
Shadi Hamid: 00:05:44 Okay.
Kmele Foster: 00:05:46 So, please.
Shadi Hamid: 00:05:46 So, hi I’m- I’m Shadi Hamid. I’m a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. I write on religion and politics, but particularly one religion, Islam. So, that gets me in various, uh, controversies. So, just to, so, um, just- I’ll start with an anecdote. This actually just happened yesterday and it fits very well with, I think, what we’re trying to talk about here. But, um, I agreed to speak, um, at a conference that has some problematic figures and there have been calls on me to withdraw. And I think this debate that I’m now part of in regards to this conference gets at some fundamental questions about viewpoint diversity. But basically, um, I- I said yes to this and there, the problematic figures in question are primarily Sam Harris, um, Maajid Nawaz, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Well, but- but I …
Shadi Hamid: 00:06:43 The thing is I do actually disagree profoundly with all three of them and I’ve been a- a very big critique of Ayaan Hirsi Ali in particular, so people were asking me what- what is your-
Male: 00:06:57 [crosstalk 00:06:57]
Shadi Hamid: 00:06:56 What is your red line? Who are you not willing to speak with? Who do you actually consider beyond the pale, so to speak? And at some level, there are people we won’t agree to speak on a panel with, so I- I started to think more about where would I draw my- my own line, um, and then people were bringing up, “Oh, you wouldn’t speak with people who are anti-Semitic or KKK members.” And I’m like, “Well, I have my issues with some of these people. I don’t think they’re quite equivalent to the KKK.” Um, but then, there is the question of what am I not okay with. What are we not okay with? We’re all heterodox, but we presumably do have our limits. And I- and I responded to someone who was calling on me to withdraw, um, kind of flippantly and I said, “I won’t speak with terrorists. I won’t be on a panel with terrorists.”
Shadi Hamid: 00:07:51 Um, and I actually think that gets somewhat close to my actual position now that I’m thinking about it a little bit more and- and not that this is a big issue because Al Qaeda members aren’t really speaking on college campuses as far as I know. But, you know, (laughs) so, um, so that- that … And I think that having, ’cause otherwise where we draw the line is ultimately going to be arbitrary. And what I’ve realized over the past years as, the past couple years, I’ve been speaking more to diverse groups about Islam, Islam’s role in public life, including, um, evangelical audiences, let’s say. And I’ve realized that evangelicals think, um, that abortion isn’t just a met- metaphorically like murder, but in some cases, is actually equivalent to murder. And I’m pro-choice, so presumably they think that I support murdering innocent people, right? But we presumably, we wouldn’t wanna block someone who’s pro-choice from speaking on a panel and if- if- if evangelicals were calling for that, we would say that’s not okay.
Shadi Hamid: 00:08:58 And then we start to see how arbitrary these distinctions are depending on where you are on the political spectrum. Because I’ve worked a lot on the Mid- Middle East and spent time living in the Middle East, um, I also … One- one good thing about living in that, in that part of the world is you get used to very objectionable views and you start to develop a tolerance for them. And just to give one example of that, is that my, I have, um, my relatives in Egypt. I’m born and raised here, but I’m originally, um, Egyptian. Um, I have relatives who support the mass killing of innocent civilians. And I don’t mean that hyperbolically. They actually supported a massacre that happened in August, 2013, which was the worst mass-killing in modern Egyptian history, and we’ve had debates about this, but I’m not gonna no platform my uncle or my cousins or my relatives and, um, I don’t think that, um, most of the people who we consider objectionable here in the US, most of them don’t support the mass killing of innocent civilians. So, as long as they don’t, I’m actually- I actually think that I might be okay being on a panel with them.
Kmele Foster: 00:10:09 So, to the narrower question, briefly, before we move on. Do you see some sort of erosion in our ability to have these conversations or-
Shadi Hamid: 00:10:17 Well. Well, yeah, I mean, so it, well … When I heard these calls to with- withdraw yesterday, I, uh, it didn’t even occur to me. So, I said, “Oh, I’m speaking on this panel with so and so.” I didn’t even realize that this would be a big controversy. I’m not really, uh, I’m not on a campus right now and I’m not, um, I’m not someone who is very, very much part of this politically correct scene. So, I don’t- I don’t always know where the sensitivities are, but what’s troubling to me is now I always have to be, I have to be more attuned to it. And that’s not something I felt, necessarily, two or three years ago and going back a little bit to even when I was in undergrad, this, a lot of this stuff seems really foreign to me.
Shadi Hamid: 00:11:01 Um, and I think part of that is because when I was an undergrad, we were dealing with a fundamentally different set of questions. Were- we were dealing with the Iraq War, and as someone who is very involved in the anti-war movement at that time, and also post-9/11, it also has made me think that, not that we should have wars to shift the campus debate to things that are more fundamental, but I do think when you are facing these much, these much bigger issues of war and peace and soldiers dying and the killing and of- of Iraqi civilians, the kinds of debates we’re having about what pronoun to use seem kind of absurd to me. And- and just, so I- I do think that is, that- that is a shift.
Kmele Foster: 00:11:44 Okay, got it. Alice, please.
Alice Dreger: 00:11:45 Uh, I’m Alice Dreger. I don’t even know nowadays how to describe myself, so I’ll say I’m a professional pain in the ass. Uh, I’m- my PhD is in history and philosophy of science and I was an academic until a couple of years ago. I resigned my position at Northwestern University. I was a full professor of medical humanities and bioethics at the medical school and, uh, my dean censored an article that I edited and published. And I don’t mean censored in the light sense of he prohibited it from being published, it had already been published and he required it be withdrawn. Uh, it was a story about oral sex in a medical setting and you can read it online and it will not actually titillate you as much as it did my dean. Um (laughs).
Alice Dreger: 00:12:33 So, uh, I tried fighting it for 15 months and finally gave up because I had just published a book called Galileo’s Middle Finger, which is about, um, the suppression of academic freedom. So, I told ’em I couldn’t take the irony overload, it was going to kill me. Um, but the truth is the reason I resigned was because my colleagues were in a position where either they were gonna have to put up with me and they were gonna worry that I was gonna … They were very supportive of me in all my work and my work has always been very controversial and very serious, but they were worried that if I kept doing the kind of work I did, I was going to irritate the dean enough that our program might be disbanded. So, my choice was between loyalty to my work and loyalty to my colleagues, and I found that intolerable. So, I left so as not to harm my colleagues further.
Alice Dreger: 00:13:18 Um, one thing that I think is really important as we think about the crisis of academic freedom and free speech on campus is not to forget the influence of corporatization. And in fact, when we’re talking in the last session about why don’t ac- administrators act up more in terms of protecting freedoms, I think a big reason is because we have had the corporatization of universities and we’ve gotten ourselves into a position where the risk managers are making a lot of the decisions the faculty should be making. And I- I’m not joking about that. That’s really true. And so that’s become a big problem, um, you know, it- it’s gotten to the point where people think of universities as brands and, um, so parents are very concerned to get their kids the best brand and this becomes a problem.
Alice Dreger: 00:14:06 So, as my son was applying to University of Chicago and there was the whole question of Steve Bannon coming to campus, a woman who is a friend of mine actually said to me, “Well, do you really want your son going to a place where Steve Bannon might speak?” To which my response was, “I want Steven Bannon to expose himself to my son.” And then I realized that didn’t sound right.
Shadi Hamid: 00:14:26 (Laughs)
Alice Dreger: 00:14:32 But I’m- I’m happy to say my son got into University of Chicago and is going there, which is the ultimate “screw you” to Northwestern University. Um … So, I- I proudly wear, whenever I go back to Northwestern to speak, the University of Chicago Mom shirt. Uh, but you know, we- we do have a problem with the corporatization and the influx of this corporate mentality, which is very, I think, opposed to the traditional idea of the university. A brand is a singular message. A university cannot have a singular message. So, sort of riffing on what John was saying earlier, you know, John and I very much agree that loyalty and tribalism become a big problem within university settings and within any democratic system.
Alice Dreger: 00:15:17 So, he was trying to get to point where Chicago’s at, of using school pride, using tribalism, right? But creating a new kind of tribalism that then undermines the problematic tribalism. I think, similar to that, what I would say is what we need is a new kind of branding within universities where the brand is about diversity of opinions and diversity of viewpoints and challenging each other and seeking data and these kinds of things. And if we can do that in more universities, then we have some hope.
Alice Dreger: 00:15:45 But we have a wider cultural problem where we have a system where money is using us to, uh, make us fight with each other and then dampening it down when it turns out that’s not good for business. So, the example I’ll give you, I- I was, I live in a one-party town, East Lansing, Michigan, it’s a very blue town. I’m a progressive Democrat, but whenever you’re in a one party town, it’s a problem. So, we have no newspaper and four years ago, I finally decided I had to solve this problem, so I started a newspaper. It’s a citizen journalist, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization that I think has now become a model for the rest of the country, so I’m gonna try to propagate it around the rest of the country. But what- as we do nonprofit news, it’s really interesting me to teach people to do nonpartisan news ’cause almost everybody on my team is left of center. And what I’ve found over and over again is I had to do the most basic education with people of what nonpartisanship looks like.
Alice Dreger: 00:16:42 In this country, all over the world, because of the internet, there is more money to be made in opinion than there is in news. And over and over again, what we see is a situation where opinion is profitable and opinion is therefore valued and news, especially nonpartisan objective news, is not valued. And so you get into a situation where people are increasingly used to market opinions. And this becomes deeply problematic.
Alice Dreger: 00:17:10 So, the most recent example I will give you is that those of us who work in the news business have this huge problem with Facebook. Because of Facebook being hacked, basically, by the Russians for purposes of interfering with our elections, what is now occurred is that Facebook is become terribly afraid of promoting political advertising. So, if we try to publish any article and boost it on Facebook, and we have to because about 52% of my readers at my newspaper come through Facebook, if we try to boost anything on Facebook that has anything like the word election, uh, polling, campaign, or even government, Facebook labels it political advertising and refused to allows us to promote it. So, as I’m trying to promote a FAQ about an income tax proposal in East Lansing that comes on the ballot August 7, Facebook will not allow me to get this basic FAQ, nonpartisan information to my readers through Facebook because they say it’s political advertising.
Alice Dreger: 00:18:06 So, what we see happening in the shutting down of objective news, of nonpartisan news, and this ultimately affects us within the academy because the students who are now coming to us are coming to us from a world that doesn’t have a normal kind of nonpartisan information flow. It’s not just the universities, it’s all over the place in which there’s more money to be made by promoting opinion and then shutting it down when it becomes unprofitable. And that, to me, is the bigger danger.
Angus Johnston: 00:18:34 Hm. Uh, hi, I’m uh Angus Johnston, I’m a historian of student activism. I- I teach at the City University of- U- University of New York, um, specifically at Hostos Community College in the Bronx. I think I’m the first person to speak today who is presently affiliated with a public college or university, so that’s kind of cool. Um. Thank you. Um, uh, and you know, I- I- I’ve written a lot about American student activism in the, uh, 20th century, uh, and I’ve worked with a lot of contemporary student activists. Um, and done a lot of- of writing more recently about what’s going on on the contemporary campus.
Angus Johnston: 00:19:16 And I- I- I think to answer your question about, you know, where we are in the dialogue and in- in free speech right now, I think on the one hand, I would say that I’m a lot more optimistic, uh, than a lot of people in this room, um, precisely because I think that what, uh, a healthy, uh, environment for free speech and dialogue looks like is contentious. I think that people being mad at each other, I think people yelling at each other, I think people getting angry and upset with each other is part of what dialogue and debate and free speech looks like. And, uh, I think that we are not in a time when we are particularly civil, uh, at this moment. We are not in a time when we are, uh, particularly polite to each other and nice to each other, but I’m not a big fan of civility and politeness and niceness. I think, I think that- that robust and vigorous and disruptive, uh, uh debate and argumentation is really important.
Angus Johnston: 00:20:12 And- and that gets to what you said in- in your introductory statement that, um, you know, viewpoint diversity and freedom of speech and dialogue are not ends in themselves. They are means toward ends, um, and I think one of the things that we need to look at is is what those ends are. And we need to have a conversation about- about what our goals are, because often, I think, critics, um, of disruptive speech, um, are not really clear on what the goals of that disruptive speech are and I think we need to- to bring that to the fore- uh the forefront and make that a little bit more explicit. Because if my goal in my speech is one thing and your goal in your speech are two different, uh, is something else, then we’re gonna have two different conceptions about what that speech should look like and how that speech would work.
Angus Johnston: 00:20:58 Um, and, you know, I think one of the things that’s gone largely, uh, unremarked upon, uh, in so far today, is the fact that we are in the middle of- of a tremendous civic crisis in this country, right? We, you know, setting aside, um, all of the stuff that the Trump administration has been doing, uh, since it came to office, two of the last five presidential elections in the United States have resulted in the person who lost the popular vote taking office. That’s a crisis, I think. Um, and I think that what is happened since January 20, 2017 is- is a major and mounting crisis. And I think that the way that people are engaging in speech, not just around political issues, but around a whole bunch of things is- is reflective of the fact that people perceive us to be in a very, very profound crisis and I think we need to engage with that.
Angus Johnston: 00:21:55 Um, and- and one other thing I- I think that’s important to note is particularly when we’re looking at the campus, I think that there is a bit of hi- historical myopia, um, that gets us in trouble when we’re thinking about what speech looks like and what speech should look like. Um, when you come to an event like this, there’s always the invocation of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and this- this narrative of declension, right? That was what free speech really looked like on campus and what we have now is something different and something worse. Um, but if the ver- Berkeley Free Speech Movement happened today, it would be wildly unpopular with huge numbers of people including, I’m gonna say, a lot of people in this room, right?
Angus Johnston: 00:22:41 The Berkeley Free Speech Movement was- was kicked off by thousands of students gathering around a police car to prevent somebody from being arrested and stopping the police from doing what they were supposed to do. And sitting in around that police car for 32 hours and delivering speeches from the top of that police car. And if you look at the photos, you’ll see that the- the hood and the roof of that car are essentially caved in by the end of it. And a lot of people would say, including, again, some people in this room, that that’s- that’s not the kind of dialogue that we’re looking for, not the kind of speech that we’re looking for. And, you know, I know that this- this particular quote is going to be one that’s familiar to a lot of you, but I think it’s important to- to bring it out every once in a while. Um, this is the- the pararation of Mario Savio’s speech in December 1964 at one of the great, um, rallies of the Free Speech Movement. I want you to think about how this would be covered in the media and how this would be covered by free speech defenders, uh, specifically in the media if this were a speech that were given, uh, on an American campus today and went viral, uh, on Twitter.
Angus Johnston: 00:24:02 “There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the oper- apparatus and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who o- own int, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.”
Angus Johnston: 00:24:33 This is not a call to debate. This is a call to disruption. This is a call to put your bodies upon the gears and the wheers- wheels and the levers. Um, and I think that- that when we’re trying to understand the nature of protest, it’s very, very important for us to understand that protest and debate are two very, very different things. That if Mario Savio and the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley had been passing resolutions and hosting debates and engaging in dialogue with each other and in, you know, challenging the administration to have an open forum discussion in an auditorium on campus, none of us would know who they were. None of us would remember them today. And I know that because before the Free Speech Movement, there were huge numbers of liberal progressive activists who tried to change the university using exactly those methods and they failed. And they failed where the Berkeley Free Speech Movement succeeded because they were willing to put their bodies upon the wheels.
Kmele Foster: 00:25:40 John?
John McWhorter: 00:25:42 Um, my name is John McWhorter, I teach linguistics and philosophy and music history at Columbia University. And I would say that, um, the place that we’re at now in terms of campus debate, um, with all due respect for what you’re saying, Angus, I completely understand. I used to teach at Berkeley, I’m a great admirer of Mario Savio, I have that speech memorized, actually.
Angus Johnston: 00:26:04 (Laughs)
John McWhorter: 00:26:04 Still, I think that there has been a scene change. Um, I noticed it in specifically the year 2014 in teaching my classes, that it got harder to have an open discussion. Nobody was throwing Molotov cocktails or anything, but it got to the point that a certain minority of students could swerve or even stanch discussion with what I think many of us are now familiar with as what’s called the- the social justice warrior ideology and it does worry me. And the reason it worries me is because I think there’s a difference between debate and even healthy debate, and no, debate is rarely tidy. It never has been. But there’s a difference between debate and something that’s a religion. And I must make it clear that when I use the word religion, I’m not trying to use it as a battering ram. I don’t mean it to be funny. I mean that there actually is something that has settled in in our campus discussions now that an anthropologist from Mars would recognize as no different from, for example, strong Christian fundamentalism. We don’t happen to use the word religion to refer to it, but an outsider coming into it would see it as a religion and be perplexed that anybody would resist the label.
John McWhorter: 00:27:25 So, for example, the idea that white privilege is a stain in a white person that can never actually be overcome, but must be constantly attested to. That’s equivalent to the notion of original sin. The idea that there’ll be a day when, and I’m referring to race specifically because it’s my bailiwick, but many of you will be able to extend it. There’ll be a day when America comes to terms with racism. What does that mean? Really. I mean, just what does that sequence of words mean? What terms? Come to terms how? Exactly what events? What realizations are intended by that term? What would you imagine? It’s Judgment Day. It’s the same thing. It’s that same, mythical sense that there’ll be some different time now, regardless of, and this is the third thing, logic and fact. How beyond a certain point it’s accepted that logic and facts that are something that a person can’t appeal to if they’ve created some sort of offense in a speaker. Someone said something that someone says offensive, and that in itself is okay.
John McWhorter: 00:28:36 We’re all familiar from various events that have happened over the past four or five years where the person who’s created the offense tries to defend themselves and just digs themselves in deeper and deeper and deeper. I don’t mean Roseanne. I mean, that’s a rather easy case, but somebody who’s more reasonable than that, where it’s obvious that facts simply won’t work. They just get yelled at and screamed at. This is what happens when people are not engaging in what you would call even healthy debate, but pursuing a heretic. To against the ideology now is to suffer indeed what Galileo suffered. It is a religion afoot. In 1500, nobody in Europe considered themselves religious. It as just in the water. If there was a such thing as an atheist, they kept that to themselves and there, essentially, wasn’t. That’s where we are now. And so many of the people now who are religious would resist the label because especially a modern, secular, educated person often won’t like the idea of being told that they have a religion. But that doesn’t mean that the analysis isn’t accurate. There’s a religion.
John McWhorter: 00:29:40 And the problem with this religion is that it does mean that debate is discouraged, not absolutely stanched, but it means that too many people, especially the majority who are not up for being mauled, that’s most people, are more inclined to keep quiet and it gets harder and harder to discuss. Now, there are two things that we have to remember. I’ve never met a snowflake. That analysis is wrong. It’s not that students now are too delicate to hear views that they’re not used to. Never met that person. It’s not that. Rather, the people who are leading this kind of movement are genuinely angry, within themselves they have genuine aggrievement, there’s no delicacy involved here. It’s that people have been caught up in, and it’s so easy to forget how it would feel to be somebody only 20 years old, you didn’t know the time before, you didn’t really know seven years before. You’re only 20, you’ve only known one way of thinking of these things. If that’s what you’ve taken in from your dorm, from what you’ve seen, and especially from social media, then you’re quite sincere. You’re not delicate. If you’re one of these leaders, you’ll actually probably one of the smarter and more self-directed people. So, the idea is not to tell people to stop being so delicate. They’re not delicate. They’re often brilliant. But we still have a problem.
John McWhorter: 00:31:05 Second, and this is something that I think is more important than the snowflake analysis. This issue cannot be framed simply as there must be completely free speech on campus because there mustn’t. That’s an oversimplification of the issue. One any college campus that I taught on, I don’t wanna have to hash out whether or not there should be slavery.
Alice Dreger: 00:31:05 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
John McWhorter: 00:31:25 I don’t wanna have to discuss whether or not there should be genocide or whether or not women ever should have gotten the suffrage. There are some things where we can assume, even if there’s some Martian perspective where we could see it in a different way, we can assume because life is short, that there are things we don’t need to discuss. And so we don’t need completely free speech, there are some things that we don’t need- need to hear all.
John McWhorter: 00:31:53 However, the SJW ideology and there is one and it is a religion. It is a religious faith. That ideology tries to shut out too much. It tries to include way too much within that zone. Specifically, if the idea is that anything that can be laboriously interpreted as racist, anything that can be interpreted in that way at all, is off-limits such that any speaker who comes to campus espousing it is subject to certainly being shouted down and possibly even threatened physically, then we have a problem because that’s not a university. That’s not civil. And Angus, I completely understand what you’re saying, but that’s different for me than what happened in 1964. If, by chance, and I’m done, Mario Savio and the gang, and it’d be interesting to see that in color on clear film. It looks mythical because of the black and white. If they with modern social media could keep anybody who disagreed with them from saying anything at all, not just Clark Kerr, but anybody? That wouldn’t be any good, either. Social media didn’t let them do that. And it’s not Trump. Social media did this. It’s a problem. I find that it makes it harder for me to be a teacher.
Alice Dreger: 00:33:16 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
John McWhorter: 00:33:16 Thank you.
Jason Stanley: 00:33:17 So, the problem with going last is, like, you agree too much and so many of your points have been made. Uh, my name’s Jason Stanley, I teach, uh, philosophy and linguistics at Yale University, sort of the flip of John who teaches linguistics and philosophy.
John McWhorter: 00:33:30 It’s different.
Jason Stanley: 00:33:31 And, uh, my- my first … I wrote a bunch of books on epistemology and philosophy of language and then turned to working on propaganda, and I have a book coming out on fascism. Um, so on these question, uh, that was asked, I do think there’s a free speech crisis, uh, but I have to, uh, say in what sense I think that. Um, I think too much in these debates there are two incompatible presuppositions that are made. The first presupposition is the campus is the world, and the second presupposition is the campus is not part of the world.
Jason Stanley: 00:34:11 I- I make the opposite of those two. I think the campus is part of the world, but it’s not the whole world. And I think that you have a free-flowing interaction as history shows us between the world and the cap- and the campus. In William Sheridan Allen’s book, uh, about [Falburg 00:34:28] how a not- how a town that voted for social democrats became Nazi. Um, he talks about ultra-nationalists in 1928 in the [inaudible 00:34:41] giving performances and speeches and being shot down by the university students and bricks flew, these were open conflicts. University students facing ultra-nationalists, Milo, what happens with Berkeley and- and Milo when people are sent out as provocateurs to create these situations, this is not new and it’s not local. Um, so there’s a complex interaction between the world and the university.
Jason Stanley: 00:35:05 Um, and I think there’s a free speech crisis because the far right as taken over the vocabulary of free speech. Um, uh, in the- the- the, uh, Jeremy Joseph Christian, who- who murdered two people in Portland, uh, when he came into the courtroom said, uh, said, “This is America. If you don’t like free speech, get out.” You know. Uh, t- too much, the free speech vocabulary is being co-opted for, I would argue, illiberal purposes by the right and that’s a crisis. When- when survey polls ask young people, or any of us, what do you think about free speech, they’re not responding just to the reference of the, of free speech. They’re responding to the social meaning of the terms and social meanings change. And they get affiliated with different groups. And when you get bogged down in certain kinds of terminology, then you tend, it tends to affect your thinking. So, that’s why I try to avoid expressions like social justice warrior, I try to avoid the crisis vocabulary as much as possible. Now, I- I- because I- and especially expressions that were deliberately brought in for political purposes, like political correctness. I worry that when we traffic in such vocabulary, then we prepare ourselves to see the world in a certain way and so we should try to just change the vocabulary all the time.
Jason Stanley: 00:36:31 Um, so now onto the campus issue, um, I mean, I think that, uh, that, uh, you know, uh what’s happening on campuses also needs to be seen in a historical perspective. I’m not, uh, I think that when you come into, I think when [Height and Lukianov 00:36:49] wrote their piece, uh, they framed a general narrative and they have a certain theoretical perspective. But the problem, then, is that you can’t see nuance and difference between different, say, events. One thing that’s been problematic so far at this conference, Angus just discussed. Where are the people from the University of Alabama? From the University of Missouri? Where are the- is it really the case that what’s going on at Reed College is the same as what’s going on af- on at the University of Missouri? You tell [Storm Urban 00:37:18] or the members of Concerned Students 1950 at the University of Missouri that they’re snowflakes or social justice warriors when they had nooses hung on their doorknobs. Uh, so that’s a very different situation than Reed College, than other universities.
Jason Stanley: 00:37:33 So, when we- we just talk about elite private education and not, like, you know, Americans who didn’t have overly structured backgrounds because they didn’t come from backgrounds of wealth, then, you know, we’re obscuring, we’re- we’re creating a false picture of the general thing. And I think that the different campus movements had different causes. Uh, Missouri led to Yale, were there mistakes in method? Sure. Uh, but, uh, but there were some good outcomes, uh, as well. Uh, and I’ll conclude by just saying something, uh, about, that I think has been an echo of- of what John said.
Jason Stanley: 00:38:17 Like, there are certain theoretical moves that I think, I’m- I find problematic. First of all, I don’t think John Stewart Mill is Jesus Christ. I- I don’t think that-
John McWhorter: 00:38:17 But he is.
Jason Stanley: 00:38:27 I don’t think just by invoking John Stewart Mill you shot down the conversation.
John McWhorter: 00:38:30 (Laughs)
Jason Stanley: 00:38:31 I teach- I teach on liberty. I’ve taught it for 25 years. There are seriously problematic arguments and on liberty. Mill thinks that unless you argue out with an opponent, then you don’t know your position. So, because I haven’t refuted external world skepticism, I don’t know that you’re in front of me now. I don’t think that’s a very plausible argument. Mill makes the assumption of … Any rate, I’m not gonna get into it.
John McWhorter: 00:38:52 (Laughs)
Angus Johnston: 00:38:52 (Laughs)
Jason Stanley: 00:38:55 But, uh, so, uh. So, uh, I think that when people are like, “Oh, well, we need viewpoints on every side when an issue is politically important.” Well, this is already raised. Well, Al Qaeda’s politically important. So that would lead you to think that we need Al Qaeda representatives on campus. I don’t think we need Al Qaeda representatives on campus. We can actually figure out, you know, put- people … Steven Pinker argues that, uh, the evidence supports the view that the Ashkenazi Jews are more intelligent, generally, than others because of their history of money lending. But presumably Pinker is not gonna want people on campus who argue, faculty members who argue that Ashkenazi Jews are more materialistic and greedy because of their history of money lending. So, you gotta make, you know, uh … So, there’s a lot of sort of theoretical moves that I think need to be queried and questioned here.
Kmele Foster: 00:39:45 Well, I’d love to introduce a couple of things here, um, first, I mean context and subjectivity are ideas that have been talked about in general, but just to- to introduce them explicitly. Also, Heterodox’s statement, I think, is very instructive when it describes the- the problem that they hope to solve with viewpoint diversity. Um, and I’ll- I’ll just read it quickly.
Kmele Foster: 00:40:07 “For simple problems or fully resolved technical matters, there is little need for viewpoint diversity.” It goes on to say, “But for ‘wicked problems,'” quotes, uh, “those that can be framed in multiple ways and that may trigger passions and partisan motivation, viewpoint diversity is essential.”
Kmele Foster: 00:40:26 Now, subjectively, it’s very hard to say what those things are, but it’s important to note that the- the credo of Heterodox does acknowledge that there are various points of view that we are not necessarily advocating there ought to be people on campus representing those views. And that it an obvious principle challenge that I would love to have you all address. Relatedly, you know, we move from epoch to epoch and in certain respects, from crisis to crisis, uh, at the pre- at the current moment, um, it is almost certainly the case that I might be like the least concerned person in here about the current state of our politics. And that’s not because I voted for Donald Trump, um, it’s for other complicated reasons, um, but I do wonder about the subjective vantage point that, you know, a broad community of people who share that perspective, who, perhaps, go out and occasionally find evidence to support that s- that perspective where they look, um … I- I- I’m-
Kmele Foster: 00:41:27 I’ll wrap it up this way, when I look at this issue, the challenge that I have is gaining sufficient perspective to be able to say what’s happening now is substantially different from what has happened in the past. There are always things that we can’t say in polite company, that good and decent people can’t observe or won’t observe if they want to be liked. For those of us who are deeply concerned about this issue, um, and for those of us who aren’t, how do we know when we have passed that threshold. Um, and for those who are concerned about things as they currently stand, how do we know when then crisis is abated and we’re simply back in this more even place, uh, certainly when it was the Vietnam War, the 1970s, with the radicals movement, with the radicals, the left-wing radicals. There were certain concerns, um, certainly we already mentioned the Iraq War and it seems as though that was eons ago in some ways. But it wasn’t very long ago, um, so I’ll- I’ll let you perhaps respond to that, uh, in general. And uh, as we’ve only got about 15 sec- 15 minutes here, uh, but perhaps we just, I dunno, roll down.
Alice Dreger: 00:42:36 First off, I wanna point out, and I think Heather and Brett would want me to point this out. Evergreen is a public institution-
Angus Johnston: 00:42:36 Gotcha.
Alice Dreger: 00:42:41 And I would say that I think part of the reason why it looks like what we’re hearing from is the private institutions is because frankly, they have the money and the resources to lead in a lot of problems in academia. It’s not that these things don’t matter at public institutions and not that people aren’t fighting for it, but it’s the people at the- the more elite places that have more power and more money to deal with things. So, just briefly on that.
Alice Dreger: 00:43:02 But I would say, you know, as somebody who’s been on university campuses for 25 years, it does feel like a crisis to me and I- the crisis to me is a crisis of not caring about facts. Right? The crisis to me is when I end up in these situations like I did at Wellesley College where I’m there to give a talk and an email is circulated about what my alleged views are on transgender people, but it’s completely wrong. And I’m told by some students it doesn’t really matter whether or not I believe that, what matters is that that is my public reputation. Therefore, I should not be allowed to be there. It’s like we don’t have the most basic common understanding of what a university should be about, which is, yes, we should have programs in arts and music, which are not about truth-seeking, but for the most part, most of us should care about truth-seeking and should have a basic concept that if we’re going to pursue justice, we have to care about what actually happened, right? We have to care about the truth.
Alice Dreger: 00:44:05 And instead what I end up running into all the time is what we’ve talked about, this kind of throwing down of the identity cards in order to decide who wins. It’s such a stupid card game. It’s such a simplistic card game that it doesn’t feel like an intellectual game at all. There doesn’t seem to be any intellectualism under it. Instead, it’s this sort of attitude of … And- and I- I was talking with Robby last night on the walk back to the hotel, we find this even in Title Nine investigations, right? Where it doesn’t really matter what actually happened. What mattered is who is belonging to a party that is understood to be historically oppressed. And so, I feel like it is a crisis. I- I feel like when I’m on campuses now, I’m in a situation that is radically different from 25 years ago and I’m speaking as somebody who came to the university in feminism and remains a feminist. You know, I would point out that the first person arguing for viewpoint diversity was feminists arguing fro a feminist standpoint of epistemology. When we said 25 years ago having more points of view gives you less confirmation bias and a better chance at getting truth, we were told, “Oh, that’s silly, girls.” Right? (Laughs)
Alice Dreger: 00:45:11 But we were there and I’m happy to say now what’s really happening at Heterodox is feminist standpoint epistemology. Um, but the problem is, I mean, those were feminists and I was part of that and I’m still part of that. Feminists who believed that we did want to get closer to truth, that’s why we wanted more diversity within the ranks of people doing research was because it would help with confirmation bias and it would help asking questions. So, I do think there’s a crisis because there’s this attitude that asking difficult questions is somehow dangerous.
Angus Johnston: 00:45:43 I- I- I- I think that this question of truth and this question of subjectivity is a really important one and I think it’s- it’s one that deserves a bit more unpacking. I- I always go back to- to what Niels Bohr said that the- the opposite of a- a true statement is a falsehood, but the opposite of one profound to- one profound truth may well be another profound truth.
Alice Dreger: 00:46:03 Mmm.
Angus Johnston: 00:46:04 And, you know, I hear echos of that in the Heterodox statement, right? That there are certain things that we can say this is true, this is false. There are other things where we, we have to say that- that you know, uh, there are truths which may clash with each other and there’s no winner that comes out, right? That there are truths, uh, that, uh, that can be existing in opposition with each other and in tension with each other without one of them having to be accepted and one of them having to be rejected. Uh, and knowing the difference between those two kinds of truth, the one where there is one and then one where there are multiple and they’re gonna have to contend with each other is not as simple as a lot of people would like to pretend that it is. Uh, for me, having been on campuses in undergrad in the late ’80s and early ’90s as a student activist, I- I see a lot of resonance with what was happening back then, uh, with what’s happening right now around issues of identity politics. This was the moment that political correctness became a really big thing.
Angus Johnston: 00:47:09 And one of the things that I think is- is really important in terms of the role of social media on this stuff is that there, everybody is so [inaudible 00:47:18] Oops! Did my … Nope, there we go. Everybody is so much more exposed than they were ten years ago, even, and that includes the activists themselves. Uh, that if you go on Twitter and you say something intemperate, you can be chased out of your college, you can wind up on a right-wing website, you can, you know, you get quoted in your student newspaper and you can find yourself the subject of three New York Times op-eds within four days, right?
Angus Johnston: 00:47:50 That’s scary and that’s weird. And so, one of the things that I think is really, really important to note is that the conversations that are happening among activists behind closed doors are often very, very different from the conversations that they’re having in the public sphere because you don’t have the freedom to explore, to be experimental, to screw up in public that you used to. I- I always say, and I’ll wrap up with this, I always say when I’m speaking on a campus that- that the one thing that you need to have if you want to be a campus activist is the willingness to be wrong in public. That the willingness to be wrong and to learn from your wrongness and to accept the consequences of your wrongness, all of that is crucial to developing as- as an activist and as a person. But the costs of wrongness are incalculably higher than they were just ten years ago, and that, that does scare me.
Shadi Hamid: 00:48:46 If I- If I could just j- jump in on the social media side of it, and I think that, you know, a lot of you are probably on Twitter. And as someone who’s on Twitter quite a bit but trying to cut down, it’s striking, it’s striking to me how the incentive structure in- in the Trump era works because I see tweets that get, you know, thousands of retweets and likes that are just banal anti-Trump statements, and that’s what, that’s where the incentive structures lead a lot of people who might otherwise have interesting, creative things to say, but that doesn’t actually get you a lot of play when it comes to, you know, whatever our tribe might be. And this is particularly on the left. Um, and that’s why I think, and I, you know, and this is, this is why it’s not just a question of truth, it’s a question of how do we encourage interesting ideas that may not be the truth, but are useful because they- they push us to have interesting, productive, fruitful debates? And I worry that, as someone who is on the left and wants “my side” to be a little bit better on these things, a lot of the interesting, provocative debates I think are happening on the right now.
Shadi Hamid: 00:50:02 And that’s concerning to me. I want, um, and someone was, you know, someone was saying this, um, last night in- in a con- in a conversation that, and I think it may, there may be something to it. There aren’t a lot of, if you look at white male liberals on- on the left. So, left liberals, um, not a lot of, and if- if they’re millennials, they don’t really have interesting views. They’re … I mean, they just … I- I … And it’s sad. They, um, and, uh …
Angus Johnston: 00:50:31 I feel shamed.
Shadi Hamid: 00:50:33 Yeah. And, and I know they’re ca- I know some of them are capable of it and the- let’s be … And, uh, and …
Kmele Foster: 00:50:42 Some. At least.
Shadi Hamid: 00:50:43 Some. But, um, but, um, also to be honest, one reason that I can get away with saying things that are controversial is because on the, on the sort of totem pole of disadvantaged groups-
Kmele Foster: 00:50:55 Sure.
Shadi Hamid: 00:50:55 Luckily, I’m in one of the most disadvantaged groups in the Trump era.
Kmele Foster: 00:50:55 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Shadi Hamid: 00:50:59 I mean, I’m Muslim.
Kmele Foster: 00:51:00 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Shadi Hamid: 00:51:01 Um, and that’s actually worked re- that’s really worked in my favor and I’ll, you know, I’ll just be straight up about it. People have to be a lot more careful, um, they can’t accuse me of being Islamophobic because I’ve been a very outspoken opponent of Islamophobia. I think Islamophobia is real.
Kmele Foster: 00:51:17 Southern Poverty Law Center may, might disagree with that. I think they’ve managed to qualify some people who happen to be, uh, Muslim as Islamophobic.
Shadi Hamid: 00:51:26 That- that there’s one person who was- who was included on that list. That is true. Um, but um, yeah. Anyway, I don’t, um, but I- I- I do think that, um, so it- it’s also there- there is this question of what- what the left is going to move towards and I think that that’s why there’s also, you know, so- socialists-
Kmele Foster: 00:51:48 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Shadi Hamid: 00:51:48 And Bernie supporters and people who write for Jacobin, I think that that’s where a lot of, you see a lot of interesting ideas coming more on the left side rather than the center left, which is very much stuck in this narrow liberal consensus of being obsessed around issues of race in the kind of religious manner that I think John was talking about that’s fundamentally about purity and it’s not about having interesting, useful ideas.
Kmele Foster: 00:52:14 And I saw your hand go up and before you chime in, I wanna ask, related to just kind the change in attitudes-
John McWhorter: 00:52:21 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kmele Foster: 00:52:21 … and the fact that there are certain things that are totally off-limit. Racism is off-limits.
John McWhorter: 00:52:21 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kmele Foster: 00:52:26 The spectrum of things, however, that are considered racist might evolve as you pointed out earlier, Jason. Um, it seems like both of these things are, in fact, happening. Could you talk a little bit about that as you respond to the prompting?
John McWhorter: 00:52:40 This, you can take it even larger, this is what’s what’s frightening to me and what I would like to see stop. This is how we would know that there had been a major change in the tone of things and it’s the sort of thing that one often doesn’t even notice within the current debate, because it’s so much a part of the scene.
John McWhorter: 00:52:58 I came into academia in the late ’80s and I came into it as just a geeky person interested in my languages, interested in weird stuff. I wanted to learn about things and learn how to think about them. It took me about ten years to fully understand what the problem was. Whenever I would try to say something that I thought was interesting in print, especially after I became a professor. Two times I got in major trouble. Once was during the grand old Ebonics controversy, back in 1997. I ran afoul, and I’m not gonna get into the details, but I said something that was completely anodyne and was, you know, practically asked to leave the planet by a certain group of people. And I had no idea what I had done.
John McWhorter: 00:53:39 Then I studied Creole languages, like Jamaican Creole, Papiamento, Haitian Creole. I’ve said some completely empirical, you know, admiring things about those languages and been told again and again, you know, I’m known as a public linguist. There’s a small cadre of linguists who think of me as this sinister charlatan because of these things that I said. And frankly, they’re wrong. However, the reason they don’t like what I’ve said is because it happens to run afoul of this certain religion that we’re talking about. I have found, basically, that in terms of being an academic, there are a great many people with massive influence who think that the soul of being an academic or intellectual person is to battle power differentials. That’s the idea.
Alice Dreger: 00:53:39 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
John McWhorter: 00:54:24 As opposed to … Now that’s this and that’s a noble goal and I’ve always thought of myself as part of it. But being an intellectual or being an academic is this and you find that there are these people in suits who think that really, what you’re supposed to be doing is the little, tiny thing of battling power differentials and if you’re not doing that, and if you’re not doing it right, then you are the devil.
John McWhorter: 00:54:48 Now, most people would never put it that way and that’s just what I mean by how powerful it is. If a young me, of course I’m still young, but if a younger me could come into academia now as just a stupid, Urkel nerd trying to find things out and wouldn’t run up against that purse-lipped person who doesn’t know that all they’re really interested in is battling power differentials, then things would’ve changed.
Jason Stanley: 00:55:17 So, just, I mean, I’m a great admirer of John and his work.
John McWhorter: 00:55:20 Uh-oh (laughs).
Jason Stanley: 00:55:21 Uh (laughs) no, so I’m gonna challenge John’s self-representation.
John McWhorter: 00:55:26 Please do.
Jason Stanley: 00:55:27 I mean, John works on Creoles. John works in an area in socio-linguistics that comes from, in part, chapter one of Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks and the politics of Creole. Like, power differentials. Socio-linguistics is an area that emerges from precisely thinking about power differentials and John’s work is on language and power. So, when he does this in public, I’m a little … I mean, I think there’s, I agree that there’s lots of ways to get at truth, but one way is thinking about power differentials as John’s academic work reveals.
John McWhorter: 00:56:01 ( Laughs)
Kmele Foster: 00:56:01 Can I- can I ask a question? Can I ask a question about that? Given the brevity of that response, um, related to this issue, I mean, social justice often comes up in the context of these conversations and you eloquently defended your position earlier. I wonder about the dangers, uh, of potentially missing a crisis that might be blooming related to social justice. There’s- there’s certain, I have to imagine that there is some risk of potentially overstating your case when talking about these power dynamics and perhaps missing the- the boat if, in fact, a belief system is, in fact, in existence amongst people who have good and noble aims, but perhaps take them to extremes and as a result, end up undermining some of these core principles that we all agree on.
Jason Stanley: 00:56:52 Well, you know, I’m gonna be the first person to criticize like what hap- happens to Alice. Uh, and, you know the, some of the excessive mistakes in method, um, but right now … I mean, of course, politics is always risky, so you’re always making a bet when you make a political, take a political stand. But to me right now, I see, looking around the world at far-right movements in governments, looking at the shutting down of Central European University for being “Marxist” and “gender theory,” shutting down of St. Petersburg University in Russia, the Basque University in Russia for “gender studies” and cultural Marxism.
Jason Stanley: 00:57:28 Right now, I see the university being used as a political pawn and yes, uh, I think there’s the excesses that people complain about, but contexts, we have to think about what political moment we’re in. And I would say, protecting the university is, uh, is going to be essential in this moment. And we can debate about whose fault is it. Is it the protestors’ fault for bringing Republicans to distrust universities, or is it the- the people tarring them with labels like snowflake, but that’s a debate between friends, ultimately. You know, ultimately we need to save the university, we need to protect the university against being this- this demonized pawn and so that’s what I’m going [inaudible 00:58:16].
Kmele Foster: 00:58:15 I believe there are some microphones floating around. Do we have some folks already with questions, perhaps? Looks like he’s coming.
John McWhorter: 00:58:23 Here it comes, the ten minute question.
Kmele Foster: 00:58:31 All right?
Samantha Harris: 00:58:32 Hi, I’m uh, ooh! Sorry, did I?
Kmele Foster: 00:58:35 Please.
Samantha Harris: 00:58:36 So, I’m Samantha Harris from FIRE and I loved, uh, you all had great things to say, so interesting. John, I have a question for you specifically. Which is, um, you mentioned, I love, though, the whole religion thing. Super-interesting. Um, you mentioned that, you know, you say you don’t think we should have total free speech, there’s some things you don’t wanna have to rehash. Um, and you know, I agree, I don’t wanna have to rehash certain things, either, but my question for you would be who, on campus, and off-campus, too, who gets to- Who decides? Who makes those decisions that certain things are now off the table?
John McWhorter: 00:59:04 That is a very good question and because we’re talking about how real life works and things that are complex as opposed to things that are uninteresting, there is no easy answer and I’m gonna go there. I’m going to go there. Everybody, everybody get ready. Race and IQ, yes, that is really a tough one. Some people could articulately say that that is something that should be debated, that there are difficult empirical and ethical issues and that people should be brought to campus who have this and that to say about it. Some people would say that no, that shouldn’t be debated and that as far as the pluses and minuses, the- the damage outweighs whatever benefits would come from it. Now, who decides? I would say that people on both sides of the ideological fence should be able to have a civilized debate about it, somewhat spirited, of course, but the idea being that nobody is chased out of the room being beaten over the head. Now, I thought about that particular issue long and hard and I wrote a piece about it and I thought, “No, I don’t want that on campus. I am completely open to being told by other people, as I was and none of them were devils, that, no, it should be debated.” And so, there are issues like that in the middle. It should be debatable. At this point, it seems like it isn’t, and that’s what worries me.
Angus Johnston: 01:00:23 Could I just jump on that for one second? I- I think it’s really important when we’re looking at these questions to understand the campus as an institution, right? Because who gets to decide is ultimately people on the campus and there’s gonna be a system, right? I believe that if a student group wants to invite somebody to campus, the university shouldn’t overturn that decision. However, I also believe that a stu- if a student group decides to bring somebody to campus and they are protested and then they change their mind, that they have to have the right to change their mind and disinvite somebody. So, I think one of the things that we really-
John McWhorter: 01:00:56 Who change their mind?
Angus Johnston: 01:00:57 The folks who decided to bring the person.
John McWhorter: 01:00:58 Oh, I see. Right.
Angus Johnston: 01:00:59 So if- if you wanna bring somebody, if you’ve decided that, you know, if I’ve decided that I wanna bring Charles Murray-
John McWhorter: 01:01:05 Right.
Angus Johnston: 01:01:05 … and then you come and you protest and then we also sit down, one or the other or both, and you’re like, “Actually, dude. Really? Gross.”
John McWhorter: 01:01:12 Right.
Angus Johnston: 01:01:13 And I decide, “You know what? I don’t know wanna give ‘im a platform, I don’t wanna create that environment, I don’t wanna create that,” and I change my mind? That’s not a failure of speech, that’s a success. I think of dialogue and norm-building between the two of us.
John McWhorter: 01:01:13 Talk about it. Sure.
Kmele Foster: 01:01:27 Well, that- that does bring to mind the- the namesake of Alice’s book who, I mean, Galileo is practicing, uh, or advocating for this system of heliocentrism at a time when the plurality of believe is that the Earth is at the center of everything, um, I mean, isn’t that- is that-
Alice Dreger: 01:01:44 Well, the plurality of belief was that the church was at the center of everything.
Kmele Foster: 01:01:46 Well, that- that as- that as well, um, but there’s still a plurality of belief and it sounds like we make a decision is a plurality of belief. If we’re at the end of all knowledge, then it’s not particularly scary. But if there are still things that are emergent that we could all collectively be wrong about, does that make anybody nervous?
Shadi Hamid: 01:02:05 Well, um, I think the really tough case is the Amy Wax situation and that’s- that’s a little bit different because then you’re talking about students who have to take a course and then it gets into questions of whether, um, whether students, I don’t wanna say harmed, but whether they can actually have the full educational experience with a professor who may have … And Glen Lowry and- and John were talking about this on their podcast, but also I listened to Glen Lowry’s interview of- of Amy Wax and what- what struck me as what- what- what would for me be a red line is when Glen asked Amy Wax, um, you know, “Do you consider black students inferior?” And I was expecting that Amy Wax would just very easily say, “Of course I don’t.” She didn’t say she thinks black students are inferior, but she refused to unequiv- unequivocally say that she- she didn’t think that.
Shadi Hamid: 01:02:59 And then I think to myself if you’re a black student taking a first year course at a law school, um, I personally would not wanna be a black student taking a class with Amy Wax because she may think, I don’t know what she thinks about my- my status as an individual who can, um, in the educational experience. So, that- that’s where I thought to myself, I- I as- That might be, that’s a tough case. And I- I don’t know where- where all of you stand on that, but that- that’s a different question than someone coming on campus and giving a speech and it’s optional to go. This is a case where you have to take her course in certain situations.
John McWhorter: 01:03:37 But the solution is not for Amy Wax to lose her job.
Shadi Hamid: 01:03:39 No, no.
John McWhorter: 01:03:40 You’re not saying that, but yes.
Shadi Hamid: 01:03:42 It may be, it may be appropriate to say, well, maybe you should- maybe the course, the fr- freshman students or first year students, you know, should they be required to take a course when they may feel like they won’t be get- they won’t get a fair hearing.
John McWhorter: 01:03:57 It’s a real issue.
Shadi Hamid: 01:03:58 Yeah.
Kmele Foster: 01:03:58 Well. Can we, uh, maybe get the next question and perhaps it’ll be something else related to this?
Marty Rochester: 01:04:04 Marty Rochester, University of Missouri St. Louis. I have a question or comment for Professor Stanley. Uh, Steven Pinker, who I don’t think is here, but is one of the leading members of the Heterodox Academy has said that the idea, the main idea that universities have about diversity is have students who look different, but think alike and that is think mostly liberally, not conservatively. And there are any number of studies that show liberal hegemony and domination, uh, in the pro- professoriate among liberals, not conservatives.
Marty Rochester: 01:04:35 So, uh, and I would add, by the way, that the main, one of the main faces at the University of Missouri, uh nine, 2015 situation was, uh, Melissa Click, far-left professor, uh, who called for muscle to prevent a, uh, a journalist from, uh, from, uh, filming, uh, student protestors. So, I question whether the far-right, uh, whether the onus should be on the far right right. So, that’s just one point I would make.
Marty Rochester: 01:05:00 Second, and if I can only just add one other thing very quickly with regard to Professor Johnston, I- I thought I heard you say that civility may actually be bad, and I just would fundamentally, respectfully disagree with that.
Kmele Foster: 01:05:00 Kind of a question.
Jason Stanley: 01:05:16 So, uh, first of all let me say unequivocally that a democracy requires honest Republicans and honest conservatives, and if we don’t recognize that, we’re not doing a democracy right. We need people, you know, the pr- if you look at the history of the past and when far-right movements arose, it’s because the conservatives collapsed. Or far-left movements arose. Uh, the sort of center left collapsed. So, I’m, you know, we need, uh, we need viewpoints from across the political divide.
Jason Stanley: 01:05:49 Let me, uh, make a point about Melissa Click. She lost her job. Um, she lost her job for a, for a, uh, she was fired. The University of Missouri campus has been incredibly attacked by the legislature, as you know. Um, again, we could argue about whose fault that is, but you know, I’m here to protect universities and, uh, and so, um, yeah. As far as Pinker’s comment, um, you know, is the University of Alabama or University of Mississippi students, it’s not public/private divide, it’s also South/North. It is really the case that the University of Missouri, University of Mississippi, University of Alabama is a vast swath of liberals? I gave a talk at the uni-, one of those universities, I shouldn’t say which, and, uh, and I, all I, I quoted DuBois and all I quoted him as saying was that the Civil War was due to slavery. And I looked up and a whole row of students were recording me like this. And I was like, “You can’t get fired for this at Yale,” you know.
John McWhorter: 01:05:49 (Laughs)
Jason Stanley: 01:06:54 So, so I think there’s a general problem and people need to … And you know we can, you know, if you focus on certain universities, you’re gonna think it’s liberal hegemony or, I don’t really like the word liberal there, but.
Marty Rochester: 01:07:06 I think the faculty are uniformly liberal.
Angus Johnston: 01:07:09 If you could-
Jason Stanley: 01:07:10 Well, I’m not gonna take math departments to hire Republicans.
Kmele Foster: 01:07:12 We’ve only got about six minutes, so I’d love to get the next question if we can. Yeah.
Notre Dame Grad: 01:07:18 So, I’m [inaudible 01:07:19], I’m a graduate of the University of Notre Dame just recently and one of the founders of a student organization, so I have a similar question to the first one, but from a slightly different angle. And it goes back to Shadi’s comments at the beginning where you said you guys didn’t often debate pronouns because you were focused on the Iraq War. And a fundamental reality is that universities have limited amounts of time, limited amounts of space, and limited amounts of money. And so at what point in addition to controversy, in addition to agreement, when does those- when do those constraints come in if a student leader comes and asks me, “I want $10,000 to bring in a flat-earther to debate a round-earther.” Like, do I … Is it my responsibility to let them have that debate, or should we de- be debating what I consider, or what we as a society consider more important issues? And so it’s still deciding, I guess, the question of what is okay for the realm of debate, but more so from a stan- from a standpoint of when we have limited resources, do we have a responsibility to talk about the things that are most pressing and most important.
Angus Johnston: 01:08:19 Well, I- I would say that the reason we weren’t debating pronouns on campus 25 years ago is that, uh, trans students were forced into the closet and had no room to- to participate in those debates. I think, you know, it’s not like nobody cared.
Alice Dreger: 01:08:33 Well, we were actually debating pronouns 25 years ago. I was there and the debate was this: We were trying to shift the language to “he and she” and shift the language from “mankind” to “humankind,” and we were told we were snowflakes that couldn’t understand that “he” meant “she.”
Angus Johnston: 01:08:33 That’s right. That’s right.
Alice Dreger: 01:08:49 And “mankind” meant “humankind.” And well, we won, and there was a gender debate and it was productive and useful and it helped a lot of women.
Angus Johnston: 01:08:56 That’s right, that’s right. That’s absolutely right. That’s absolutely.
Kmele Foster: 01:08:58 A question- a question related to that, though. Were there not caricatures at the time of people who were making what, at this point, we would all regard as very reasonable requests?
Alice Dreger: 01:09:08 I was absolutely mocked-
Kmele Foster: 01:09:09 Right.
Alice Dreger: 01:09:10 …by my professors for bothering to bring this up. Absolutely, no, it was definitely that kind of [crosstalk 01:09:15].
John McWhorter: 01:09:14 To make- [inaudible 01:09:15] Keep talking.
Alice Dreger: 01:09:16 Yeah, don’t cut me off [inaudible 01:09:17].
John McWhorter: 01:09:17 (Laughs)
Kmele Foster: 01:09:17 (Laughs)
Alice Dreger: 01:09:22 Yeah, you know, I mean, to my mind, the problem with these celebrity speakers being crayed- being paid crazy amounts of money to come in and then we have to pay for all the securities. Most of them are not intellectuals, so why are we spending university money on non-intellectuals? I mean, I- I think the most basic question should not be “Can we tolerate this point of view?” It’s, “Is there any academic content here? Is there anything that looks like research-based thinking? Any kind of innovative thinking here that is something like what we would expect at a university level? Something that will educate an undergraduate to a high level, or are we just bringing in somebody to shout slogans so everybody can tweet it and argue about it?”
Alice Dreger: 01:10:04 So, that, to my mind, is where the waste of money comes in.
Kmele Foster: 01:10:06 Right. I’ll take the last one there. [crosstalk 01:10:11]
Tassalana: 01:10:10 Uh, hi. My name is Tassalana. First of all, I want to thank you. Now, I come from the [inaudible 01:10:15] where people talk a lot about the role of technology companies in cultural shift. So, I wonder, so theoretically, if people pre-pass their opinions into format, that is adjustable to computers, machines, building AI, it is good for them, right? It is good for companies like Google and other technology companies, and that probably changes people mentality. So, I wonder if you think that educating students on the role of technology or how to interact with technology would be beneficial to bringing up people who are more diverse or more tolerable, just on a physical level.
John McWhorter: 01:10:52 Role of technology?
Alice Dreger: 01:10:54 Technology literacy is certainly something that needs attention, but more and more, I’m happy to say more and more public schools are actively doing technology literacy and media literacy. And the more of that that we can do, I think the better off we will be. I- I actually see a lot of hope that was happening in K through 12. We heard some stories earlier about lousy teachers that have the attitude that if students, sort of, have friends that that’s a problem. Um, and certainly that would be a problem. But I would say, for example, my son just turned 18 two days ago. He went through the East Lansing public school’s anti-bullying program. There’s some excess there in terms of the intercultural dialog program which requires everybody to testify to their privilege, you know, it’s backfires and it’s problematic and then the kids go play, um, what- what was the … Cards Against Humanity is the game they go play in the back room.
Kmele Foster: 01:10:54 (Laughs)
Alice Dreger: 01:11:40 And they have very productive discussions from that, but you know, some of the anti-bullying programs, for example, I’ve seen tremendous positives from that. So that, what I see in my son’s class is the ability to speak up when something is going wrong. And so, the other day, for example, I was at an ultimate Frisbee game of our high school versus another high school and one of the kids on our team was being obnoxious to the the other team. And two of the kids went over and said to him, “This is not appropriate and it’s not okay. We’re here to have a good sportsmanlike ex- experience,” and what they were doing was exactly what they were taught in their anti-bullying program, but they did it really well. They didn’t shame the kid, but they did get him to shut up and behave himself in a way that allowed everybody to enjoy themselves without an unnecessary tension. So, I- I do see a lot of hope, actually, in this stuff and I wish universities would pay more attention to technology literacy and media literacy especially. I would much rather that students be taught media literacy the- than they be swept into a pseudo-diversity program and taught that they have too much privilege.
Kmele Foster: 01:12:41 Got about 60 seconds. Anybody wanna try to sneak something in?
Jason Stanley: 01:12:44 I would. One thing I think that is emerged as a consensus among otherwise different views, not just today, this panel, but before is that social media has created a technology can’t be easily assimilable. And social media has changed everything. Uh, and we haven’t, we need discussions, theoretical discussions across different ideological divides. When you’re hit by one side, you tend, it tends to polarize you, but social media has really changed things and we need to reflect on that in the academy.
Kmele Foster: 01:13:15 Well, moderator’s prerogative, uh, one thing that I wish we had had an opportunity to talk about is the extent to which we’ve actually seen radical shifts in political perspectives on important issues in, uh, at a pace that seems pretty unprecedented. I mean, first you have the civil rights movement in the 1960s, um, now we have some gay marriage more recently, um, and in the last few years, the perspective on immigration. If you are restricted, a restrictivist who wants to build a fence along the southern wall, now we call it a wall, Bill Clinton called it a fence, you are a racist. Um, there is something interesting that seems to be happening here, perhaps technology has a role in that, but certainly the pace, uh the change of, uh, uh, or evolution of our perspective seems, uh, interesting. Uh, but at any rate, thank you all for a great panel.
Alice Dreger: 01:14:02 Thank you.
Kmele Foster: 01:14:02 Thank you.
Speaker 13: 01:14:09 Okay! Next we’re gonna head downstairs, you have about 30 minutes to grab some lunch and tho- the, uh, lunch program will start at, well, 30 minutes from now. And then we’ll come back up here for a conversation with, uh, University of Chicago President Zimmer at 1:10.