The professional intelligentsia: the brightest of our society?

Ross Douthat wrote a NYT opinion piece on Haidt’s studies of political bias in academia and the revival of reactionary political thought.

The NYT has a comments section, with a tab called ‘NYT Picks’. There are ten NYT Picks for Douthat’s article. Here’s one of the ten.

I consider the “professional intelligentsia” as the best informed and brightest of our society. Particularly in the sciences, these people are trained to be objective fact finders. Perhaps Ross might consider their left tilt not as some sort of cultural disease or selfishness but rather as the way they choose to a better world and a better society. Given my choice between following scientists and university professors or our conservative demagogues preaching the apocalypse over health care for the poor, I can assure I will proudly align behind the brains.

Jonathan Haidt, apparently, is a ghost in a horror movie. Some people can see him, and some people can’t. I pointed Topher Hallquist to Haidt a while ago; soon after, he wrote a post called American Conservatism Is Intellectually Bankrupt, which mentioned Haidt only to dismiss him offhand, with no indication of familiarity with what Haidt says beyond “gee, maybe there ought to be more conservatives in academia”.

Haidt’s claim isn’t that diversity of ideas is itself a necessary good. He’s not calling for flat-earthers in geology departments—not that Hallquist would see the difference. What he says instead is that it would be good for his field if its Overton window didn’t shut out the majority of this country’s population: if there were more conservatives in social psychology, it would be less likely to fall victim to obvious errors, such as defining “not formally taking a female colleague’s side in her sexual harassment complaint against her subordinate (given little information about the case)” as inherently immoral, calling left-wing authoritarianism “the Loch Ness Monster of political psychology” as Robert Altemeyer did, failing to rigorously investigate stereotype accuracy, or trying to measure ‘moral foundations’ by asking survey-takers about their support for conservative political positions  and then acting surprised when liberals and conservatives appear to have different moral foundations. I won’t summarize all of this set’s writing here; it’s all available online, and it’s not hard to read.

Now consider Jose Duarte’s report of being rejected from a position for disapproving of Jimmy Carter’s position on Palestinian terrorism. Does what Duarte thinks of Jimmy Carter have anything to do with his ability as a social psychologist? Does evangelical Christianity have anything to do with the ability in linguistics of the Ph.D. candidate mentioned in Hallquist’s post? (Note that Christians are probably overrepresented in linguistics relative to other academic disciplines, because missionaries.) I would be surprised if Hallquist believed in a General Factor of Correctness.

Haidt’s other claim is that this ideological skew in academia is recent. Specifically, it happened sometime after 1990. Was liberalism proven to be objectively true sometime between 1990 and 2000? Of course not. But something happened. What could it be?

If you didn’t click that link: it goes to a Google ngrams display for ‘culture war’. The term’s usage rate started rising from near zero in the early ’90s and hasn’t shown any sign of going down. If the political polarization of America into two distinct pseudo-ethnic factions began at the same time as the polarization of social psychology…

Progressives today believe in all sorts of prejudice: overt classism, unconscious bias, hatred of the Other, and so on. But, as that NYT comment shows, they don’t think any of that applies to them.

At least not when it comes to the people they truly hate.


7 responses to “The professional intelligentsia: the brightest of our society?

  1. Pingback: The professional intelligentsia: the brightest of our society? | Reaction Times

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  3. nickbsteves April 29, 2016 at 9:46 pm

    I seem to recall one of the NYT commentators in no uncertain terms calling Haidt a rightist, on Douthat’s “side”. Which is hilarious even from the perspective of mainstream left-right politics.

    • nydwracu April 30, 2016 at 2:18 pm

      Yes, Haidt is a rightist. To be anything else, he’d have to think his people are the only people in the world who have Good Brains and Good Facts, and everyone else is either an enemy alien to be packed onto a train and incinerated or not even human. No one else has the Good Brains, you see, and no one else knows the Good Facts. What use are such animals to Progress?

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