Monday, 6 June 2016

Rampant Intolerance in Academia

Unbelief Does Not Like Competition

An op-ed piece appeared recently in the NY Times declaiming the overwhelming prejudice against conservative academics that bubbles away in the ivory towers of the United States.  Nicholas Kristof reveals the extent of the problem.

A Confession of Liberal Intolerance

Nicholas Kristof
New York Times
We progressives believe in diversity, and we want women, blacks, Latinos, gays and Muslims at the table — er, so long as they aren’t conservatives.

Universities are the bedrock of progressive values, but the one kind of diversity that universities disregard is ideological and religious. We’re fine with people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.  O.K., that’s a little harsh. But consider George Yancey, a sociologist who is black and evangelical.  “Outside of academia I faced more problems as a black,” he told me. “But inside academia I face more problems as a Christian, and it is not even close.”

I’ve been thinking about this because on Facebook recently I wondered aloud whether universities stigmatize conservatives and undermine intellectual diversity. The scornful reaction from my fellow liberals proved the point.  
The extent of the prejudice does not surprise us in the slightest.
 Anyone thus surprised by the news within the ivory towers is either lacking in the rudiments of self-awareness (suggesting sociopathy is alive and well in academia) or they are intellectually slothful, or both.

It's not at all surprising.  When a dominant ideological paradigm becomes entrenched for over a century, people assume as absolute truths what are nothing more than philosophical or ideological nostrums.  Constant repetition and social reinforcement make propositions seems self-evident--so self-evident that those who question them can be immediately branded as ignorant, acutely prejudiced, purblind, stupid, dangerous--and so forth.  In academia, which supposedly stands for rigorous intellectual inquiry, how could academics, who by definition are ignorant, be employed?

Would serious halls of study employ an astronomer who genuinely believed the moon was made of green cheese, and that the cow jumped over said moon?  Of course not.  The academy has thus become an echo-chamber, where the endless repetition of lazy nostrums supplants genuine self-evidential truth.
The stakes involve not just fairness to conservatives or evangelical Christians, not just whether progressives will be true to their own values, not just the benefits that come from diversity (and diversity of thought is arguably among the most important kinds), but also the quality of education itself. When perspectives are unrepresented in discussions, when some kinds of thinkers aren’t at the table, classrooms become echo chambers rather than sounding boards — and we all lose.

Four studies found that the proportion of professors in the humanities who are Republicans ranges between 6 and 11 percent, and in the social sciences between 7 and 9 percent.  Conservatives can be spotted in the sciences and in economics, but they are virtually an endangered species in fields like anthropology, sociology, history and literature. One study found that only 2 percent of English professors are Republicans (although a large share are independents).  In contrast, some 18 percent of social scientists say they are Marxist. So it’s easier to find a Marxist in some disciplines than a Republican.
A fundamental precept of the ruling intellectual paradigm is the role and power of State.  It is the highest authority, the ultimate law-giver, the solution to all social problems facing the human race.  Statism is the regnant paradigm in the West.  This, in itself, is not surprising.  Every society and world view must have a centre, an organising principle, a sun around which the planets revolve.  Secularism--the reigning paradigm in the West, derived from the belief that there is only matter and chance, has to have a centre.  The State is that centre--the secularist's functioning deity.  It is the ultimate power.  There can be none other.

Academics who believe this world-view, who accept the endlessly articulated dogmas of Statism, are welcome.  Those who don't, are not--because, of course, they are ignorant and stupid.  Why?  Because they believe the moon is made of green cheese, that's why.
“Of course there are biases against evangelicals on campuses,” notes Jonathan L. Walton, the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard. Walton, a black evangelical, adds that the condescension toward evangelicals echoes the patronizing attitude toward racial minorities: “The same arguments I hear people make about evangelicals sound so familiar to the ways people often describe folk of color, i.e. politically unsophisticated, lacking education, angry, bitter, emotional, poor.”

A study published in The American Journal of Political Science underscored how powerful political bias can be. In an experiment, Democrats and Republicans were asked to choose a scholarship winner from among (fictitious) finalists, with the experiment tweaked so that applicants sometimes included the president of the Democratic or Republican club, while varying the credentials and race of each. Four-fifths of Democrats and Republicans alike chose a student of their own party to win a scholarship, and discrimination against people of the other party was much greater than discrimination based on race.
To an epistemologically self-conscious Christian, there is nothing here which surprises.  All human thought is ultimately circular to one extent or another.  Christians are more ideologically self-aware than most.  But, the circularity becomes vicious (as in a self-destructive "vicious circle") when advocates are blind to their own conditioning, assumptions, and presuppositions.  When the (now self-unaware) advocate fails to examine or question his own worldview, asserting it to be self-evidently true because all reasonable men think the same, he has blinded himself.  He has become an intellectual King Lear forcing out his own "vile orbs".

What should Christians do about this lamentable situation?  The Dutch theologian and politician, Abraham Kuyper used to advise, "in our isolation lies our strength".  The right response is not to whine outside the closed gates of secularist schools.  Nor is to send our sons and daughters there, in the hope that they will get a recognised qualification and a pathway to a career.  It is to set up and support Christian schools, academies, colleges and universities which are epistemologically self-conscious and which can not only match the secularist schools blow for blow, but which expose the vicious circles of secularism for what they are.

In the long run, there are few things which will prove more subversive to the secularist, statist world-view.  Unbelief, like all monopolies, does not like competition.

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