Poor Les Green: Justin Weinberg, who is always fishing for blog content on social media, asked Green innocently enough whether he could repost Green's blog post about "conservatives" on campus, without mentioning that he (Weinberg) doesn't really moderate comments, unless they hurt his feelings or the feelings of his friends. The result was predictable, and rather pathetic (though Tom Hurka had a funny comment). The first comment sets the tone. Tim Hsiao, apparently a conservative Christian, responds:
So, in essence, the answer is more like “because conservatism/conservative beliefs are false, silly, or irrational.”
Well, it’s easy to say that if you’re already convinced your views are correct or enlightened. This explanation strikes me as patting yourself on the back. In reality, it is almost certainly more complex than that (and at any rate, there are *plenty* of good arguments challenging left-leaning beliefs). When it comes to the political disparity in academia (which varies from discipline to discipline), there are a wide range of other sociological explanations that have found support. The author seems to ignore them entirely in favor of the self-congratulatory explanation.
Prof. Hsiao doesn't say which of the true propositions Green mentioned are ones he cares to deny (climate change? natural selection?). After all, their denial would be false, silly and/or irrational. But many of these propositions are denied by prominent conservatives in the U.S.--anyone heard of Ted Cruz?--whose antipathy to the universities is well-known.
I’m not sure which ‘conservatives’ Les Green has been talking to or reading but he seems to working from a most simplistic stereotype.
No, actually, he was working with the example of a familiar set of positions that actual conservatives embrace with fervor in public debate in America all the time. Maybe Tristian lives in North Korea, without reliable Internet access, so missed this. Tristian continues:
The conservatives I’m familiar with think universities are overrun with liberals because, they believe, universities are colleges and universities are full of people who believe things like:
Abortion, euthanasia, and maybe even infanticide are morally permissible at least some of the time.
There are no respectable arguments against gay marriage and those who oppose it must hate gay people.
Affirmative action and generous social welfare programs are self-evidently good and only racists and uncaring people oppose them.
Practicing a traditional religious faith is a sign of deep irrationality.
Traditional gender roles are self-evidently evil and the traditional families is at best one of any number of equally good settings for raising children.
American foreign policy is almost always motivated by evil and is almost always a destructive force in the world.
Capitalism is an intrinsically evil way of organizing economic activity.
If Tristian's conservatives believe all these things, then they are mostly ignorant about universities (or they are simply generalizing from the English Department to the entire university). Not even Marx thought capitalism was "an intrinsically evil way of organizing economic activity," and as someone who does believe, correctly, that America is the greatest threat to humanity at large, I can reassure Tristian that my view is an outlier. It is true, of course, that most academics support affirmative action, social welfare programs, and abortion, but most people in America support the latter two, and skepticism about the first is widespread and hardly silent. On the other hand, there are, in fact, "no respectable arguments against gay marriage"--there are sentences strung together that give the superficial appearance of being arguments, but they depend on premises that invariably involve religious dogma of one kind or another. Indeed, I think it's fair to say that Tristian's quarrel is not with the lack of "conservatives" on campus, but the lack of conservatives motivated by religious dogma. And there are fewer of those in universities, but for precisely the reasons Green mentioned.
Philippe Lemoine, a graduate student in philosophy at Cornell whom I have often linked to for his independent-minded analyses of various issues, has not, alas, covered himself in glory here with his overheated non-response to Green. Lemoine does, however, finally get to the core issue:
Finally, I want to reply to one point some people have made in defense of Green’s post, because it adds insult to injury. Both he and other people have claimed that his critics were misguided because he wasn’t talking about conservatives in general but only about a specific type of conservative. It’s true that, in his post, he occasionally qualifies his claims with vague expressions such as “a certain kind of conservative”. But he doesn’t always do that and, in any case, this is largely beside the point.
We'll get to why it's allegedly "beside the point" in a moment, but I want to pause to note that it was obvious Green "wasn't talking about conservatives in general." The libertarian political philosopher Christopher Morris (Maryland), commenting at Green's blog, stated it clearly enough: "I realize your note was focused on, well, not-well-informed 'conservatives.'" It was obvious from the examples of propositions Green offered. It was so obvious I put it into the title of my blog post about Green's post.
Why is this central point "beside the point" according to Lemoine?
You don’t write a post called “Why it is hard to be a campus conservative” if all you want to do is point out that people who form their beliefs in a totally irrational way, which is the case of only a small proportion of the people who complain that it’s hard to be a conservative on campus (at least it’s not larger than the proportion of people who deny it’s a problem and form their beliefs in the same irrational way), are bound to be uncomfortable in places such as universities, which are supposed to be dedicated to the rational search for the truth.
Are there conservatives who complain that it’s hard to be conservative on campus for bad reasons? Well of course there are, plenty of them even. But that their reasons are bad is obvious, so when you write a post which you claim is about why it’s hard to be conservative on campus and only address those reasons, you are in effect suggesting that conservatives don’t also have plenty of good reasons to complain that it’s hard to be a conservative on campus.
Lemoine complains a lot in his post about claims that aren't at all "obvious" but are taken to be so by complacent liberals. That's a good point, but now he's committed the same mistake here: Ted Cruz conservatives--there are tens of millions of them--do not find it obvious that much of their worldview is "obviously" "irrational." And these folks are, indeed, up in arms about universities. Lemoine asserts that "only a small proportion of the people who complain" about liberal bias in universities are what I'm calling Ted Cruz conservatives. How does he know? No doubt the people he and I talk to who are familiar with mindless "groupthink" across the spectrum of political opinion are not Ted Cruz conservatives, but I doubt that is a representative sample of those who think universities are inhospitable to conservatives. Why can't Green write a post aimed at the folks like Ted Cruz?
Green is well-aware that there is mindless groupthink in universities--he was a victim of it when he wrote in defense of Germaine Greer's skepticism that trans-women are women. The current mindless groupthink in academic philosophy has less to do with a left-right split, than with something weirder--sometimes it's the New Infantilism, sometimes mindless identity politics, sometimes just the narcissism of spoiled children. None of that changes the fact that tens of millions of "Ted Cruz conservatives" are hostile to universities because the essence of a university is hostile to their irrational worldview, which was Green's original point.
ADDENDUM: Mr. Lemoine asked me to add a link to his response. I think he continues to ignore the central point, imposing his own expectations about what the topic should have been.