Just in case you are still wondering why college professors tend to be politically liberal, the last few days have provided three examples that make my point perfectly.
First up, we have this piece from Bret Stephens, writing at The Wall Street Journal. Stephens’s piece is behind a pay-wall, but this essay at HuffPo quotes the most relevant part. Stephens is keen to argue that any notion that income inequality is a serious problem in America is just the product of envious left-wingers. Stephens writes:
Here is a factual error, marred by an analytical error, compounded by a moral error. It’s the top 20% that take in just over half of aggregate income, according to the Census Bureau, not the top 10%. That figure is essentially unchanged since the mid-1990s, when Bill Clinton was president. And it isn’t dramatically different from 1979, when the top fifth took in 44% of aggregate income.
Besides which, so what? In 1979 the mean household income of the bottom 20% was $4,006. By 2012, it was $11,490. That’s an increase of 186%. For the middle class, the increase was 211%. For the top fifth it’s 320%. The richer have outpaced the poorer in growing their incomes, just as runners will outpace joggers who will, in turn, outpace walkers. But, as James Taylor might say, the walking man walks.
Sadly, not a word of this is true. Paul Krugman supplies the ugly details. You should go read his post, but let me just quote from his conclusion:
We could have a debate about whether rising inequality is a problem, and whether measures intended to curb it would do more harm than good. But we can’t have that kind of debate if the anti-populist side won’t acknowledge basic facts – and it won’t. In his piece Stephens trashes Obama, accusing him of making a factual error when he did no such thing; then proceeds to commit just about every statistical sin you can imagine in an attempt to minimize the rise in inequality. In the process he leaves his readers more ignorant than they were before. When this is what passes for argument, how can we have any kind of rational discussion?
Indeed. In this follow-up post, Krugman makes a remark that will ring true for anyone familiar with creationists:
The bit about the WSJ’s continuing denialism on rising inequality brings to mind a point I think I’ve made before, but which seems especially appropriate for recent debates. It is this: Today’s right wing never gives up on a politically convenient argument, no matter how thoroughly it may have been refuted by analysis and evidence. It may downplay that argument for a while — though often even that doesn’t happen — but it always comes back.
Indeed, again. This is reminiscent of Stephen Jay Gould’s observation that creationists are “singularly devoid of shame” in parroting any anti-evolution argument that anyone has ever made, regardless of how often the claim has been refuted.
That brings us to our second item. Pew has released a new poll on the rate of evolution acceptance in America. Their results contain this charming factoid:
There also are sizable differences by party affiliation in beliefs about evolution, and the gap between Republicans and Democrats has grown. In 2009, 54% of Republicans and 64% of Democrats said humans have evolved over time, a difference of 10 percentage points. Today, 43% of Republicans and 67% of Democrats say humans have evolved, a 24-point gap.
An eleven point drop among Republicans since 2009. Perhaps it is just a coincidence that 2009 was the year that Barack Obama took office. The more likely explanation is that tribalsm has become the paramount virtue for the American right-wing.
Finally, have a look at this piece, in Commentary by Yale computer scientist David Gelernter. It’s a long and angry rant about materialist approaches to consciousness and philosophy of mind. The part that really jumped at me is this, which I’ll quote at length:
The modern “mind fields” encompass artificial intelligence, cognitive psychology, and philosophy of mind. Researchers in these fields are profoundly split, and the chaos was on display in the ugliness occasioned by the publication of Thomas Nagel’s Mind & Cosmos in 2012. Nagel is an eminent philosopher and professor at NYU. In Mind & Cosmos, he shows with terse, meticulous thoroughness why mainstream thought on the workings of the mind is intellectually bankrupt. He explains why Darwinian evolution is insufficient to explain the emergence of consciousness—the capacity to feel or experience the world. He then offers his own ideas on consciousness, which are speculative, incomplete, tentative, and provocative—in the tradition of science and philosophy.
Nagel was immediately set on and (symbolically) beaten to death by all the leading punks, bullies, and hangers-on of the philosophical underworld. Attacking Darwin is the sin against the Holy Ghost that pious scientists are taught never to forgive. Even worse, Nagel is an atheist unwilling to express sufficient hatred of religion to satisfy other atheists. There is nothing religious about Nagel’s speculations; he believes that science has not come far enough to explain consciousness and that it must press on. He believes that Darwin is not sufficient.
The intelligentsia was so furious that it formed a lynch mob. In May 2013, the Chronicle of Higher Education ran a piece called “Where Thomas Nagel Went Wrong.” One paragraph was notable:
Whatever the validity of [Nagel's] stance, its timing was certainly bad. The war between New Atheists and believers has become savage, with Richard Dawkins writing sentences like, “I have described atonement, the central doctrine of Christianity, as vicious, sadomasochistic, and repellent. We should also dismiss it as barking mad….” In that climate, saying anything nice at all about religion is a tactical error.
It’s the cowardice of the Chronicle’s statement that is alarming–as if the only conceivable response to a mass attack by killer hyenas were to run away. Nagel was assailed; almost everyone else ran.
From reading that description, you could be forgiven for not realizing that the actual sequence of events surrounding Nagel’s book was this:
- Nagel published his book.
- Various knowledgeable people wrote critical reviews of the book, in which they pointed out the many flaws in Nagel’s arguments.
- Whiny right-wingers likened this to a lynch mob that beat Nagel to death (if only symbolically).
Actual lynch mobs were in the habit of torturing and murdering people. Nagel’s critics merely wrote essays suggesting that he wrote a bad book. Those behaviors do not seem comparable to me.
Why do so few academics want anything to do with modern conservatism? Because being a conservative nowadays requires denying reality, and having a sense of victimization so profound that seeing your book criticized is the same as being lynched. That’s why.