Dialogue

Political sensitivity

Dear Callum,

I read a couple of pieces by Jonathan Haidt that outlined what is allegedly going on in the US —-, ‘outrage’ particularly on campuses breeding a culture of hypersensitivity. Taking these two articles together, certainly explains where some American (western democracy?) young people may be coming from and going…. Not sure how prevalent any of this is on Australian campuses but the helicopter parenting is certainly here as well – read ‘fragile generation’.

Not to start another argument but just noting that my earlier comment about a political economy such as ours ( and the US and UK) that emphasizes individualism and individual satisfaction above all else termed ‘economic rationalism’ in Australia, might be considered a third major influence on how people are brought up to focus on themselves and sometimes their identity grievances.

All the best,
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Dear friend,

Jonathan Haidt thinks the problem has exploded recently with the new so-called “i-gen”, not so much the millennials, introducing concepts like- safe spaces, microaggressions and trigger warnings. It would be silly to deny neoliberal/economic rational factors altogether but more important variables are often skimmed over, especially the toxicity and influence post-modern philosophers have had on the Humanities. Another contributor is the rise of cultural relativism and the idea that the more diverse/plural a society (with all the sensibilities that come with it) the less diversity of speech we ought to have. Quite the opposite is true, in fact. If we don’t believe in the right to offend then we don’t believe in free speech at all.

As Voltaire quipped “I’ll fight to the death to defend your right to make a fool of yourself” in reality this should be- I’ll fight to the death to defend your right to enlighten me (being infallible as we surely are)

When T.H. Huxley was arguing against Spencer’s social Darwinism he wrote in 1894 how rife and abhorrent crass individualism was at the time. An enduring trait.
‘It is from neglect of these plain considerations that the fanatical individualism of our time attempts’ to apply the analogy of cosmic nature to society. Once more we have a misapplication of the stoical injunction to follow nature…’

Another factor is that if we are not taught what Huxley is getting at here, that just because something is natural doesn’t make it right, then we are inclined to be offended even when someone talks about something as straightforward as genetic differences between sexes, hardly controversial. Discussing the fact those differences can influence behavior though, and, what’s often ignored, that there is greater variation between individuals- got James Damore sacked from Google for writing about this online. Even if there wasn’t greater variation between individuals it shouldn’t matter. Equality, fairness, human rights, equal treatment are political, ethical, legal concepts, not scientific. So, I suppose academics are right to be nervous when some students are being taught these anti-intellectual ideas, along with the general overlap of rising populism and identity politics.

‘We see in Derrida further relativity, both cultural and epistemic, and further justification for identity politics. There is an explicit denial that differences can be other than oppositional and therefore a rejection of Enlightenment liberalism’s values of overcoming differences and focusing on universal human rights and individual freedom and empowerment. We see here the basis of “ironic misandry” and the mantra “reverse racism isn’t real” and the idea that identity dictates what can be understood. We see too a rejection of the need for clarity in speech and argument and to understand the other’s point of view and avoid misinterpretation. The intention of the speaker is irrelevant.’

How French “Intellectuals” Ruined the West: Postmodernism and Its Impact, Explained

Best wishes,

Callum,