Saturday, November 28, 2015

Jonathan Haidt says the "Yale Problem" begins in high school

From his talk on the dangers of coddling university students, this time to a group of 9-12th graders:
Me: What kind of intellectual climate do you want here at Centerville? Would you rather have option A: a school where people with views you find offensive keep their mouths shut, or B: a school where everyone feels that they can speak up in class discussions?
Audience: All hands go up for B.
Me: OK, let’s see if you have that. When there is a class discussion about gender issues, do you feel free to speak up and say what you are thinking? Or do you feel that you are walking on eggshells and you must heavily censor yourself? Just the girls in the class, raise your hand if you feel you can speak up? [about 70% said they feel free, vs about 10% who said eggshells ]. Now just the boys? [about 80% said eggshells, nobody said they feel free].
Me: Now let’s try it for race. When a topic related to race comes up in class, do you feel free to speak up and say what you are thinking, or do you feel that you are walking on eggshells and you must heavily censor yourself? Just the non-white students? [the group was around 30% non-white, mostly South and East Asians, and some African Americans. A majority said they felt free to speak, although a large minority said eggshells] Now just the white students? [A large majority said eggshells]
Me: Now lets try it for politics. How many of you would say you are on the right politically, or that you are conservative or Republican? [6 hands went up, out of 60 students]. Just you folks, when politically charged topics come up, can you speak freely? [Only one hand went up, but that student clarified that everyone gets mad at him when he speaks up, but he does it anyway. The other 5 said eggshells.] How many of you are on the left, liberal, or democrat? [Most hands go up] Can you speak freely, or is it eggshells? [Almost all said they can speak freely.]
Me: So let me get this straight. You were unanimous in saying that you want your school to be a place where people feel free to speak up, even if you strongly dislike their views. But you don’t have such a school. In fact, you have exactly the sort of “tolerance” that Herbert Marcuse advocated [which I had discussed in my lecture, and which you can read about here]. You have a school in which only people in the preferred groups get to speak, and everyone else is afraid. What are you going to do about this? Let’s talk.
Regarding gender, I'd put myself in the 10% walking on eggshells, though I'm far past the age of caring that much now. (Middle-age bravado is a good tool to have in your toolbox.)  But it's something that doesn't get much traction in feminist circles, mainly because there's so much denial that those same circles are alienating for a lot of women who "think the wrong things," but still consider themselves connected to feminism in some way. I can't, in good faith, call myself a feminist anymore, which is, of course, petty, but I've long aged out of what passes for contemporary feminism these days, and I've got a good feeling I'm not alone.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Caitlyn Jenner is voting Republican (and why does Bette Midler care?)

And I have very mixed feelings about that.

On one hand, I find it amusing that so many activists are so shocked and disappointed that their new hero doesn't share their values, and on the other secretly pleased to see identity political fail so spectacularly.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


  • I'm over economically privileged college kids declaring how "unsafe" they are on campus. Actually, college campuses are pretty "safe spaces." As someone who grew up in neighborhoods that were truly unsafe, I find it pretty insulting.
  • Also over: middle-class white people pondering why poor whites "vote against their interests." Once more with feeling: Presuming they are socially conservative, they are voting for their moral interests. Rich liberals do this all the time. 
  • CNN aired The Hunting Ground Sunday.  As someone whose never been raped (but has been harassed quite frequently, and I guess by the widest parameters of the definition, sexually assaulted), I'm not supposed to have an opinion about this. I am supposed either offer 110% support for victims (called "accusers because, oh I don't know, we still have a fair legal system in this country), or shut up. I don't like being told to shut up. And I think this is a valid point to make: I couldn't help but note how "perfect" all the victims featured in the documentary were. First-generation to go to college, all-American, valedictorian, cheerleader types. Had I been a rape victim, I don't think I'd ever be featured in a documentary. I'm loud, angry, got shit grades in high school (and the first semester of college, if I'm being honest) and socially inept. I don't say this to take anything away from those victims (though the doc itself has been fairly criticized from both sides). It's a familar, comfortable narrative, but it does a huge disservice to women and men who have been raped who don't fit the perfect victim profile.
  • I unfollowed a bunch of people on Twitter. If I unfollowed you, I am not sorry. I can't count on one hand the number of people I've unfriend or unfollowed in the past: the guy who insisted reverse racism was thing; the online buddy who turned out to be a bigger online buddy to the person who considers herself my nemesis; the benign parent blogger turned tea party whackjob; and the girl who posted nothing but Nicki Minja gifs to point that my Tumblr dashboard looked like the Nicki Minja fanclub homepage. But right now it's just too toxic and too damn tribal.

Monday, November 23, 2015

NaNoWriMo '15: Done

I finished a few days ago. I say finished, not "won," because I never feel as though I've won anything other than another draft of a story that may or may not be edited into something respectable. I know that's not the goal of NaNo: the goal is to get out of your fucking head. Or to learn time management skills, since writing 50,000 words in a month doesn't happen without a lot of planning. (Even if you "pants" it, you're still planning out the time it takes to write your "pantsed" novel.)

It's not as much of a disaster as I thought it was, even the parts I wrote on cold medicine, to which I had a paradoxical reaction and instead of being drowsy I became hyper and a little nutty. I highly recommend writing while altered. (Not actually altering yourself with illicit substances because that would be stupid, of course.)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Millennials more likely to support government bans on speech than other generations

According to a new Pew poll, 40% of millennials support government efforts to limit free speech. Compare that to about 25% of generation-x'ers and boomers, and just 12% of those over 70. Women are also more likely to support limits on free speech, as are democrats and non-whites. (I guess I should rethink my gender and/or my political affiliation.)

I'm go one further and suggest that many young people think government already can limit free speech. From campus speech codes to protests where reporters are forced out, I don't think this is at all surprising.

Jesse Singal from NY Mag offers some suggestions as to what this new data might mean:
But what exactly does 40 percent mean here? Is it a lot? It's hard to say for two reasons. One is that, as a Pew spokesperson noted in an email, this is the first time the polling firm has asked this question. This makes longitudinal comparisons impossible. It could be the case that there's something unique about millennials that makes them more open to supporting restrictions on free speech; it could also be the case that young people are always more open to this idea, but naturally age out of it, or that there's significant bouncing up and down from generation to generation.

It would also be interesting to see what these results would have looked like if the pollsters had chopped off the last two words, and made the question simply about speech that was "offensive" rather than "offensive to minorities." Survey results are notoriously sensitive to slight changes in question wording, and people don't necessarily hold coherent ideas about "offensive" speech. Plenty of folks freak out about anti-cop sentiments but are fine with racially loaded language, for example — or insert your own examples.