As those of you who follow me on the twitters may be aware, I chide Jon Haidt’s love-child, Heterodox Academy, for not letting me be a member of the club. Of course, it’s a club of academics, so why would they? I’m no prof, and what could I possibly do to aid in their mission to provide cover to diversity of thought in academia?
My joke is that they need a Vulgarian Auxiliary (for the unwashed, that’s a play on the “Ladies Auxiliary” to men’s clubs of old) with my being a practitioner rather than a scholar, hence vulgarian. If you don’t get the joke, i can’t help you. Or at least I don’t want to, you joyless tool. But if you insist on reading further, at least try to grasp that it’s humor.
The @HdxAcademy held its first ever conference recently. It was attended by some of the most brilliant voices promoting diversity of thought around. I was not invited. I wasn’t asked to sit on a panel. I wasn’t asked to sit in the audience. I’m pretty sure they had a guard at the door to make sure I couldn’t slip in, even if I wore a tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbows.
But John Paul Wright was there. He’s a professor of criminal justice at the University of Cincinnati. He rides a Harley. He calls himself a “classical conservative.” And since we’re twitter buds, I happen to know that he’s a pretty cool guy. In the aftermath of the HDX conference, he wrote a review that raised some issues.
Heterodox thinking requires room to be made for different views, different ideas, and different voices to be heard. With sufficient heterodox thinking, it is hoped, the bonds that blind and bind people into groups of tribal moral warriors might wither and eventually allow for truth to replace ideology. However, if the first Heterodox Academy meeting is any indication, heterodox thinking poses substantially more problems than even the hardworking leaders of Heterodox Academy realized.
As any multiculturalist will tell you, we all belong to many tribes. The HDX tribe was academics. This may seem obvious to the outsider, but a fish has no reason to think about the nature of water.
Entering the meeting I was immediately struck by the fact it was held in the New York Times conference center—a beautiful area replete with wait staff, security, and a professional grade lighting and recording area. Everything was well orchestrated, professional, and deliberate. And as Jonathan Haidt took the stage, I felt a sense of respect for a man who has not only deepened our understanding of humanity but who has also worked diligently to make Heterodox Academy a reality. He has, in many ways and sometimes against scathing criticism, popularized the idea of intellectual diversity—making the case that people like me, who do not share politically progressive ideals, are also worthy of intellectual respect. His has been a voice of reason, calm, and dignity in a sea storm of increasingly vitriolic rhetoric in academia against conservatives, classical liberals, and libertarians.
There are a few big things wrapped up in Haidt’s vision. Progressive academics believe that anyone who fails to share their Utopian zeal isn’t merely unworthy of intellectual credit, but dumb. After all, if they weren’t dumb, they would be progressive. It’s not as if they want to argue the point, since nobody wants to waste their time matching wits with the witless. Haidt’s purpose was to establish the bona fides of non-progressive intellectualism in the Academy. One can be educated, insightful, even brilliant, and, believe it or not, not be progressive.
This is hard to accomplish, given that progressive ideology is a belief system rather than a rational point of view. You can’t argue with reason against emotion. What you can do, however, is establish a group, call it Heterodox Academy, of scholars who reject the progressive belief that anyone who’s not them isn’t smart enough to fetch their green tea.
Perusing the panelists, however, I began to suspect that this moment in heterodox history might be less than I had hoped. The panelists had impeccable educational credentials; they had all achieved remarkable levels of intellectual recognition, and virtually all of them came from elite universities. Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, and New York University, to name a few, were all represented. Largely absent, however, were professors of equal ability from state schools, large or small. Familiarity with the political proclivities of elite university professors led me to suspect that few would have much sympathy with those on the Right. I could almost sense the presence of a tribal moral community.
Cutting to the chase, though you should read @CJProfman’s full post, the line-up was not merely the usual suspects from the big name schools (what conference coordinators call “big draws”) but representative of the prevailing mode of thought in the Academy.
Three of the four panelists had a history of social protest: one had protested the Iraq war, another had protested the Vietnam war, and a third appeared have built an entire career around protesting. As I sat there, I recall thinking that, while these people were out building their reputations as progressive leaders, guys like me were in the military or doing the fighting. Our backgrounds were clearly very different, but in academia theirs matter much more than mine do.
Sure, they were there to promote diversity of thought, while they all thought pretty much the same. Even if they accepted the concept of diverse thought, they didn’t think diversely. This is the Academy, where diverse thought ranges from “I would give my student’s life to de-platform Charles Murray” to “I would fight for Charles Murray’s right to speak, even though he’s literally Hitler.”
So why would a vulgarian give a damn about what the effete have to say? The kids you’re turning out, who will join the ranks of the vulgarians, suck. Not all, but too many. They’re so ideologically bound, not to mention bizarrely narcissistic (self-righteous law students arrogantly lecturing lawyers and judges on their “incorrect” understanding of law?), that they can’t do the job. And we’re not their mommies and don’t want to spend our lives dealing with these useless little shits. We’ve got work to do, lives to save, law to make. These kids aren’t nearly as fascinating to us as they are to themselves.
I suspect no one sitting on a panel at the Heterodox Academy conference uttered the words, “you guys are full of shit.” They’re way too civil, not to mention brutally verbose and hide-bound in meaningless jargon, to say what needs to be said. That’s why you need a vulgarian, since our norm of civility is to speak bluntly and honestly, clearly and concisely.
In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. But to mix a metaphor, the king wears no clothes. If none of you scholars have the balls to say so, I’m here to do the dirty work. Plus, I’ve already picked out a logo.
Are you really ready for diverse thought, or are you like the limousine liberals of yore who love black people from a safe distance?