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Anxious gatekeeping

Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Ideology

Here's the problem. An ideology is like a filter to tell you what to think about a number of issues.

The idiocy of right-wing ideology is like a scape-goat. Since the right is idiotic, it must mean that we, the non-right, have the answers: just the opposite of what they think. Very easy.

But most things you might want to know don't break down that easily. So the ideological response to the right is likely to be wrong, not because the right is right, but because the answer to the right is reactive. It is reactionary.

The absence of conservatives in certain fields of academia is not bad because the conservative ideas are so great and we should listen to them. It is bad because ideas themselves should not be so easily categorized. Even about political issues. If no conservative people are part of the conversation at all, then a complacency sets in. They are idiots, horrible people.

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Someone on a Facebook group, "teaching with a sociological lens," posted a New York Times article about why there should be more conservatives in academia. Of course, everyone in the group piled on, with the usual canards: reality has a liberal bias, etc... and with some caricatures of conservative thought as racist and simplistic. Very unhelpful and very simplistic itself. It was as though the stupidity of conservatism had made the group more stupid as well.

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An example might be watered-down po-mo in composition studies. The idea behind it is a good one: authority and hierarchy are bad; epistemology is uncertain. But the result is that the real virtues of poststructuralist thought, any rigor it might have, devolves into base caricature, as Thomas Basbøll has shown. Another example: skepticism toward American foreign policy might make people more sympathetic to Putin or regimes in Venezuela or Cuba.

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Conservatism becomes the scapegoat, a garbage pail where we throw all the idea we don't like. Misogyny, racism, free-market capitalism, gun violence. Everything in the pail smells equally bad, because all that garbage is in there. But the mechanism ends up protecting liberal thought from its own idiocies, weaker in the end, less nuanced.

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A social psychologist named Jonathan Haidt, who is a brother of a former colleague of mine from when I taught at Ohio State, has developed some interesting ideas about this in his recent work. Since I am not right-wing, I recognize this scapegoating in myself. It makes life easier in some sense, but in my own work I have to figure things out myself rather than thinking that a left-right dichotomy resolves relevant issues.

My own idea is that reality has a reality bias. In other words, things are not that simple, and adherence to the idea that you just have to look at the conservative view and think the opposite is intellectually lazy.

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