NOTE: This post should be more organized, but I can't seem to organize my thinking beyond the paper I'm writing for my Master's project. If I didn't post it today, however, I probably never would have. So here it is―representative of my scattered thoughts.
I admire Sam Harris for his willingness to talk to people he doesn't agree with, the clarity of his writing style, and for his ability to make me think. I don't agree with everything he says, and I don't read or listen to everything he says, but insofar as "thinking" goes, I enjoy the content he produces, even when he carelessly screws up. Whether I agree with him or not, he always makes me think, and his clarity of tone also helps keep my own thinking clear.
I really appreciated Harris's recent interview with Jonathan Haidt. Although the two of them disagree about numerous ideas, the conversation works because they both understand each others' discourse despite their differences (unlike, as I noted before, his hilarious interview with Maryam Namazie). While activists inevitably clash with Harris, he works really well with his fellow academics, whether he's talking with Very Bad Wizards (here and here) or, in this case, Haidt.
In the interview above, Jonathon Haidt makes a comment about the current climate on University campuses. After the 1:47:00 mark, Haidt explains,
As I mentioned in some of my previous 30-second Twitter rants, most of these ideas were not new to me. As a student at UVic in the early 2000s, I got to know and respect quite a few social justice activists and grew familiar with identity politics. I read leftist papers and took part in a little bit of activism myself. I had grown weary of leftist alarmist culture, however, after feeling let-down by various pseudoscientific, or myopic campaigns that could not stand up to scrutiny. For the last few years, I've followed various social justice movements from a distance, but I haven't taken part myself. I've been one of those classic overwhelmed middle-class folks who feels they don't have time to do anything but survive.
So all this fuss about "Social Justice Warriors" and the "Regressive Left" has taken me by surprise. I have expressed how I don't understand where all the vitriolic talk comes from. Yes, some people have overreacted on campuses, and this has roundly been discussed. But how in the world, I thought, did "Social Justice" become so derogatory? Wasn't social justice the force that maintained our freedom and kept people from authoritarian abuse? This tone confused me.
I think Haidt, in the quotation above, might have cleared it up for me. The social justice I admire is not necessarily the social justice people are raving about today. Modern social justice, identified by its focus on identity and attempts to change the way people act with minority groups, is something different. It may have roots in the left-leaning activism of which I'm familiar, but it's more ideologically-driven than that. Heck, I may have even witness a form of its roots when one of my former professors was publicly attacked for a mild, accidental identity slur in one of her classes. It bothered me then, and I can't imagine what it would be like to be a professor today, over ten years later.
And, as Haidt suggests, the immediacy of social media created this movement's power and limited scope. As politicians suggest in the embedded BBC podcast, political actions based on immediate events can lead to poor decisions, especially as more evidence piles up. As people demand immediate action in regards to social justice, I think it's to suggest that some responses will be inherently reactionary and messy.
I'm reminded of "The Clock Boy." The news of the school's apparent racism spread around social media immediately, and the outrage was thick and race-driven. Even Obama invited the boy to The White House. However, it wasn't long before other bits of information appeared that muddied the incident. I don't have an opinion on it myself, but I do think Obama's social media-driven endorsement seems, in retrospect, hasty and careless.
And just as evangelicals follow Trump for ideology's sake, leftists are following the tenets of "social justice" for ideology's sake. Social media forces both sides to make decisions and take positions before adequate evidence appears, It's a political mess because politics is not supposed to respond to so many things so quickly.
Many forces pushed me out of Christianity, but identity issues did a lot of the damage. I had been taught that my identity as a Christian was very important and worthy of maintenance, but by the time I had children I had to admit to myself that Christian identity artificially boxed me in with tidy "to be" statements. I got tired of boxes and I used my privilege to shed as many identities as I could.
However, just because I agree with Harris and Haidt about all this doesn't mean I let them off the hook. Harris' obsession with the term "regressive left" is an identifier that forces him into the very identity politics he despises. Every time he says the word, he reinforces the groupthink on both his side and his opposition's. Blanket labelling people as "regressive left" is an indefensibly vague slur. I look forward to its slow fade out of the cultural consciousness, just like "Atheism+" did.
Nice review on this interview, which I really enjoyed listening to. I work for a very liberal arts college with a strong social justice mission and have definitely noticed the growing ideology around social justice. Of course I am a proponent of equality, but the current extremist tactics being used by student activists are suffocating. If you speak out with a different perspective, you get called a bigot, which invalidates your opinions and shuts down the discussion. They aren't interested in healthy debate because any disagreement taints their "safe space". There's an "us vs them" mentality. It's dogma. Free speech is getting shut down and students no longer learn how to think critically. I've started to refer to the college I work for as a church... It really feels like one, and it's quite frustrating knowing this is the direction colleges and universities are going in. I wish this was restricted to my tiny liberal arts college, but the crazy is spreading like a virus.
Thank you so much for this thoughtful comment. I'm glad you enjoyed this blog entry; I had almost chosen to delete it when I received notifications about your comment. Thank you.
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