11. The institutions noted above in "7" should try to assimilate right-leaning people into their staffs. Imagine, for example, if major universities had even 10% conservatives in their Humanities departments, or the New York Times and NPR had 10% conservatives among their reporters. This would have a few salutary effects. People on the right wouldn't feel that these institutions are trying to exclude them entirely, which is in fact an increasing trend (recall how employees at the Atlantic revolted when the company hired Kevin Williamson); employees on the right are more likely to address, even if in non-ideological terms, issues that people on the right care about (say, news reporting about harassment of Christians abroad, or the latest big gun convention); and it would make the tone of what these institutions somewhat less hostile to the right. On the latter point, there is much ideological discrimination in hiring in the legal academy. But my Federalist Society friends almost universally state that they are treated fairly once they get a job, and that their mere presence at a faculty meeting or hiring committee meeting tends to tamp down more overt displays of hostility to conservatives.
12. Note that my claim is not (a) that these institutions lean too far left, because I have no objective measure of that or (b) that conservatives "deserve" representation at these institutions in some moral or normative sense.
13. Rather, I am concerned about institutional legitimacy. When you have a country divided into two tribes, and one tribe increasingly dominates most major cultural institutions, regardless of why, those institutions will gradually lose legitimacy within the other tribe.
14. Imagine instead of liberals and conservatives, the U.S. was divided between Catholics and Protestants. Each group did about equally well in elections, but the Catholics dominated the media, the arts, the universities, and so on. Would this be socially healthy, or a recipe for future civil conflict? If a demagogue–a former Catholic, no less–arose among the Protestants talking about the fake Catholic news and insisting that the Catholic establishment was going to, and eventually did plot to prevent his election, would you expect all the Protestants to believe the establishment from which they are excluded, or would a significant fraction be inclined to believe "one of their own?"
15. For the reasons stated above (and I repeat) our major cultural institutions should try to assimilate right-leaning people into their staffs and leadership. How they would do so, on what terms, and how they would overcome the objections of their own tribe are beyond the scope of this post. But the first order of business is to recognize the problem, and try to overcome it. (And, by the way, not by hiring from among the 2% or so of the population that is strongly libertarian leaning like I am, which would not do much to resolve the underlying problem.)
1. Political identity is increasingly important to Americans.
2. Concomitantly, Americans increasingly disdain people "on the other side." For example, only 50% of Republicans and 41% of Democrats were sure it would not upset them if their child married someone of the other political party. One can reasonably assume that this statistic would be worse if one asked "progressives" about "conservatives" and vice versa.
3. In a healthy liberal democracy, intermediary institutions serve as buffers between the public and the state, and give the public institutions and individuals to identify with and trust beyond partisan politics.
4. In the electoral realm, our two warring political tribes are roughly split, both in terms of strong partisans and their ability to win over less partisan voters.
5. In the cultural realm, however, major mainstream institutions are dominated by the broad left, with the more-radical left increasingly gaining ground within the left. Such institutions include the legacy media (or "MSM") such as the New York Times and NPR; the arts; Hollywood; the organized bar and many other professional associations; universities; the K-12 educational establishment, to include most elite private schools; corporate bureaucracies, particularly at growing tech companies; and even professional sports, once a bastion of implicit conservatism, has increasingly gone woke.
6. One can debate the causes of this dominance, whether it's a result of differing career preferences among conservatives and liberals, geographic concentrations of each group, discrimination by the establishment, gaps in intelligence and education between liberals and conservatives, and any combination thereof. That is all irrelevant to where I'm going with this.
7. As these institutions have become more and more dominated by progressives, conservatives have been fleeing them, for example, watching Fox News or OAN rather than listening to NPR. This gives these institutions even less reason to worry about being dominated by progressives, and further increases progressive domination. (As an aside, I was recently part of a conversation on Facebook in which a bunch of very well-educated libertarian-leaning academics were discussing how we used to enjoy NPR despite its liberal slant, but that it's become so unbalanced, one-sided, and overtly ideological that it's like listening to a propaganda station and we listen a lot less if at all. If this is how urbane libertarians with much cultural commonality with the NPR staff thinks, imagine what your small-town evangelical Christian conservative thinks…)
8. At some point, many right-leaning people begin to think of these major cultural institutions at best as things they don't have a stake in, and at worse as "the enemy."
9. It's not a healthy development in a liberal democracy for a large group of citizens to reject the major intermediary institutions of society, as it leaves them prone to demagoguery, conspiracism, and, not to put to fine a part on it, fascistic appeals, as the essence of fascism is to try to create a direct emotional connection between the state and its leader and the public at large.
10. We have seen this play out, I don't think I need to elaborate on that. We are fortunate that the demagogic leader was more or a narcissist than an actual fascist.
The Need for Ideological Diversity in American Cultural Institutions
As the left increasingly dominates, the right is increasingly distrustful, and that's not healthy.
We should allow radical thinkers to speak, in the name of freedom of speech. But equally, we should demand our right to criticise and to speak back, without it being seen as hate speech or prejudice against Muslims. Universities are a place for critical thinking, and if this is forgotten, the cost will be great.
British campuses have an Islamism problem
Britain has not yet woken up to the magnitude of Islamic radicalisation in our universities.
A 2019 document published by four major UK universities (Durham, Coventry, Lancaster and SOAS), titled Islam and Muslims on UK University Campuses: Perceptions and Challenges, talks for 70 pages about how Muslims are unfairly subject to Islamophobia on campus. It even suggests that discussing the problem of Islamic radicalisation on campus is a contributor to this Islamophobia.
The document states: ‘Among students, belief that radicalisation is a problem across universities… is strongly associated with negative views of Muslims.’ It continues: ‘[It] must therefore be asked whether government policy on counterterrorism is helping to maintain negative stereotypes of Muslims and to encourage Islamophobia.’ So expressing concern about the ideology promoted by groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS is a problem because it makes Muslim students feel isolated? The document doesn’t once acknowledge that radicalisation is a major issue; only that Islamophobia is.
The word Left has also slipped into various contradictory usages:
♦ Advocates of substantial state intervention in the economy, typically with some planning and nationalized enterprises, are described as Left.
♦ Advocates of a minimal state, with autonomous communes instead of nationalized industry, are also described as Left.
♦ People who care less about democracy or liberty, and much more about public ownership, national planning or the abolition of poverty, are often described as Left.
♦ Champions of extended democracy, decentralization, popular sovereignty, individual liberty and freedom of expression are often described as Left.
Accordingly, the term Left is now applied to both statist centralizers and communitarian decentralizers, to both totalitarians and ultra-democrats, and to both minimizers and maximizers of liberty.
Both the Left and the Right have advocated forms of collectivism. The word fascism derives from its symbolic use of the fasces of Ancient Rome, with rods bound together to signify collective strength. Fascism subjected individualism to the collective whole. Similarly, nationalism extols the nation over the individual. If you insist that collectivism is Left, be warned that fascism and nationalism also incline in the same collectivist direction.
The terms Left and Right have become ambiguous and self-contradictory. Today the term ‘right-wing’ is applied to diverse and opposed views such as the following:
♦ Those who favour private ownership and markets are often placed on the political Right, including those who are strong supporters of democracy and human rights.
♦ Those who put private property above everything, and care less about democracy, are also described as Right.
♦ Pro-market libertarians, who are so strongly against states that they oppose wars, are also described as Right.
♦ Nationalists that venerate the national state are also described as Right, even if they support democracy and individual rights.
♦ Fascists and racists are also seen as Right, including those who would pursue wars and would limit individual freedoms or rights
Hence the debased term Right now covers democrats and despots, peace-mongers and war-mongers, nationalists and individualists, and defenders and opponents of human rights. There is nothing about private ownership and markets that necessarily implies racism or belligerent nationalism. Yet these different things are conflated under the same label.
More than that, wokeness offers the elites who embrace it a false sense of moral authority – a way to salve their consciences and to appear progressive without giving anything up themselves. In politics, in the form of people like vice-president-elect Kamala Harris, it provides a progressive gloss to what is, in effect, the same old establishment, neoliberal agenda.
Whether or not the elite’s embrace of wokeness is entirely sincere remains up for debate. But in a sense that doesn’t matter so much. Identity politics has become the new official religion, something which sets the moral framework, and which must be deferred to regardless of whether or not one believes every word of scripture.
If what these people were genuflecting to was actually anti-racism that would be no bad thing. But it isn’t. Wokeness, in its insistence that black and white people live cosmically different lives, in its pessimistic conviction that little has changed or could ever change, actually reifies racial difference and racial tension.
For all the protesters’ radical pretensions, the woke movement has been easily co-opted by the most rich and powerful in society. This is because identity politics is in many ways more spiritual than material. Heretics must be ousted. Blasphemies must be scrubbed. Past sins must be ‘come to terms with’, in some vague, undefined sense.
None of this threatens the rich and powerful. Indeed, it is much cheaper for businesses to pay people like Robin DiAngelo – the millionaire diversity consultant and author of the bestselling White Fragility – to lecture staff about their alleged racism than it is to offer them better pay and working conditions.
Wokeness is not some capitalist plot to divide up the working class, leaving people of similar economic interests bickering among one another about their relative privilege. But that certainly is the effect of it. And that suits the bosses just fine.
As someone who has been in academia my whole life, I am always astonished by how tepid most academics are, pathologically afraid to utter the most banal of positions, lest they might be ushered out of town by the Cancel Culture mob. A true public academic should be an intellectual brawler capable of using all of their cognitive training and intellectual acuity to head off to every intellectual battle ready to defend their positions. It does not matter whether you are a historian, a physicist, a psychologist, or a neuroscientist, you should be able to step into the ring of ideas and debate people respectfully albeit forcefully.
An academic who is too insecure to step into the public arena, and who hides from difficult conversations is not worthy of being labelled an intellectual. Moving forward, it is imperative that we attract people into academia who not only possess the necessary cognitive abilities to succeed but also the obligatory temperaments to be Navy SEALs of ideas. The battle of ideas is won by those who are intellectually courageous, who are cerebrally bold, and who are unencumbered by the orthodoxy. Let us foster an ethos that promotes intellectual honey badgers and not one that rewards cowardly mice and conforming sheep.
Academia Selects for Careerist Cowardice
……Now let’s examine academia. What are some essential traits that an academic must possess? Of course, to be an academic, one must be intelligent although as I explain in The Parasitic Mind: How Infectious Ideas Are Killing Common Sense, many of the dumbest ideas originate from academics. Beyond intelligence, one must be highly educated in their areas of expertise typically having obtained a PhD. Intellectual fierceness is likely to be missing from a description of what an ideal academic should possess. Incidentally, I am referring here to a polymath intellectual and not merely a hyperspecialized academic who solely weighs in on matters within their very narrow areas of expertise. Many professors are not in the least bit intellectual. They have chosen a career rather than pursued a calling for truth. Someone with little formal education might in reality be more of an intellectual than a professional academic. In any case, a public intellectual must exhibit intellectual brawn, and the reality is that most academics do not have such temperaments. Yesterday I posted the following comments on my social media, which I reproduce here:
"Academics should be intellectual @USNavy SEALs, exhibiting intellectual fierceness, cerebral tenacity, neuronal courage, & cognitive freedom. Instead, most are afraid of their shadows, tepid to utter a single interesting or controversial syllable. Academia selects for cowardice. Most academics know this to be true but they are unwilling to look deep within and truly pursue an intellectually pure and honest life. Careerism forces them into shackles of self-censorship. It’s tragic."
We need to ask ourselves how we have reached the point where grown adults are willing to accept such wild mischaracterisations of public figures without even attempting to engage with the reality of what they say and think. We need to redress the widespread historical ignorance that dilutes the terms ‘Nazi’ and ‘fascist’ to meaningless slurs. We need to restore critical thinking in our education system to counteract the ongoing degradation of public and political discourse. We need to consider how anyone above the age of 16 believes that throwing insults is an effective form of rebuttal. This isn’t simply about Jordan Peterson; this is about the kind of hysteria he inspires in an infantile society. Something has to change.
If you find these views rebarbative, you can always offer a rebuttal or choose not to expose yourself to Peterson’s output. If you need to indulge in straw-man arguments, or convince yourself that he is ‘alt right’ or ‘fascist adjacent’ in order to justify your opposition, then you are in no position to complain if you are not taken seriously. Screaming abuse at those who enjoy Peterson’s writing, or calling for his book to be cancelled, is not the behaviour of a responsible member of a civilised society. If you don’t like his work – either because of its actual contents or what you have simply imagined them to be – then don’t buy his books. Problem solved.
It should go without saying that if you believe that books ought to be cancelled simply because you disagree with their contents, a career in publishing is probably not for you. We need to reckon with this new reality of our times: that there exists a substantial proportion of the adult population, educated to university level, who are nonetheless incapable of critical thinking and lack the basic skills of argumentation. Worse still, many of the most vicious comments about Peterson – including mocking him for a benzodiazepine addiction brought on by his wife’s cancer diagnosis – have come from those who believe themselves to be compassionate and virtuous campaigners for justice. If such people really are ‘on the right side of history’, then the future of humanity looks pretty bleak.
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