dineshd'souza   1

The Coddling of the American Mind review – how elite US liberals have turned rightwards | Books | The Guardian
"The style that does befit an expert, apparently, is the style of TED talks, thinktanks and fellow Atlantic writers and psychologists. The citations in this book draw a circle around a closed world. In offering a definition of “identity politics”, a term coined by the black socialist lesbians of the Combahee River Collective (and the subject of a recent book edited by Yamahtta-Taylor), Lukianoff and Haidt quote “Jonathan Rauch, a scholar at the Brookings Institution”. They tell their readers to read Pinker, whose fulsome blurb appears on their book jacket.

The book ends with a list of recommendations for fixing young people and universities. “We think that things will improve, and may do so quite suddenly at some point in the next few years,” they conclude, suddenly cheery. Why? “As far as we can tell from private conversations, many and perhaps most university presidents reject the culture of safetyism,” even if “they find it politically difficult to say so publicly”. Based on conversations with high school and college students, the authors believe that most of them “despise call-out culture”.

“Private conversations” that they cannot describe seem like thin evidence from a social scientist and a lawyer whose motto is “Carpe datum!” A few chapters earlier, they bewail the ethos of “customer service” that has led universities to coddle students, but here they are confident that “if a small group of universities is able to develop a different sort of academic culture … market forces will take care of the rest”.

Who will fix the crisis? The people who are already in charge. How? Simply by being open about what they already secretly believe. The rhetorical appeal, here, shares a structure with the appeal that carried the enemy in chief of political correctness to the White House: “That’s just common sense.”

Lukianoff and Haidt go out of their way to reassure us: “Neither of us has ever voted for a Republican for Congress or the presidency.” Like Mark Lilla, Pinker and Francis Fukuyama, who have all condemned identity politics in recent books, they are careful to distinguish themselves from the unwashed masses – those who also hate identity politics and supposedly brought us Donald Trump. In fact, the data shows that it was precisely the better-off people in poor places, perhaps not so unlike these famous professors in the struggling academy, who elected Trump; but never mind. I believe that these pundits, like the white suburban Dad in the horror film Get Out, would have voted for Barack Obama a third time.

Still, they may protest too much. In the midst of what Fukuyama, citing his colleague Larry Diamond, calls a “democratic recession”, the consensus that has ruled liberal institutions for the past two decades is cracking up. The media has made much of the leftward surge lifting Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But as this new left-liberalism gains strength, a growing number of white men who hold power in historically liberal institutions seem to be breaking right.

As more and more Americans, especially young Americans, express enthusiasm for democratic socialism, a new right-liberalism answers. Its emerging canon first defined itself in reaction to new social movements highlighting the structural or systemic elements of identity-based oppression. By deriding those movements as “clicktivism” or mere “hashtags”, right-liberal pundits also, implicitly, expressed frustration at how web platforms were breaking up their monopoly on discourse. In January 2015, weeks after a wave of massive Black Lives Matter protests, Jonathan Chait decried Twitter as the launch pad of a “new pc movement”. In the conclusion of The Once and Future Liberal, Lilla singled out Black Lives Matter for special condemnation, calling it “a textbook example of how not to build solidarity”. Andrew Sullivan has criticised “the excesses of #MeToo”. Just last week, Harper’s and the New York Review of Books published long personal essays in which men accused of serial sexual harassment and assault defended themselves and described their sense of persecution by online “mobs”.

Lukianoff and Haidt share some benefactors and allies with the well-established right that funded Bloom and D’Souza. (Lukianoff works at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit group that receives funding from the Scaife and Olin families.) But, reading The Coddling of the American Mind, I was more struck by their points of proximity to the newer Trumpist right.

Like Trump, the authors romanticise a past before “identity” but get fuzzy and impatient when history itself comes up. “Most of these schools once excluded women and people of colour,” they reflect. “But does that mean that women and people of colour should think of themselves as ‘colonised populations’ today?” You could approach this question by looking at data on racialised inequality in the US, access to universities, or gendered violence. They don’t. They leave it as a rhetorical question for “common sense” to answer.

Their narrow perception of history severely limits the explanations Lukianoff and Haidt can offer for the real problems they identify. Can you understand the “paranoia” middle-class parents have about college admissions without considering how many of their children are now downwardly mobile? How are college teachers supposed to confidently court controversy when so many of them have zero security in jobs that barely pay above poverty wages?

Just as they appear to lack a clear explanation of why the “terrible ideas” that are “harming students” have taken hold, they don’t seem to have a theory of how good ideas cause change. At one point, they note that Pauli Murray, one of their exemplars of “common humanity identity politics”, recently had a college at Yale named after her, as if this proved that in an unregulated market, the right ideas do win in the end. But Yale did not just happen to remember this law school graduate, half a century later; Yale named Pauli Murray College following countless student protests around Black Lives Matter – and after a cafeteria worker named Corey Menafee, who got sick of looking at pictures of happy slaves in Yale’s Calhoun College, put his broom through a stained glass window, and his union came to his defence.

For all their self-conscious reasonableness, and their promises that CBT can master negative emotion, Lukianoff and Haidt often seem slightly hurt. They argue that intersectionality theory divides people into good and bad. But the scholars they quote do not use this moral language; those scholars talk about privilege and power. Bad is how these men feel when someone suggests they have had it relatively easy – and that others have had to lose the game that was made for men like them to win. Their problem with “microaggressions” is this framework emphasises impact over intentions, a perspective that they dismiss as clearly ludicrous. Can’t these women and minorities see we mean well? This is the incredulity of people who have never feared being stereotyped. It can turn to indignation, fast.

If there is a new right-liberal dispensation, the two-step from shame to rage about shame may be what brings it closest to the Trumpists. Hints of elective affinities between elite liberalism and the “alt-right” have been evident for a while now. The famous essay that Allum Bokhari and Milo Yiannopoulos wrote in 2016, “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right”, cites Haidt approvingly. At one point Lukianoff and Haidt rehearse a narrative about Herbert Marcuse that has been a staple of white nationalist conspiracy theories about “cultural Marxism” for decades. Nassim Taleb, whose book Antifragile Haidt and Lukianoff credit with one of their core beliefs and cite repeatedly as inspiration, is a fixture of the far right “manosphere” that gathers on Reddit/pol and returnofkings.com.

The commonality raises questions about the proximity of their enthusiasm for CBT to the vogue for “Stoic” self-help in the Red Pill community, founded on the principle that it is men, rather than women, who are oppressed by society. So, too, does it raise questions about the discipline of psychology – how cognitive and data-driven turns in that field formed Haidt and his colleagues Pinker and Jordan Peterson. Lilla admits to envying the effectiveness of the “right-wing media complex”. It is hard to imagine that Haidt does not feel some such stirrings about Peterson, who is, after all, selling more copies of self-help books marketed as civilisational critique. Lukianoff and Haidt quote Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago as an epigraph and key inspiration; Peterson, who frequently lectures on the book, wrote the introduction to the 50th-anniversary edition Penguin will publish in November.

Predictably, Lukianoff and Haidt cite Martin Luther King as a spokesperson for “good” identity politics – the kind that focuses on common humanity rather than differences. But there was a reason the speech they quote was called “I Have a Dream” and addressed to people marching for jobs. Keeping faith with the ideal that all humans are created equal means working to create conditions under which we might, in fact, thrive equally. In the absence of this commitment to making the dream come true, insisting that everyone must act as if we are already in the promised land can feel a lot like trolling. Why are you making such a big deal about identity, Lukianoff and Haidt ask again and again, of people whose identities, fixed to their bodies by centuries of law and bureaucracy and custom make them vastly more likely to be poor or raped, or killed by the police, or deep in debt. Seize the data! But not all kinds of data.

In his book, The Reactionary Mind, the political theorist Corey Robin paraphrases Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa: since Edmund Burke, effective reactionaries … [more]
moiraweigel  liberalism  neoliberalism  2018  greglukianoff  jonathanhaidt  allanbloom  rogerkimball  dineshd'souza  stevenpinker  jonathanauch  brookingsinstitution  marklilla  francisfukuyama  academia  blacklivesmatter  coreyrobin  giuseppetomasidilampedusa  edmundburke  davidreminck  stevebannon  identitypolitics  politics  society  change  progress 
october 2018 by robertogreco

related tags

2018  academia  allanbloom  blacklivesmatter  brookingsinstitution  change  coreyrobin  davidreminck  edmundburke  francisfukuyama  giuseppetomasidilampedusa  greglukianoff  identitypolitics  jonathanauch  jonathanhaidt  liberalism  marklilla  moiraweigel  neoliberalism  politics  progress  rogerkimball  society  stevebannon  stevenpinker 

Copy this bookmark: