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October 25, 2007

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Vitruvius

I have a lot of respect for Mr. Williams, I've been a student of his arguments for years. He notes that Monterey Peninsula College has an administrative directive regarding new course proposals: "Include a description of how course topics are treated to develop a knowledge and understanding of race, class, and gender issues." Clemens is fighting the directive, which applies not to just sociology classes but math, physics, [...]".

Without wishing to undermine the seriousness of the problem, I humbly offer a response to that directive from the perspective of an engineering course:

1) Race conditions are a serious problem studied in this course. When two or more signals travel over parallel paths with tight timing constraints, transmitting equivalent signals can generate irreproducible results and so result in unreliable reception. This course considers techniques and technologies for mitigating these problems.

Textbook: "That's What my Wife Used to Say", by Claude Shannon and Richard Feynman.

2) A class is a combination of a data structure containing a set of instance variables combined with a set of behavioural methods that operate against the instance variables and communicate with instances of other classes. This course studies the interesting problems that arise from multiple inheritance and delegated methods.

Textbook: "On the Hegemony of Object Oriented Programming Hermeneutics", by Bjarne Strostrup and Grady Booch.

3) It is considered good engineering practice to design connectors with different genders, in order to prevent inserting the wrong plug into the wrong jack. Nevertheless, there are places for compound-complex connectors such as Cannon plugs, and there are circumstances under which bolting two flanges together is best practice. This course examines the circumstances under which the various case are found to be optimal.

Textbook: The CRC Handbook of Plugs, Jacks, Flanges, Screws, Nipples, and O-Rings, by the Chemical Rubber Company. (Can I say rubber company? I don't even know her.)

There we go, problem solved ;-)

But seriously, whether the bow brain gets too far ahead of the stern brain, or vice versa, the venture will structurally fail round about midships. That's the beauty of the species. Of course, one's object is to not be on the ship under those circumstances.

David

I’m going to resist the urge to make some comment involving “Flanges, Screws, Nipples, and O-Rings.” It’s much too early for that.

But, as you point out, the creep of Uptight Studies™ now reaches beyond the usual sinkhole subjects. I’m told it’s not unknown for, say, chemistry students to find themselves enduring supplementary instruction in the Holy Trinity of “race, class and gender.”

Vitruvius

Understood. Alas, it was 01:44 local time for me, much to late to not make some comment thereto.

Your "holy trinity" allusion is well placed, I think, in terms of its exposition of the structural oversimplificaion of our problems' axes of discourse that is heralded by the narrow-minded utopianists. Perhaps a "holy dodecahedron" would be a start in the right direction.

Vitruvius

Wait, wait, how 'bout a holy Rubik's cube? Now one may well ask, what is the difference between a holy (which to me means representing reality) Rubik's cube and one of those plastic things you can get at the toy store? Well, you see, the Rubik's cube that represents human axiological reality has a huge number of dimensions (not just three) and it has the interesting property that no finite set of operations will ever result in all faces being the same colour (as Gödel noted in abstract form).

We can colour a map with four colours, but we can't colour people like that, because existence isn't like that. A map isn't reality. Call for Lewis Caroll, geno-neuro-psycho-socio-cartography courtesy telephone please.

georges

David

I don't want to appear flippant about a matter that obviously concerns you greatly. But do you have any evidence that campus indoctrination actually works? People in eastern Europe had an officially Marxist education imposed on them for 40 years. Yet the ideology evaporated the second Gorbachev said the Red Army would no longer enforce Communism.

I keep thinking of The History Man, and how, at the end, Howard Kirk votes Conservative in the 1979 election.

David

“Wait, wait, how ‘bout a holy Rubik's cube?”

Don’t make me call security.

“Do you have any evidence that campus indoctrination actually works?”

The bias and intolerance of dissent that’s been documented here over the last few months - and the active participation of *students* in a number of censorious policies - suggests there’s definitely a problem. Though it’s hard to estimate the full extent of it, or whether it lingers in later life. One hopes that mental autonomy won’t go entirely out of fashion, even among students; but the pressures to conform seem quite real, at least within the academic environment. And whether or not the effects are permanent among many or a few, one might still object on grounds of impropriety and waste.

Vitruvius

Just to be clear, I too think there's definitely a problem.
The scope of the problem is a valid consideration.

AntiCitizenOne

Multiple Inheritance is a sign inferior design and should be forced to sit at the back of the coding bus.

Vitruvius

Very droll, AC1! G'night y'all, take care.

georges

There's a distinction between undergraduate-led activities and the policies of the university governing body. The Muslim students' organized disruption of the Egyptian speaker sounds as if it was purely the work of undergraduates. If lecturers and faculty members were found to have organized it that would be far worse - not for that disrupted speaker perhaps, but more generally for the state of intellectual health of the university.

I seem to remember people like Sir Keith Joseph getting a rough ride at UK universities in the 80s (from students whose parents had probably voted for his party). So the phenomenon is not new.

David

Georges,

“There's a distinction between undergraduate-led activities and the policies of the university governing body.”

Indeed. But given the bias of many speech codes - and given the leanings of those most keen to implement them and most keen to file complaints - the two things may not be unrelated. In some instances there seems to be a strong mutual reinforcement. If certain designated victim groups discover that they receive compensation for injured feelings, or some other advantage, then they have a strong incentive to be “offended” all the more - and all the more emphatically. Thus a climate is created. See recent events in Cambridge, where ridiculous faculty reprimands against the editor of a student magazine coincided with ‘unofficial’ threats of violence from among those claiming “offence”. The threats obliged the student in question to go into hiding.

http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/news/story/0,,2011340,00.html

Conceivably, a student expressing views like those of, say, Nonie Darwish, Ibn Warraq or Robert Spencer might face censure of both kinds – official and ‘unofficial’ – on the same campus. It seems to me that institutional efforts to inhibit debate in this way very often go hand in hand with ugly interruptions, opportunist coercion and even threats of violence. Speech codes and other forms of neurotic ‘sensitivity’ in effect give license and advantage to certain designated groups, whose feelings and beliefs are deemed of tremendous importance. It would be naïve to assume that some members of those groups - and of some groups in particular – won’t stoop to exploit that advantage for purposes of their own.

steveaz

"It would be naïve to assume that some members of those groups - and of some groups in particular – won’t stoop to exploit that advantage for purposes of their own. "

Naive, or deliberate and self-serving - depending on the amount of benefit one hopes to derive from a defense of this particular state-ist patronage-group.

I am looking ahead of Georges' last question ("Does the problem exist?"), to point to an even larger problem. I think that, being quasi-state entities, Universities (particularly "state"-U's) are simply amplifying and propagating on campus the culture prevalent in the bureaucracies that birthed them.

Which worries, because it signals that we should expect that all the flaws of statist bureaucracies, such as mission-creep, budget-extravagance, turf-protection, CYA-ttitude, and unchecked departmentmental proliferation, will manifest in academe. And, voila, they are.

As a result, these types of patronage-groups are predictably defensive in the face of populist or epistemological critiques. This, I think, is the reason that academe's defensive, rhetorical cordon relies so heavily on verbal-license (or "deconstruction-ism") and hurt feelings.

To the tenured radical and politicians who fund him, the interface of ideology with instruction is a child's hand-game. And paper beats stone every time.

georges

Alright, you've convinced me.

So what are we going to do about it?

With the Clare College incident, I never remember any of the protagonists being forced to give an account of themselves before, say, Paxman - most likely because they knew they couldn't.

Hmm...

Is there a particular academic at Clare who bears ultimate responsibility for persecuting the "Crucifixion" undergraduate - the Pontius Pilate, so to speak? I think the least we can do is make more people aware of their vile behaviour. If they've written books, let's publish zero-starred reviews on Amazon informing potential purchasers of their despicable cowardliness.

Any other suggestions for how we can drag them through the mud?

David

Georges,

“Alright, you've convinced me.”

Do I win something? Is it cake?

“So what are we going to do about it?”

A small contribution towards the upkeep of this website is, obviously, a good place to start. Operation Overlord can’t be done on a shoestring budget. The lions alone will cost a fortune.

The censorious atmosphere we’ve discussed is remarkably pervasive among college ‘activists’. One need only note the differing reactions to, for instance, Islamist demagogues among Muslim student groups and those who criticise them, or who simply report what they say. The terms “hatemonger” and “racist” are eagerly deployed to shut down any realistic debate, and are directed towards the critics and reporters of jihadist ideology rather than those who actually *espouse* jihadist sentiment.

The ongoing “Islamofascism Awareness Week” has been met with an extraordinary intolerance of debate, with guest speakers (good and bad) being harassed and prevented even from beginning their lectures and discussions. Thus we’ve seen the loud regurgitation by students of mindless propaganda, faulty reasoning and gross factual errors, all done triumphantly and with no regard for disputation and correction. The objective in most of the cases I’ve seen has been to *prevent* discussion and, by implication, prevent any possible correction of self-righteous errors. If a person’s beliefs and self-image are based on misapprehensions and faulty logic, there’s an obvious incentive to shout, hector and disrupt, rather than have those assumptions tested in a reasonably civil manner.

http://video1.washingtontimes.com/fishwrap/2007/10/santorum_on_islamofascism_1.html

One needn’t endorse the term “Islamofascism” or any particular speaker to see these reactions as variously thuggish, censorious and dishonest - and, for the most part, anti-intellectual. But such is campus life when one political worldview increasingly dominates the agenda.

AntiCitizenOne

> The objective in most of the cases I’ve seen has been to *prevent* discussion and, by implication, prevent any possible correction of self-righteous errors.

I beleive it's just to make people look at them. Narcissism explains much more about the left than reason does.

David

AC1,

“I believe it's just to make people look at them.”

Well, the theatrical aspect is certainly appealing to a certain type of jackass. (Cue Guantanamo jumpsuits, red painted hands, the repeated slamming of doors, pantomime “struggling” when security people escort troublemakers from the auditoria, etc.) I’d have thought that on a university campus - supposedly teeming with bright young minds - someone might have tried to impress their friends by presenting a powerful and cogent counterargument. Alas, no sign yet.

And this is the thing. If someone disagrees vehemently with, say, Robert Spencer, they’re perfectly free to present a serious rebuttal. Indeed, Spencer has repeatedly invited counterarguments and he seems to reply to any serious disagreement with what he says, often in great detail. To grandstand with disruptive theatrics and inane slogans is just a wasted opportunity and betrays the protestors’ own ideological shortcomings. It’s just posturing and censoriousness rather than a sound counterargument. The howling and posturing on display also reveals an ugly totalitarian streak: “We don’t agree with the things you say but can’t refute them, so we’ll just stop you saying them.” I’m paraphrasing, of course. And, again, this is what tends to happen when campus politics is overwhelmingly of one kind. It’s lazy, stupid and thuggish.

The Thin Man

Georges

I think this news from William and Mary College shows where this indoctrination ends up. It is not the effect on the individual brains that is the problem, but the effect on the ethos and rules of the institution that is most at risk.

Students who have spent 3 or 4 years under this kind of regime will be much less used to freely expressing their own thoughts, because they will have spent 3 or 4 years being afraid of expulsion for doing so.

"Students at William and Mary will be pleased to learn of a convenient system for punishing enemies. All you have to do is anonymously report them for committing thought crimes.

The W&M website explains: http://www.wm.edu/diversity/reportbias/index.php

"The Bias Reporting System was established to assist members of the William and Mary community who have been affected by incidents involving bias related to race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or other protected conditions. The system provides multiple modes of reporting to include personal contact, online form, or faxed form. Confidentiality will be honored unless reporting individual provides contact information."

"Campus-wide training will be conducted, so that everyone feels empowered to use the Bias Reporting System to tell Big Brother about thought criminals. Is your roommate getting on your nerves? Tell the educrats he disapproves of sodomy! A pretty girl turned you down for a date? Denounce her as a racist! Open-ended witch trials are great fun for everyone — except of course the accused."

Doesn't this kind of thing strike you as somewhat stasi-esque? Anonomous reporting of incorrect thinking? Note that it specifies only bias - not to actual abuse or hate.

This is the codification of the same kind of system we had in the UK regarding the prosecution of homosexuality prior to '67. The so called "Blackmailers Charter".

Do we think that the campus of William and Mary college is such a hotbed of biggotry and hatred that they are prepared to ruin the careers of students based on anonomous gossip?

One of my many objections to the language in the above, is the idea that protected conditions presupposes that some students are more protected than others, instead of the rules being applied equitably to all.

georges

The Thin Man

I think I'm moving in the direction of "Free Speech Absolutism". If people say bad or stupid or offensive things, it's usually better to confront their stupidity than suppress it. Even verbal racism, sexism and hatred of gays is mostly best dealt with out in the open, at least if life and limb aren't in immediate danger.

Personally I get very annoyed by Creationists. They shouldn't pass off their faith as science, because it isn't. But they certainly shouldn't be suppressed. And maybe the odd Creationist interjection on a blog thread keeps the rest of us on our toes. Even good ideas turn vague and soggy if left unchallenged.

So much current comedy, from South Park to The Office, Extras, Peepshow, and I'm Alan Partridge plays with the audience's ideas of offensiveness. The humour only works because the audience is quite sophisticated at reading the offensiveness. Ricky Gervais plays a lot with attitudes to disability, for instance. We laugh at Gervais's character's inept and insulting behaviour towards disabled characters. But we know Gervais couldn't write that material if he wasn't aware that such behaviour is wrong, but that people can easily slip into it. And we know that, however bad Gervais's character behaves, he's not monstrously evil.

I find it interesting that the academics assume - no, insist - that people are basically infantile, and need their guiding hand; while the comedians assume that people are actually quite adult and sophisticated.

David

Georges,

“Even good ideas turn vague and soggy if left unchallenged.”

Amen to that. Responding to dissent can allow us to revisit our own ideas about the world. I’d assumed, perhaps naively, that was one of the things education was supposed to encourage. As J.S. Mill said, “It is only through the collision of adverse opinions that the truth has any hope of being brought to light.” And it generally helps to know *why* we think whatever we think, especially if we’re going to stake a flag of righteousness upon it.

Attempts to censor disagreement – and thus avoid that “collision of adverse opinions” - can easily lead to *more* smug and unquestioned prejudice, rather than less, as the protests above illustrate. Assumptions of righteousness are much too easily defended by denouncing dissent as heresy or “hate speech” or whatever, thereby stifling any possibility of re-evaluation. Thus, the facts of the matter can become incidental or inconvenient.

The Thin Man

Georges

The comedies you point out are good examples of what is at risk if we allow simple "offence" to be the marker of the unacceptable. Imagine how much poorer our culture would be if we expunged such offensiveness.

If we institute policies like the one at W&M, the first link in the chain is forged that binds us into a much more restricted world.

This Bias Reporting system is a return to the "scolds bridle". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scold's_bridle

and truly opens the way to the ethos of the Salem witch trials - with scores being settled by anonomous accusation and the appearence of a kind of "PC piety" based on ones lack of social contentiousness or on the number of denouncements one has made.

By creating the infrastructure to support this kind of ideology, it completes a kind of "social circuit". Once that circuit has been completed and "social current" is flowing, it becomes very difficult to turn it off.

Once we have the staff to run the Bias Reporting infrastructure, they will naturally seek to expand their influence and anyone arguing against them will be cast as a bigot.

Are womens' or muslims' or christians' or homosexuals' or any other groups' SENSIBILITIES (as opposed to their persons/property/freedom or rights) worth the demolition our most basic freedoms - to be in charge of our own minds and to voice views which are not the party line?

The Thin Man

OMG - I am in shock.....

http://thefire.org/index.php/article/8555.html

"The university’s views are forced on students through a comprehensive manipulation of the residence hall environment, from mandatory training sessions to “sustainability” door decorations. Students living in the university’s eight housing complexes are required to attend training sessions, floor meetings, and one-on-one meetings with their Resident Assistants (RAs). The RAs who facilitate these meetings have received their own intensive training from the university, including a “diversity facilitation training” session at which RAs were taught, among other things, that “[a] racist is one who is both privileged and socialized on the basis of race by a white supremacist (racist) system. The term applies to all white people (i.e., people of European descent) living in the United States, regardless of class, gender, religion, culture or sexuality."

Please read it all and try not to have a stroke.

TDK

"Personally I get very annoyed by Creationists. ...etc..."

I agree with your comment. The stupidity of thinking that such ideas ought to be shut down is two fold:

1. Dawinism is not "the truth" it can only be the best current theory. Therefore in order to develop we should expect it to be criticised. Such criticism might originate from any source and we shouldn't seek to differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate criticism.

2. On the day Origin was published, the vast majority on the planet were creationist. Yet despite this disadvantage Darwinism succeeded in becoming the new orthodoxy. It stuns me that the likes of Dawkins, who must surely be aware of that history, think that Darwinism is so much in danger.

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