Open Thread and Link Farm, Helicopter Bug Edition

  1. Why it’s as hard to escape an echo chamber as it is to flee a cult | Aeon Essays
    “Where an epistemic bubble merely omits contrary views, an echo chamber brings its members to actively distrust outsiders. … They are not irrational, but systematically misinformed about where to place their trust.”
  2. Why I’m suing for my right to flip off the president – The Washington Post
  3. Evaluating the One-in-Five Statistic: Women’s Risk of Sexual Assault While in College: The Journal of Sex Research: Vol 54, No 4-5
    This 2017 article, while focused on the 1-in-5 statistic, is also a useful summary of much of the current state of sexual assault prevalence research.
  4. Revisiting “The Breakfast Club” in the Age of #MeToo, by Molly Ringwald | The New Yorker
    “How are we meant to feel about art that we both love and oppose? What if we are in the unusual position of having helped create it?”
  5. A new law intended to curb sex trafficking threatens the future of the internet as we know it
  6. SESTA Is Already Having Devastating Impacts on Sex Workers—Just Like They Predicted – Rewire.News
  7. Why Open-Plan Offices Don’t Work (And Some Alternatives That Do) | ArchDaily
  8. Jordan Peterson Resource Page | Noah Berlatsky on Patreon
    A list of links to various articles critiquing Peterson’s output.
  9. How Women See How Male Authors See Them | The New Yorker
    “Whit Reynolds ripped open a Pandora’s box of secondary sex characteristics when she challenged her Twitter followers to ‘describe yourself like a male author would.'”
  10. How the Quakers became unlikely economic innovators by inventing the price tag
    This is a three-minute video from Planet Money.
  11. What I learned about masculinity behind bars in Texas | Aeon EssaysContent warning for abuse, imprisonment, and self-harm. “When US media paints portraits of prisons, they always focus on the gangs, the violence, the rape and the racism. All of that is there, to be sure, but those events exist as lightening-like fissures in the slow cyclone of fatigued tedium.”
  12. For Trans Women, Beauty Standards Are an Impossible Balancing Act | Allure
  13. Fossil fuel supply: why it’s time to think seriously about cutting it off – Vox
  14. MuckRock’s guided tour of lesser-known DEA patches • MuckRock
    My jaw literally dropped. (And I’m using the word “literally” to mean “literally,” not “figuratively.”)
  15. The Case For Prisoner Voting Rights
  16. Publication Selection Bias in Minimum‐Wage Research? A Meta‐Regression Analysis
    Apparently there’s a publication selection bias in favor of studies which find the minimum wage raises unemployment.
  17. How to Stop Reliving Embarrassing Memories
    An interesting, but lengthy, article about the (still up in the air) science behind “cringe attacks.” Interestingly, the only people who don’t have this happen to them, are people who literally never forget anything.
  18. The photo on top shows three of the creations of Noah Deledda, who carves these sculptures out of soda cans with his bare hands. Here’s an animated gif showing his process.

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138 Responses to Open Thread and Link Farm, Helicopter Bug Edition

  1. Jeffrey Gandee:

    We shouldn’t build the classroom environment to withstand edge cases like nazi students writing nazi papers.

    Before I comment further, what specifically do you mean by “withstand” in this sentence?

    Desipis:

    In a publicly funded college or university (or simply any institution dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge), absolutely yes [the classroom should be a value neutral place].

    Except that public money is not in itself value neutral either. Also, does that mean you think that all ideas, all of them, should be given equal time, equal weight, equal value in a classroom?

  2. 102
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    Kate, I think you misunderstand me, and then much like my former TA, choose to assign bad motives and arrogance rather than engage.

    I didn’t think I was smarter than my TA, but given my childhood, I’m pretty confident I knew more about social insects and their sex-lives than she did, because I was fascinated with bugs (especially social ones), had beehives in my backyard, bookshelves filled with books written by naturalists about bugs, and video documentaries about bugs. I also had a Stepdad who loved nature and could tell me the Latin name of almost every critter/plant I caught/found. I didn’t know everything about the sex lives of insects as a 19 year old man, obviously, but I was in like the 99th percentile when it came to bug-sex knowledge. What reading “one book” (really?) taught me is the math behind why bug-sex and their bug-dimorphism is so incredibly unique and fascinating.

    In other words, I may have been a straight white male from a suburb in Ohio, but wouldn’t you know it, I still brought a unique perspective into that class. I find most people have unique perspectives once I actually engage with them.

    I didn’t dominate discussions in this class- mostly because I’m quiet, but also because I learned on day one that my style of thinking was not tolerated. This was a 101 class. Most students had no desire to continue with more womens studies classes and were only filling required credits. Maybe 5 out of the 12 students who showed up were critical of the material and expressed this. Arguments in relation to personal experience (especially from women) were tolerated much more than my “So given that we evolved from a long line of vertebrates…” style. I think this is backwards, but what do I know, I’m just a student who read one book.

    And the frustrating part isn’t that my argument is “smart.” I mean, it’s maybe the most obvious response to the readings we were assigned, as anyone with a window can look outside at birds and witness dimorphism. And that’s what was so frustrating- I mean, why didn’t this TA know how to answer the most obvious objection imaginable? It’s literally her job. I’m picturing a physics teacher teaching Newton’s first law. “But why does the baseball come to a stop rather than roll through the grass forever?” asked the student. Instead of going on to explain how friction is a force acting on the ball, the teacher criticizes the student for their privileged response. That’s not teaching.

    My TA screwed up, IMO. She could have said something like:

    “Your criticism is part of an ancient nature/nature debate surrounding gender, and you’re arguing the nature side, which has been dominate for pretty much all of recorded history. Although neither I or the material here can answer directly to your criticism with regard to evolutionary biology, this material presents evidence that much/most of gendered behavior is indeed socially constructed and provides a valuable lens which to view the world, even if the lens is incomplete (as all lenses are).”

    That would have been fantastic, but instead she made a not-very-well-thought-out response, realized it was bad, and then pivoted to maligning me, and it’s the maligning that bothers me most. I can forgive the other. Had she instead said something like what I wrote above, it would have encouraged people who think like I do to adopt more perspectives and learn to look at the world in different ways, a super valuable lesson for pretty much every 19 year old college freshman. People should go to college and graduate with the ability to see the world through several lenses, rather than just one, but the class was not about that. Instead, we were taught that lenses like mine existed to perpetuate privilege. My Dawkins-influenced approach was described as essentially corrupted, a product of white male supremacy. As a result, the norm was to dismiss arguments like mine entirely. That is a terrible norm and anti-intellectual. It’s the kind of intolerance I’ve been writing about here, and it’s had the effects I worry about, and the proof is that, not once, were we exposed to obvious criticisms to blank-slatism, so not once were we exposed to counter-arguments to those criticisms. Gender Theory was unquestioned. Even a “well, humans evolved with uniquely plastic minds, so maybe looking at the evolved behavior of our distant relatives isn’t such a great idea” would have been nice to hear. Instead we read a bunch of assertions and narratives. My best guess is that the reason my TA had no ability to argue against Dawkins-style appeals to evolved sexual dimorphism is that she learned she doesn’t have to. She spent 4+ years in an environment where those voices are effectively silenced. I don’t think this is a conspiracy. It’s just an evolved norm that happens to be really handy for the people who embrace it. It leads to poor scholarship of the sort we don’t see in other departments.

    As you can imagine I came out of this class kinda pissed off. I absorbed much of the material, I appreciated most of the vocabulary and expanded set of categories within which to structure my thoughts- but I’m sure I viewed all of the material more skeptically than I did for other classes, and that’s a bad thing to do. I came into the class more open minded than I left, and that sucks for everyone involved. I certainly shouldn’t be proud of it. Had I been a more perfect person, and maybe a little older, I could have read the ideas and examined them independently of the environment of that specific classroom (though some of the ideas we read about reinforced the norms I’m criticizing). I could have been more forgiving of my TA for not knowing or caring much about biology, bugs, and apes. But it’s really hard to do that when the classroom resembles religion more than scholarship, and I had already given up on religion years before.

  3. 103
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    Before I comment further, what specifically do you mean by “withstand” in this sentence?

    Good question. I articulated that pretty poorly.

    I see two failure modes at least, there’s likely more. The class fails if a nazi’s presence creates an environment were students/teachers feel too unsafe to learn/teach. The class fails if ideological intolerance creates an environment where knowledge can’t be advanced because certain ideas can’t be challenged. (it’s worth pointing out that the boundary that defines what is and isn’t beyond debate is likely to be gamed for partisan reasons)

    What’s important to do is see both of these as failures. Classrooms shouldn’t be structured to deal with nazis preemptively. If one walks into the room and writes a threatening paper, the class has failed to some degree. A Cesna has crashed into your AirBus. If it’s a political radicalism class where Mein Kampf is assigned, I’d be less worried about this student’s impact than if it were a creative writing class. In the first case, any student squeamish about nazis should never have signed up for the course. It’s all subjective of course, but I’d be more likely to try and accommodate fearful students and teachers in the second case… but then I’m no lawyer, so I’m not sure what’s actually permissible. Can a kid student be kicked out of school/class for hate-speech in a paper? I have no idea.

  4. 104
    Ben Lehman says:

    Man, if you had showed up in a physics 101 class with “Physics is fundamentally flawed because it’s both based on and the foundation for immoral colonialist enterprise” you’d be extremely lucky to have that interaction go as well as it went in your woman’s studies class.

    There is no way in hell you would get your TA patiently explaining the difference between modes of truth and what is and is not admissible as argument in different fields.

  5. 105
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    Ben, the point I made in discussion was actually relevant to the material we were required to read. Blank slate claims are claims encroaching on the territory of psychology and biology. They are claims about our minds.

    When an Evolutionary Biologist disagrees with a Women’s Studies Phd over a point of fact, that’s actually kind of important. In the same way that a theory of mind that violated the laws of quantum mechanics would require a reexamination of one or both theories. The two sides are forced to fight it out in order to reveal a more accurate model of how the world really works. As long as Women’s Studies departments are in the business of making truth claims, they should expect attacks from their peers in the sciences, and should be able to withstand questions from students like me.

    I do imagine the interaction in your hypothetical would be miserable, but perhaps that’s because it’s so poorly communicated. In your example, what is actually under dispute? Maybe if your hypothetical student were to make that more clear, he’d find that a pleasant interaction is possible if not likely. Afterall, questions like “what exactly is science?” and “why should we use the knowledge it generates instead of this other knowledge over here?” are great questions! Perhaps the professor would explain that the philosophy of science is beyond the scope of the course, but also super important, and that maybe this student should pursue that knowledge from a more qualified professor in the philosophy department. Or maybe the professor could recommend a book on the subject.

  6. 106
    Kate says:

    Jeffrey Grandee – in your comment @102 & 105, you’re still basically explaining why you’d be better at teaching women’s studies 101 than the professionals are, because I don’t think your case is an outlier. Most Women’s Studies professors wouldn’t engage in the type of debate you envision. So, Ben @ 104 has a good point. If we flip this, how do you think your Women’s Studies professor’s arguments would have flown in an Evolutionary Biology class?
    When one wants to go into depth within a field (and college 101 classes are often conceived as the first step in that process), one sometime must set aside certain debates between fields because the structures have totally different premises.
    For example, it is kind of pointless for a Catholic Priest and a Women’s studies professor to debate birth control, because their differences don’t lie in the logical approaches they take, but rather in fundamental values and the premises they start from. It’s not that they refuse to engage with each other’s ideas. They already have done so in depth. They know the arguments of the other side as well as they know their own. They have fundamental, irreconcilable differences. For example:
    The Women’s studies professor believes people’s bodies ultimately belong to themselves. The Catholic Priest believes that people’s bodies ultimately belong to God.
    The Women’s studies professor is looking at the real-world impact of different policies regarding access to birth control. The Catholic Priest believes that creating a culture of life by following natural law will lead to the best possible world.
    The Women’s studies professor is focused primarily on reducing suffering on earth. The Catholic Priest is focused primarily on leading people to salvation in heaven.
    Debating these issues is really great for people who think both sides have points. Most universities have various ethics classes in which this is done. But, for people who are developing deeper analysis into either structure, having that debate is pointless.

  7. 107
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    You guys keep creating hypotheticals where disagreement stems from differing moral priorites. That’s not what I’m talking about. I responded to a truth claim that I felt was poorly supported. It was presented as truth. There was no “look, this is a over-simpified model,” preamble. My TA seemed to think people were literally blank slates- if she didn’t, she could have just said so when I challenged the presumption.

    But you’re really missing the point, and that’s that I was 19 and attending college in part to increase my skills at critical thinking. I did my best at that, and this TA responded in a very uncharitable way. That’s bad enough, but what really disappointed me was going to lecture and learning that this kind of dismissal was taught. It was rewarded with praise and high grades. It was part of the culture.

    I agree with you, Kate, that most womens studies professors do not wish to debate evolutionary biology, but unlike you, I think that tendency really sucks. I think there are all kinds of “undebatable” ideas at the OSU womens studies department that are, in fact, totally debatable. I think the level of insularity I witnessed is harmful.

  8. 108
    Elusis says:

    He read one f**king book on the general topic and thought he was an expert. By his own account, he literally stopped trying to engage with the course material on.day.one.

    Exactly. The tell comes when he describes writing papers for the rest of the semester that he didn’t believe in to fit what he thought was the TA’s perspective – he learned NOTHING from the class? Had NO insights or realizations or reversals of perspective? Was engaged by or passionate about NOTHING that the class newly brought to his attention? That’s a pretty tall order, and IME as both a student and professor, likely says more about the student than the class.

  9. 109
    Elusis says:

    I’m pretty confident I knew more about social insects and their sex-lives than she did

    You apparently don’t know that insects aren’t vertebrates.

    “all I did was point out that almost every vertebrate on earth, including ants and apes”

    Or that your nature/nurture argument was likely already addressed in the course material and from more sophisticated perspectives than “evolutionary psychology.”

  10. 110
    Sebastian H says:

    “If we flip this, how do you think your Women’s Studies professor’s arguments would have flown in an Evolutionary Biology class?”
    And.

    “Man, if you had showed up in a physics 101 class with “Physics is fundamentally flawed because it’s both based on and the foundation for immoral colonialist enterprise” you’d be extremely lucky to have that interaction go as well as it went in your woman’s studies class.”
    You can’t flip the hypothetical like that because Biology is actually science while social sciences are barely science and Women’s Studies isn’t science at all. The idea that it is symmetric is a big part of the problem. Saying that you know something in biology is a much stronger statement than saying you know something in economics which is a stronger statement than saying you know something in Women’s Studies. The foundations of knowledge are much firmer in the sciences. A biology critique of Women’s Studies is much more firm than a Women’s Studies critique of physics. To act as if they are exactly the same weight is to totally deny the basic understanding of the world. And frankly if it were really true that such an understanding were being pushed by most Women’s Studies departments I’d keep it quiet, because that would be an excellent legislative argument against them.

  11. 111
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    Elusis, That last comment was a well executed sick burn, and I deserved it, but your first comment is really crappy and uncharitable.

    I learned in the class. I came away believing that most gender norms are socially constructed. I still think this. I learned about gender performitivity and found it to be a useful perspective at times. I learned the whole invisible knapsack thing, and although I kinda disagree with parts of it, some of it is really obviously true and the way it is framed is super useful. I learned about Kinsey… and ummm I think I learned that I need to learn more about him and his methods, but I think he’s super important. The class changed me in more subtle ways for sure, there’s a little part of my brain dedicated to seeing myself through the eyes of others, and that class changed the way that part works 24/7.

    The class also made me skeptical of the kind of academic who would just dismiss evolutionary psychology without applying the same rigor to her own side, a side that also relied way to heavily on convenient narratives.

  12. Jeffrey,

    Intentional or not, there is a certain amount of double-speak in your comments about the Women’s Studies class. On the one hand, you describe it as being, and as promulgating, a culture of ideological intolerance, as a class in which you did not feel comfortable responding out of your own authentic, “intellectual self”—if I can coin that term—and yet you also describe it as a class in which you learned quite a lot, some of which—as you describe it—must have required precisely the kind of critical thinking you assert the class was designed in some ways to stifle.

    To me, you have described a situation where—giving you entirely the benefit of the doubt in your description of what happened—a TA’s inexperience in teaching, in managing classroom discussion, resulted in your feeling shut down. Inexperience, I hope I don’t really need to point out, is not the same thing as ideological intolerance. And your description of the lecture sounds to me like that of a professor who is there to present a point of view. If it was a traditional lecture, then that is precisely not the kind of class where the sort of debate you are talking about is supposed to take place. It is a lecture in which you, as a student, are there to listen to a professor present their point of view. You then are supposed to make of it what you will, as a critical thinker.

    You may not—I usually don’t—appreciate that kind of pedagogy, but it is also not the same thing as ideological intolerance.

  13. 113
    Ampersand says:

    Everyone, insofar as our tempers permit, let’s try to be kind to each other while disagreeing. Again, that’s for everyone, not any particular person.

    Jeffrey:

    My TA seemed to think people were literally blank slates…

    If so, your TA was exceptional. I know tons of feminists. I was a women’s studies major. I don’t know anyone, and never read anyone, who thinks people are “literally blank slates.” The assigned readings on this I took in WS did not say that people are “literally blank slates.”

    Which brings me to my problem: It’s hard to discuss anecdotes.

    I’m sure that you’re presenting your memory honestly, as you remember it.

    But I’m also pretty sure that if we could somehow get your T.A. here, she’d remember the same incident (if she remembers it at all) in a different way.

    Your anecdote basically says that your TA was 1) an idiot, 2) incompetent, 3)ignorant, and 4) disdainful.

    Maybe she was just as you describe. It’s possible. Sometimes terrible people get to be TAs (in every field).

    But I hope you’ll understand that I can’t dismiss the other possibility – that the TA was not as Perfectly Awful In Every Way as you describe, that your memory of what happened is not objective, and that perhaps you misunderstood her.

    And here you are – making broad-brush statements about how close-minded and stupid the entire women’s studies at OSU (is that Oregon or Ohio?) is – based on evidence (your anecdote) that no one can confirm, or get another viewpoint on. You can understand my skepticism. But more importantly, I just don’t see how that’s going to become a useful discussion.

    * * *

    Let me give you a counter-anecdote. (I acknowledge that my memory, like everyone’s, is imperfect.)

    When I took the women’s studies 101 course at Portland State, we were assigned a lot of radical feminist work to read. (Among other viewpoints, of course.) I was already habitually arguing with radical feminists online (I was a liberal feminist then), and of course much of the material we read was critical or even dismissive of liberal feminism. And some of the other readings, such as those from an ecofeminist perspective, struck me as very woo.

    So I argued against the assigned readings in class. And in my papers. And in my small-group-discussions.

    And I got an “A” in the class, although I know my professor, who was the chair of the WS department, disagreed with me about many things. And I became a WS/Econ double major, and got almost a perfect 4.0 in both disciplines, even though I often disagreed with my professors.

    In my experience, most professors are smart people who enjoy teaching engaged students – if the students, agree or disagree, demonstrate a strong understanding of the material. I haven’t found WS professors to be an exception. Neither were econ professors (most of my econ profs were politically to my right).

    I’m sorry you haven’t had the same experience.

  14. 114
    Mookie says:

    Jeffrey Gandee @93:

    Hundreds of academics sign an open letter, demanding the retraction of a published paper by an academic feminist philosopher.

    Jeffrey Gandee @105:

    As long as Women’s Studies departments are in the business of making truth claims, they should expect attacks from their peers in the sciences, and should be able to withstand questions from students like me.

    This seems wildly inconsistent.

  15. 115
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    Did you read the Jesse Singal article, Mookie? You should read that, and then comment, I don’t have time to summarize that story in a way that does it justice. In short I’ll say that the signatories of the open letter either lied about Tuvel’s paper, or didn’t read it but signed the letter anyways because Tuvel’s line of argument is intolerable. That letter got 800 signatories.

    I get that my personal narrative, meant to illustrate what intolerance looks like to a student, is just one very small unverifiable example. But when OSU faculty are among the signatories of the Tuvel open letter, it shouldn’t be so hard to believe. I would have been scared shitless to advance Tuvel’s line of argument to my TA or professor.

    From OSU faculty member Shannon Winnubst:

    “We authors of the open letter, and the associate editors of Hypatia, are accused of poor reasoning, poor scholarship, and lack of integrity. In other words, the overwhelmingly sexist, male, and white discipline has, once again, called out the feminists as irrational, hysterical, and immoral. To say that we’re engaging in a “witch hunt” couldn’t be more paradoxical when we, the feminist philosophers, have long been treated like the witches of the discipline. Let’s call this response what it is: the deflection of serious, sustained criticism of philosophy’s normative practices.

    Emphasis mine. Link here: https://www.chronicle.com/article/Why-Tuvel-s-Article-So/240029

    There it is. Winnubst responds to her critics by accusing them of harboring ill motives, exactly the sort of thing I described. I heard this rhetoric in lecture. This is what happens when activism and academics mix, and I think it needs to be checked with healthier norms.

  16. 116
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    Amp, I don’t think my TA was an idiot.

    Have you ever argued with a person who you know to be super smart, but who has fallen prey to a rigid ideology? To give an example, have you ever talk to an intelligent person who’s really into libertarianism in an “END THE FED!” kind of way? There’s a ton of these guys and they have their own little communities where they all talk about privatizing the police with each other. Some of them are actually smart and surprisingly well read.

    This smart person will suddenly turn into someone who sounds like an idiot if you talk econ with them. I bet this is doubly true for an econ major like you.

    I saw my TA like that. The difference was that unlike the libertarian guy, this TA was armed with this really complicated form of ad-hominem argumentation, a sort of epistomology where people like her had objectivity in ways I could not because I was a straight white guy who came from a well-to-do suburb. This bizarre rhetorical weapon (among others) was taught to us in lecture. It was deployed selectively and defensively. It is used to malign individuals and their motives- even entire fields of study and centuries of philosophy. It is entirely unfalsifiable. Did you not witness this in your classes?

  17. Jeffrey:

    Classrooms shouldn’t be structured to deal with nazis preemptively.

    Why not, if we are talking about dealing with a student who actively believes—and who makes it know that he or she actively believes—that everyone in the class who is of color is subhuman and that Jews in particular should be wiped off the face of the earth? Please note the emphasis. We are not talking about a student who is, in the context of a class exercise, “testing the limits,” so to speak—which is arguably what Tuval was doing in her article. (Did you read the original article? Just curious. The whole situation, while unfortunate, is a good deal more complex than you make it in your comments.) We are not talking about a student who is, for the purpose of intellectual engagement, working through the logic of Nazism—its intellectual history, etc.—which is certainly a valid undertaking.

    My original question as about a student who wrote a paper in which he explicitly presented himself as a Nazi, as someone who embraced that ideology. He cannot be kicked out of the class simply for writing a paper; he paid for the seat, and he is entitled to that seat. My initial question was: What would it mean for anyone, Jewish or not, to grade that paper fairly? (Another way of asking that question: In an instance like this, can you—should you—try to grade the writing separate from the content? What would that even mean? To suspend your disbelief, so to speak, and pretend the premises of Nazism were valid—that there is nothing problematic about taking them on their own terms—so that you could judge how well a student argued for them?) [This paragraph slightly edited for greater clarity.]

    But here’s another question: What does it mean for a classroom instructor to maintain the classroom as a safe space for learning with that student in the class, especially if his views become part of the classroom discourse? How does one accept whatever argument he might put forward for those views as having the same legitimacy, the same right to equal consideration, the same possibility of being shown to be demonstrably good/right/choose your adjective as inclusive ideologies that oppose Nazism?

    And if one does manage the class discourse (and I am including in this readings, etc., not just discussion) such that if reveals the inhumanity of Nazism, how—if there is no preemptive bias against the legitimacy of Nazi ideology—does that student not have grounds for a claim to ideological intolerance on the instructor’s part? (And just to be clear: obviously that student should not be made to feel physically unsafe, but am I really required by some sense of ideological fairness to give equal time in my class to someone who wants to argue for an ideology that cannot help but make other students in the class feel unsafe?)

    If you have the time and desire to respond to this—I don’t know how busy you are—I’m going to ask, again, that you limit your response to the context I am asking about: the classroom.

  18. 118
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    RJN, you asking me to limit my response to the context of the classroom is slightly unfair, because I see spillover effects- what happens in the classroom can impact broader goals of the entire university. This is like asking an engineer what the best material for the construction of beams is, without considering what it is that’s being built. (I may be misunderstanding what your asking of me here, if so my bad)

    Also, I already said I think having another instructor grade the paper is a solution, though I admit its a poor one for all kinds of reasons. The point I’m trying to make is that when a nazi comes into the classroom, your stuck with a whole bunch of really poor solutions. There may be no way to fairly grade his nazi paper. Not all dilemmas have just resolutions . If the paper is to be graded, fair should be considered an unachievable goal worth striving for anyway (sort of like objectivity in a science experiment, impossible but very much worth working toward regardless). As to what “fairly” even means in this context would depend on the assignment and general expectations that were articulated by the instructor. Most of the time, students are given grading criteria, so refer to that, I guess.

    You say:

    How does one accept whatever argument he might put forward for those views as having the same legitimacy, the same right to equal consideration, the same possibility of being shown to be demonstrably good/right/choose your adjective as inclusive ideologies that oppose Nazism?

    I’m not aware of anyone here claiming all arguments are equally legitimate. Clearly, some arguments are terrible. We learn if this is true by listening to them. Part of going to school should be to learn what those sound like, and how to demonstrate their illegitimacy with better arguments.

    Now I have a questions for you. What if this professor was an immigrant who’s parents were victims of a marxist regime, and… you get the idea. What if people like me, who are very skeptical of radicals on all sides, declare we feel unsafe every time any student/faculty brings up radical leftist ideals? Don’t you think there need to be something like a reasonableness standard for those who claim ideas make them feel “unsafe?”

  19. Jeffrey:

    RJN, you asking me to limit my response to the context of the classroom is slightly unfair, because I see spillover effects- what happens in the classroom can impact broader goals of the entire university.

    Sure, because thinking about spillover makes it easy to avoid the difficult issues of managing a specific instance in a classroom. And I don’t mean that as a put-down. Figuring out how to handle the situation I’ve outlined is hard. With respect, however, the situation I asked you to think about—where a specific brand of intolerance (to put it mildly) is brought into the classroom by a student who is a true believer in that intolerance—is already in conflict with the broader goals of higher education in general, much less any individual university. I don’t know that I have any easy answers, and I certainly have not thought deeply enough to do much more than try to articulate the question as clearly as I can.

    Don’t you think there need to be something like a reasonableness standard for those who claim ideas make them feel “unsafe?”

    First, Marxism is not the same as Nazism. There’s a huge difference between a professor whose parents were the victims of a totalitarian communist regime receiving from a student paper that argued Stalin’s atrocities, say, were necessary and justified and good and that same professor receiving a paper espousing a Marxist world view or even arguing for a Marxist revolution. The latter does not require—as Nazism does—the dehumanization and elimination of whole classes of people based on race or religion some other similar characteristic. Rather, Marxism roots its analysis in an understanding of economic injustice and of the systems that lead to it.

    I’m not trying to argue in favor or Marxism here; I am just pointing out that, in the context of the kind of situation I am talking about, there is a huge difference between Marxism as a set of beliefs about the world and how it should be organized and Nazism. So, to be clear, if a professor’s parents had been killed in the manner described above, and a student wrote an essay in favor of that killing—especially a student old enough to not be an ill-informed young person—I would say the dilemma is similar.

    I also think it’s important to make explicit that the dilemma arises not because of an ideological disagreement, but because the subject of the students’ essay has made the teacher-student relationship, the issue of grading, etc. personal in a way that is far more complex than a simple disagreement.

    As to your question about people who claim ideas make them feel “unsafe.” A safe space is not necessarily a comfortable one. Indeed, I would argue that, when we’re talking about educational spaces, part of what defines a safe space is that those who occupy it are able to be uncomfortable, and to allow themselves to be made uncomfortable, and not feel that their safety is at risk. To return to a point I made earlier: achieving that in a classroom is not easy; it requires some training, some practice and experience.

    Clearly, some arguments are terrible. We learn if this is true by listening to them. Part of going to school should be to learn what those sound like, and how to demonstrate their illegitimacy with better arguments.

    I don’t think anyone disagrees with this, but aren’t there some arguments whose illegitimacy it ought not to be necessary to demonstrate at this point?

  20. 120
    Jeffrey Gandee says:

    RJN,

    In a previous post’s comment section, I talked about my frustration talking to conservatives whose policy prescriptions are heavily influenced by the black swan event that was 9-11.

    You sound kinda like them. After 9-11, something had to be done to prevent it from happening again and making people feel unsafe. Me: “hey, did you think of the consequences of these policies beyond preventing terror? Did you consider other failure modes? Perhaps these laws will be used against Americans who pose no threat at all?”

    This is how I see this debate right now. I’m way less concerned with this one Nazi guy with his Nazi paper and much more concerned with the hundreds of people who sees Nazis, fascists, and terrorists in the people and groups they don’t like.

  21. Whereas, for me, it’s in teasing out the issues and implications inherent in this one situation, where there’s a real Nazi, that you get at a more fully thought through and fleshed out way of dealing with the situation you describe.

  22. 122
    desipis says:

    RJN:

    Also, does that mean you think that all ideas, all of them, should be given equal time, equal weight, equal value in a classroom?

    The only test should go to the purpose of the class. If a student is intellectually engaging with the subject matter at hand, then I don’t think there ought to be any further requirements for their ideas to be given genuine engagement by the TA/professor.

    Obviously professors and TAs are human, and they may not be capable as individuals of dealing with absolutely every student inquiry that comes their way. In that case the institution should make reasonable efforts (organise an alternate TA, professor, or even an alternative professor) to facilitate the student. If the institution as a whole cannot put forward someone to intellectually respond to the ideas, even something as extreme as a genuine argument in support of Nazis, then I would question the academic legitimacy of the institution.

    Indeed, I would argue that, when we’re talking about educational spaces, part of what defines a safe space is that those who occupy it are able to be uncomfortable, and to allow themselves to be made uncomfortable, and not feel that their safety is at risk.

    Intellectual debate doesn’t put anyone at risk. If people are strongly feeling at risk in response to intellectual debate then I would see them as either intellectually or psychologically unfit for that college or university.

  23. Desipis:

    So what would it mean to you, in specific, practical terms, to engage intellectually, seriously, fairly, with someone who wrote a paper arguing for and espousing Nazi racial ideology? Just to take one position, which is not necessarily my own (since I am not 100% sure what my own position would be) you could fail the paper outright because it would be, by definition, based on premises—scientific ones at least, if not also socioeconomic, culturally and historical—that were shown to be false a long time ago. In other words, if the scholarship is so fundamentally faulty in that way, why would I have to take the argument seriously? (This is, or at least might be, separate and apart from the teaching stance I might take towards the student, which would depend a lot on the stance towards being a student, and specifically towards being my student, that he or she took.)

  24. 124
    desipis says:

    RJN,

    I’m not sure I can meaningfully respond to your questions based on some hypothetical paper. How I would respond to such a paper would depend entirely on the detail within the paper itself, and how it related to the subject and content of the class in which it was submitted.

    I wouldn’t just the paper based simply on its conclusion, but look at how it used evidence and reasoning. If you are so confident that the conclusion is so profoundly and obviously wrong (whether the subject is Nazi racial ideology or otherwise), then you should feel confident in easily spotting the flaws in the paper that lead to that conclusion.

  25. Desipis:

    So let me ask my question differently: do you see no problem in legitimizing an espousal of Nazi racial ideology by paying it the compliment of a serious refutation? Because no matter how thoroughly you critique that paper, regardless of the class or the assignment, that’s what you would be doing. And I want to emphasize again that I am talking about an espousal of the ideology, not an intellectual engagement/exploration of it for academic purposes.

  26. 126
    desipis says:

    do you see no problem in legitimizing an espousal of Nazi racial ideology by paying it the compliment of a serious refutation?

    I think this is an absurd way of thinking about the issue. Serious refutation of Nazi racial ideology on regular basis would be the best way to inoculate society against the spread of those ideas. The spread of an ideology is only helped by having a large population unfamiliar with the serious criticism and refutations of its ideas. Suppressing or avoiding debates around dangerous ideas by resorting to ridicule and name calling will only feed the conspiratorial mindset of victim-hood that helps such ideas spread.

    Again, if you’re so confident that such ideas will be found profoundly false and reprehensible when clearly examined then you should be confident that such an examination will prevent the ideas from significant acceptance.

  27. So I can see this conversation is not really going to get anywhere. Part of the reason I keep focusing on the instance of a paper written by one student for one professor—regardless of the class in which the assignment is given—is that I think a rigorous examination of that instance will illuminate the issues that apply when you start to think about the classroom context and, from there, the context of the academy at large.

    One reason I think this is that when you focus on the individual student and professor you cannot avoid thinking about the situation as both personal and professional, for both of them. Simply handing the paper off to another professor to grade is a way of avoiding having to deal with that fact (not to mention that it is problematic on a whole host of other counts that have to do with, for example, a student’s right to be graded consistently and the potential for the second professor, however unintentionally, to undermine the authority of the first in her or his classroom).

    Desipis’ and Jeffrey’s responses consistently move away from that narrowly focused scenario, however, into realms that I think are actually much easier to discuss and where they and I have less, though perhaps not no, disagreement.

  28. 128
    Ampersand says:

    Again, if you’re so confident that such ideas will be found profoundly false and reprehensible when clearly examined then you should be confident that such an examination will prevent the ideas from significant acceptance.

    Do you have any evidence to support this claim? I know that some research has found that fact-based refutations of ideas can actually have the opposite effect, cementing the ideas further – this is called “the backfire effect.”

    Certainly, my experience suggests that many people firmly believe false ideas and will not be shaken from those ideas by refutation. I’ve had this experience discussing climate change, Obama’s birthplace, and many other issues in which one side of the issue is clearly and objectively unsupportable.

  29. 129
    Ampersand says:

    And, also, Desipis, did you read the first link in the post – the one about echo chambers? That also pushes against the idea that bad ideas are simple to refute merely because they are wrong.

  30. 130
    Ben Lehman says:

    The backfire effect seems to have been overstated, if it exists at all.

  31. 131
    desipis says:

    Ampersand: That effect doesn’t seem to be as prevalent as might have been indicated by earlier studies. As with most social science it doesn’t take long for further studies to present conflicting evidence. In particularly there’s this recent study [pdf] (emphasis mine):

    Can citizens heed factual information, even when such information challenges their partisan and ideological attachments? The “backfire effect,” described by Nyhan and Reifler (2010), says no: rather than simply ignoring factual information, presenting respondents with facts can compound their ignorance. In their study, conservatives presented with factual information about the absence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq became more convinced that such weapons had been found. The present paper presents results from five experiments in which we enrolled more than 10,100 subjects and tested 52 issues of potential backfire. Across all experiments, we found no corrections capable of triggering backfire, despite testing precisely the kinds of polarized issues where backfire should be expected. Evidence of factual backfire is far more tenuous than prior research suggests. By and large, citizens heed factual information, even when such information challenges their ideological commitments.

    Besides, I wasn’t specifically arguing that it would change the mind of those already strongly committed to the ideology, but rather prevent the spread of the ideology generally, i.e. to other people who did not yet strongly believe.

    Another point is, that even if using facts has a backfire effect, I’m not aware of any studies that show the effectiveness (positive or negative) that social shaming/exclusion has on changing peoples mind. Something that would be important to understand if that’s the proposed alternative.

  32. 132
    Elusis says:

    See, here we get into the subjective definition of “intellectual engagement,” “serious refutation,” etc.

    When I was teaching graduate classes in mental health, fortunately I did not generally have to deal with students who wanted to argue that homosexuality is a mental illness. However, I have colleagues who have had this experience.

    There is no need for “serious refutation” of this argument, beyond “it was taken out of the DSM in 1973; it should never have been there to begin with; it was a diagnosis based on a view of homosexuality as inherent pathology plus a distorted sample of the particularly unhappy gay and lesbian people who presented for therapy; we can now better explain their symptoms by understanding the effects of minority stress and internalized homophobia; no serious psychological or medical argument can be made for re-pathologizing same-sex sexual interests or behavior, period end.”

    But for people who actually want to “intellectually engage” by advancing their “homosexuality is inherently disordered” argument, this is not “serious refutation.” This is “silencing” them. This is “refusing to listen.” This is “viewpoint discrimination.” Because they’re not allowed to de-rail, say, a class or training on cultural competency with sexual minorities into a long-winded argument based on religious beliefs and/or outdated/distorted research in which they get to advance belittling stereotypes and outright falsehoods against sexual minority people without being called on how belittling and false their “arguments” are. Because they’re not allowed to take up time and emotional energy with their utterly fact-free “arguments.” Because they’re asked to consider how sexual minority people sitting in the room with them might be experiencing their insistence on “intellectual engagement,” never mind all the people of any sexual orientation who came to the class or training to get the information on how to be culturally competent with sexual minorities.

    So, “intellectual engagement deserving of serious refutation;” “fact-free de-rail easily refuted with a few clear points and moved on from.” Potato, potato. And as the expert in the room, the instructor has the right, and indeed the responsibility, to make the call.

  33. 133
    Ampersand says:

    Desipis, thanks for that link. That’s really interesting (and to be honest, now that I see it, I realize I’ve read that before).

    That said, you’ve gone from “if you’re so confident that such ideas will be found profoundly false and reprehensible when clearly examined then you should be confident that such an examination will prevent the ideas from significant acceptance” to (paraphrased) “we don’t actually know what is and isn’t persuasive.” I think the latter statement is more accurate, but I’m not sure if you realize how much it contradicts your previous statement.

    I like friendly, civil, persuasive dialog. It’s my favorite thing. And I’d LIKE to think it’s persuasive a significant degree of the time. But just because that’s what I’d like to think, doesn’t mean it’s so.

    I’ve discussed climate change with too many conservatives, however, to believe that just being right and having a civil discussion is anything like a guarantee.

    (Nor, by the way, am I advocating “social shaming/exclusion” as a means of changing minds.)

    Besides, I wasn’t specifically arguing that it would change the mind of those already strongly committed to the ideology, but rather prevent the spread of the ideology generally, i.e. to other people who did not yet strongly believe.

    I thought the example you were responding to, was a student who believes in Nazism turning in a paper? In that case, only two people are involved, one of whom is strongly committed to the ideology. If the only issue is how to prevent the spread of the ideology to the uncommitted, then I don’t think that’s at issue in this example.

  34. 134
    Ampersand says:

    Jeffrey:

    Have you ever argued with a person who you know to be super smart, but who has fallen prey to a rigid ideology?

    Of course, And of course, I’ve met people from my own ideological “wing” who are like this, as well as folks from other ideologies.

    And no, I didn’t witness that in my WS classes. I got along well with most of my professors, and some I got along very well with; I never had any of them tell me that my thoughts were worthless because I’m a straight white guy. Honestly, if that were the common view of the profs, I don’t think I would have stuck with the major.

    I do recall one student who objected to me speaking in class (she felt) too much. But that was one student in one course.

  35. 135
    desipis says:

    Ampersand:

    That said, you’ve gone from…

    One of those was a pure philosophical argument, and the other was a discussion of the science. There are a couple of ideas underpinning my philosophical position.

    Firstly, if you assume people are easily swayed from evidence and reason to be convinced that false or evil ideas are actually true and good, then the first step isn’t figuring out how to convince people to support your ideas, the first step is to identify a way to confirm that you yourself are not unwittingly promulgating false or evil ideas.

    Secondly, if you’re interested in winning it’s important to consider the domain in which you have a competitive advantage. People pushing false ideas will be at least equally (if not more) effective as people pushing true ideas when using rhetoric, psychological manipulation or social pressure. It’s only in the domain of evidence and reason that people pushing true ideas will have the advantage, and so it’s in this domain that they should seek to engage.

    I thought the example you were responding to, was a student who believes in Nazism turning in a paper?

    Sure, in that specific case I would point out that the evidence is only showing probability. I’d argue the teacher-student relationship impose a duty on the teacher to give the student the benefit of the doubt; they should assume the student will learn from encountering evidence and reason. They might not, but that’s not an excuse not to give them the chance.

  36. Desipis:

    I’d argue the teacher-student relationship impose a duty on the teacher to give the student the benefit of the doubt; they should assume the student will learn from encountering evidence and reason.

    Why? How do you define the teacher-student relationship in a college classroom such that this is the case? What assumptions about students are inherent in this definition? About teachers? In practical terms, what would it mean for a Jewish teacher to give a student who espouses Nazism in her or his classwork the benefit of the doubt? A non-Jewish teacher? A gay or lesbian teacher? A teacher one who does not obviously belong to any of the Nazis’ “subhuman classes?”

    I do not mean these as “gotcha” questions. You have made a statement about the nature of the teacher-student relationship and I am sincerely interested in exploring the thinking, and the implications, behind it.

  37. 137
    desipis says:

    Why?

    It seems to me to be the basis of higher learning.

    In practical terms, what would it mean for…

    I’m not sure what you’re asking here, perhaps you could rephrase. Are you asking about functional outcomes, or moral values, or the experience of the people you describe, or something else?

  38. 138
    Sebastian H says:

    “So let me ask my question differently: do you see no problem in legitimizing an espousal of Nazi racial ideology by paying it the compliment of a serious refutation?”

    Gack, this seems like a very troubling approach, especially for a teacher to take. Serious refutation of pernicious ideas is one of the things that teachers are supposed to do. Otherwise you end up looking much more like propagandizers than thinkers/teachers.

    “Do you have any evidence to support this claim? I know that some research has found that fact-based refutations of ideas can actually have the opposite effect, cementing the ideas further – this is called “the backfire effect.” ”

    The backfire effect is one of those social science concepts that shows up mainly if you torture statistics to get what you want to see. But it misses the point anyway. It is very possible that you won’t convince the person you are offering a refutation to. At least not right away, because almost no one admits they are wrong right away. But what you’ll do is allow everyone else to see the refutation, so side parties won’t be tempted to think “this is a forbidden area of inquiry that probably has some truth to it”. That is also why when refuting it you should try to make it a refutation, not an attack.

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