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E-Pluribus | August 25, 2023
Heads, I'm right, tails, you're evil; Cornell alumni try to rescue their alma mater; and the rule of law should be for everyone.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Holly Lawford-Smith: On Political Hatred
Too often, “agree to disagree” has given way to “disagree and you’re evil” as the preferred response to political, cultural and social differences. At Quillette, Holly Lawford-Smith evaluates the ways hatred and contempt shape the discourse and how effective (or not) they may be.
There are two kinds of political polarization: ideological polarization, which is polarization on the issues themselves, and affective polarization, which is polarization in our emotions and attitudes—in how we feel toward those with whom we disagree politically. Here, I want to talk about the latter. Why do we have such strong negative emotions toward our political opponents? Why are relationships like Kurt and Diane’s, or the real life friendship between US Supreme Court Judges Ruth Bader Ginsburg (liberal) and Antonin Scalia (conservative), surprising rather than commonplace? And is there any hope of a return to friendship and fellow-feeling across political lines?
Academic circles are no exception to this trend. I’ve observed people whom I know to be rigorous, meticulous thinkers in other contexts make sweeping, dismissive claims about ideological opponents. Because the university is dominated by the left, this is usually leftist academics making sweeping, dismissive claims about right-wingers. When talking about complex issues, on which it is reasonable to disagree, I have observed people write off those who take a different position to themselves as evil, greedy, heartless, or disgusting. On everything from Syrian refugees through Brexit and climate change to so-called gender-affirmative medicine, people take a totalizing approach to disagreement: either you agree with me, or you are despicable.
[ . . . ]
There is an alternative view of affective polarization that is at once reassuring and dispiriting. That is, expressions of hatred and contempt toward our political opponents are just tools that we use to try to help our side win, and not genuine expressions of our most deeply held values. (This does not mean that there are no individuals for whom the expressions are genuine). This is reassuring because, when we are the targets of hatred and contempt from “the other side,” we can tell ourselves that they don’t really hate or feel contempt for us. (There’s a similar theory of slurs, which argues that their use is much more about expressing in-group solidarity than about denigrating the group described by the slur.) But it’s also dispiriting, because being the target of hatred and contempt is at best unpleasant and at worst psychologically and emotionally damaging. If we don’t really hate them, why must we speak and act as if we do? If they don’t really hate us, why must they speak and act as if they do?
So, if the expression of these severe negative emotions is a political tool, do we really need this tool or are there better ones? The current situation seems little better than the group-based hatred of our past. Humans have, historically, hated each other on the basis of race, sex, class, religion, and more: that is, on the basis of what moral philosophers generally describe as “morally arbitrary features,” which people did not choose and cannot help. This suggests that it’s not OK to target people for things like race, which are outside their control, but that it is OK to target people for things like their character and actions, which are inside their control. Brogaard’s discussion of the morally appropriate uses of hatred and contempt is in line with this view. But a person’s religion is not a morally arbitrary feature. And many theorists argue that we do not have voluntary control over our beliefs. This may be why “philosophical belief” is a protected characteristic in the UK, and “political opinion” a protected characteristic here in Victoria, Australia.
Read the whole thing.
Jennifer Kabbany: Alumni Group Reaching ‘50,000 Cornellians’ Publishes Free Speech Demands for Alma Mater
Free expression has been under siege at Cornell University. Jennifer Kabbany at The College Fix reports that one alumni group has provided extensive and detailed recommendations to the school for how to reestablish a culture of free speech and restore Cornell’s founding principles.
The [Cornell Free Speech Alliance’s] report recommends 20 policy changes, including adding free speech training to freshman orientation, implementing the famous free speech Chicago Principles, eliminating DEI course requirements, removing its anonymous bias reporting system, and providing students robust due process.
The group, which includes some faculty and students, wants campus leadership to also state “words are not physical violence,” and make viewpoint diversity a “prominent objective.”
The alliance argues none of the 20 recommended policies exist at Cornell today. Cornell’s media relations division did not respond to three requests this week from The College Fix seeking comment on the recommendations or the alliance’s efforts.
[ . . . ]
“The problems are real and they are serious,” stated alumnus David Ackerman in the report. “With an embedded monoculture on campus, the independent judgements of the Board of Trustees are now crucial. The Board must act to protect Cornell and its founding principles.”
Read it all here.
Rick Perry: Ken Paxton and the Texas Constitution
Former Texas governor Rick Perry uses a Wall Street Journal op-ed to call out fellow Texas Republicans for trying to derail the impeachment process involving the state’s attorney general Ken Paxton. Particularly in a time of political rancor where charges and counter-charges of political persecutions and prosecutions are flying back and forth, Perry writes that it’s as important as ever to stand for the rule of law and let the proceedings run their constitutionally prescribed course.
As a sitting governor who was once wrongly indicted, I know that processes can be abused. But that isn’t what I see here. The majority of House Republicans voted to impeach Mr. Paxton, as is authorized in the Texas Constitution. Those members saw allegations of wrongdoing against a fellow Republican and felt the charges deserved a full investigation and trial. They followed their oath to uphold the Constitution, and that alone warrants careful consideration by the Senate. We should be praising, not vilifying, them for taking their responsibilities seriously.
The Texas Senate is constitutionally authorized to act as a jury in the coming trial. Only the Senate can give these allegations the full and fair hearing they deserve, and it would be a disservice to the state not to fulfill that obligation. By moving forward with the trial, the Senate will both do its duty and answer voters’ legitimate questions about the allegations against Mr. Paxton.
[ . . . ]
Texans need a conclusive resolution to the serious allegations raised by this impeachment. We’ve come this far in the process, and it’s critical that the Senate sees it through to the end. That means a fair trial that allows both sides to lay out all the facts and gives senators the opportunity to vote based on the evidence.
Read it all.
Suffice it to say that after the New York Times article on the Washington University transgender clinic (that the Free Press wrote about six months ago), GLADD isn’t glad. Michael Powell, formerly of the Times, shares an anecdote from the past, and Jesse Singal comments:
How publicly accessible are public records if the government is going to charge a huge amount to provide them, asks the Parents Defending Education organization:
And finally, criminalizing offensive speech (at least certain types) is gaining fans: