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E-Pluribus | July 7, 2023
The Age of Gurus; American science's identity crisis; and an anonymous take on what the transgender craze is doing to parenting.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Samantha Hedges: Teaching Objective Values in an Age of Gurus
Feelings and “lived experiences” are all the rage these days, but Samantha Hedges argues at Discourse Magazine that we should throw out the baby with the bathwater. Hedges harkens back to C.S. Lewis and his contention that feelings and emotions are perfectly normal and even necessary provided they are grounded in reality.
In “The Abolition of Man,” Lewis notes that in World War II-era Europe, some educators were concerned that sentimental individuals were being easily swayed by emotional propaganda. This concern resulted in pedagogical efforts to “fortify the minds of young people against emotions.” But Lewis saw the true problem as the opposite: In his view, many young people were led astray by their lack of sentiment, along with their acceptance of the prevailing cultural message that emotions are just subjective feelings standing in opposition to rational intellect.
Contrary to that message, Lewis argues that emotions are not divorced from objective reality; rather, they are appropriate (or not) to the extent that they conform to reality. Lewis examines this idea through the lens of an elementary school grammar textbook that he’d been sent for review. The book recounted a well-known story from Coleridge about a tourist who called a certain waterfall “sublime.” The textbook’s authors claimed that the tourist was merely commenting on how he felt about the waterfall, but Lewis argues that the tourist was making a statement that conformed to reality. Some waterfalls really are sublime; therefore, the tourist’s emotions were appropriate or, as Lewis puts it, “ordinate to reality.”
[. . .]
Today the emotional responses of young people are either dismissed as unscientific, subjective feelings divorced from reality or celebrated as noteworthy products of their lived experience and therefore above critique. In both scenarios, no one considers whether the emotional dispositions of the young are rooted in a set of objective values. Without being rooted in such a framework, young people are more likely to fall prey to the gurus: the influencers who set out to shape their worldview. When the young lack first principles—a core set of values according to which they operate—what they value will be determined by the propagandists, whom Lewis calls “conditioners.”
[. . .]
Lewis points to one of his own flaws to provide another example. He admits to not “enjoying the society of small children,” but he recognizes that this is a personal failing, not a properly ordered sentiment. Therefore, he could not be convinced by a guru that disliking the company of children is an acceptable human reaction simply because it’s his lived experience.
Read the whole thing.
Sadanand Dhume: Identity Politics Could Kill America’s Scientific Edge
Science often suffers under authoritarian regimes or, worse, is completely corrupted by them (think Nazi Germany.) In the Wall Street Journal, however, Sadanand Dhume asserts that America’s scientific community is being hamstrung by identity politics in ways that even ideologically rigid countries like Communist China are not.
[Y]ou might imagine that America would re-emphasize the principles of objectivity and merit that made it the world’s leading scientific innovator. You would be mistaken.
Where it once was taken for granted that expanding knowledge was more important than a scientist’s sex or skin color, anyone adhering to that approach in the U.S. now must fend off charges that it is racist, patriarchal, colonial, or a tool of oppression. As a group of 29 scientists and academics contended in a recent paper for the Journal of Controversial Ideas, scientific progress in the West “is being hindered by a new, alarming clash between liberal epistemology and identity-based ideologies.”
[. . .]
Thirty years ago, when the U.S. lead over all other countries seemed insurmountable, we could arguably afford to humor activists who believe in decolonizing pharmacology or insist that science is bigoted because cutting-edge research output doesn’t meet some race or sex quota. But China’s rapid rise—driven in part by a brutally meritocratic exam system that focuses on test scores—means we no longer have that luxury. You can be pretty sure that nobody in Beijing or Shanghai is wasting time on queer physics, feminist glaciology or indigenous science.
Ironically, scientists in communist China need to care less about ideology than their American counterparts. In the U.S., the National Institutes of Health requires some prospective researchers to demonstrate “a strong commitment to promoting diversity and inclusive excellence” in order to receive funding. The UC Davis School of Medicine now uses “adversity scores” to admit students. The University of California Los Angeles reportedly denied a psychology professor a job because students objected to his skepticism—expressed in a podcast—about the effectiveness of using diversity statements for hiring.
Read it all.
Anonymous: A State of Parental Dysphoria
At Quillette, a Canadian parent writes anonymously of the immense pressure and fear parents can be subjected to by out of control gender ideology. The writer details how parents are being marginalized and even demonized by activists and school personnel who have taken it upon themselves to decide what children should be taught when it comes to sex and gender.
Parental dysphoria involves the extended state of having to stay silent about something that you know will lead to tragedy, because you don’t want to lose your child, your friends, your extended family, and your marriage—everything you’ve worked to build. You do this to preserve some small chance of having an impact, to keep your child close enough to eventually help them find their way out of this delusion. It’s living with fear—fear of loss, fear of estrangement, fear of losing your own mind, fear of losing your integrity by denying your own instincts. Those who suffer from this condition, myself included, know this to be the most awful feeling you’ve ever experienced in your life.
If you suffer from parental dysphoria, you wish to say, “You were not ‘born in the wrong body’—that’s impossible.” But you also know your child wants so badly to believe this that you aren’t sure whether to lie or tell the truth about how you see things. So, instead, you say very little and pray every day that your child will find peace in their own body before it is too late, before your child denies and destroys their own sexual function and fertility, and poisons their body with synthetic hormones.
It’s the tears you choke back as you do your best to support your child despite their best efforts to push you away. It’s holding your breath, not even knowing how you can carry on. It’s a feeling of hopelessness you have never felt before.
It’s the horror of being told by your other child, the one who serves as the pronoun police in your home, that you are the one who isn’t loving and supportive. It’s the shame of realizing that you’ve lost your ability to be the adult in the room. It’s feeling that the liberal, progressive values you instilled in your children are being used against you in a way you could never have seen coming. It’s disheartening, destabilizing, and destructive.
Read it all here.
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression reports a free speech victory in Uvalde, Texas: