Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Academic Incuriousity: Not Just a Liberal Problem

Apropos my last post on the Yale flare-up, Max Fisher has a good post at Vox about a similar free speech/safe-space type controversy at William & Mary a few years ago that didn't get anywhere near the attention that Yale's did. Part of the reason, Fisher suggests, is that it was conservatives doing the crying -- crying that a foot-and-a-half tall cross was taken down from a public building, and crying that an allegedly offensive art show played on campus. The result was ultimately the ouster of the college's President.

I remember that controversy well, and I remember that it certainly didn't have the cultural resonance of the contemporary "PC-liberals hate free speech" issues we're talking about today. Indeed, my first thought when reading the recent fusillade of articles denouncing liberal oversensitivity on campus was to marvel at how conservative writers had managed to shift from "campuses are brainwashing students with evil dirty sexy offensive anti-American propaganda that should be banned" to "whiny liberals don't understand that college shouldn't be comfortable" without skipping a beat.

Like Fisher, this is not an apologia for liberal students being similarly close-minded. As I observed in my last post, what we're seeing is not a uniquely liberal vice, but rather a convergence on a bad equilibrium whereby everybody has the right to be epistemically incurious and close-minded (as opposed to just the dominant groups). That's bad, but it's not a specifically liberal bad. It's a far more pervasive and more dangerous problem precisely because it is a vice that now everyone seems to feel entitled to (even as they are appalled to see it exercised by others).

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