Thursday, April 11, 2013

Reflections on Political Correctness and Israel

In my previous post, I briefly referenced not liking a meme rather unfortunately popular among the American right.  In brief, it claims that the liberal media, in kowtowing to the desires of minority groups, left-wing causes (such as, for example, illegal immigration, gay rights, and the like) are mired in an atmosphere of "stifling political correctness" that prevents anybody who does not share the liberal views of said media from expressing themselves.  Although the view is appealing to those with unpopular views, it has several problems.

The first problem is that in order for the thesis to be true, you would have to see editorial policy actively discouraging the publication of conservative viewpoints.  Instead, conservative views are regularly aired in so-called liberal media.

Second, the entire idea of an atmosphere of political correctness as "stifling" implies that the media themselves are to blame, when in fact the media are simply covering their bases in response to criticism.  This criticism comes not from the management of the media itself, but from the audience.  In other words, crying foul at "stifling political correctness" smacks of whining about receiving criticism because one's words offend.  It confuses the negative right to free speech - i.e., that no entity can stop one's words from being heard - with the positive right of preventing others from judging your words.  It's not a cry for "freedom to," but for "freedom from."

I suppose it's been easy for me to hew to this opinion for much of my life because by and large, I've never been on the receiving end of such feelings of persecution.  Recently, however, the incident with the BDS and Brooklyn college (and yes, I know I'm 2 months late) made me nuance this view.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The difference between skepticism and disbelief

One of the myriad subjects that's been bouncing around my cranium recently has been the nature of scientific skepticism.  I suppose I should admit what brought this about: one of my housemates is an alumna of Bowdoin College, a liberal arts college in Maine, which recently came under attack by the Neocon pressure group National Association of Scholars for exemplifying what they believe has "failed" about modern liberal arts education.  Reading the report is a sometimes hilarious, sometimes soul-crushing reminder of the non sequitors that build up in a movement that only listens to itself*. But rather than dismissing the entire report as simply another episode of "Those Neocons say the darndest things!" I found myself thinking about one point that was often (shrilly, bleatingly) raised.  I am paraphrasing, but the report repeatedly implied that Bowdoin failed to teach students any sense of academic skepticism using two different examples: first, by proceeding from an unexamined assumption that gender is an inherently social construct (rather than being determined by "biology") and second, by not teaching any of the controversy over global warming.

I don't want to discuss either of these issues in this post.  Instead, I want to discuss how the nature of skepticism in each of these issues is different, and why it's impossible to apply the label of "skepticism" as expressed by the anti-AGW movement to scientific issues like climate change, the safety of GMO foods, or many other inherently technical controversies.