Fireside Friday, February 10, 2023 (On Academic Freedom)

Fireside this week, the first fireside of the new year! There might be a few more of these than usual over the next few months as I am continuing to work on my book project, but have to balance that with unexpectedly teaching a course on US Naval History, which is of course quite a lot of fun but also a fair bit of work putting together lectures and assignments fresh (though it is hardly the only pleasant distraction weighing on my time right now).

My better half took this picture of Ollie; she is, as you can no doubt see, far better at picture composition than I am.

This week I want to talk a bit about academic freedom. There has been a lot of discussion lately about academic freedom being under threat. In the latest, Hameline University fired an adjunct instructor of art history for showing (with warning!) a historical painting of the prophet Muhammad, produced as an act of devotion. In a pleasant surprise, nearly the whole of the great and the good of academia lined up to loudly protest; in an unpleasant surprise Hamline University president Fayneese Miller largely told the rest of academia to drop dead. Meanwhile, closer to home, the UNC-system proposed a rule change which would likely block the use of diversity statements in academic hiring or admissions. Controversy there is likely to be more complex, with some seeing this as a political infringement on the traditional prerogative whereby departments chose their members and thus an infringement on academic freedom; alternately others will argue that this actually protects academic freedom since diversity statements can be little more than political litmus tests thinly disguised.1 Meanwhile in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ‘war on wokeness‘ has extended to laws aimed at constraining the speech of university professors, to the fear and consternation of the academy. DeSantis has argued in court that, “A public university’s curriculum is set by the university in accordance with the strictures and guidance of the State’s elected officials. It is government speech” which does not seem consistent to me with existing supreme court precedent which has tended to find fairly wide free speech rights for professors in their classrooms, though I am not a lawyer. Academic freedom is under attack!

And I don’t mean that last statement facetiously; academic freedom and campus free speech are under attack. But what I want folks to understand is that academic freedom has always been under attack: it has always been so.

Freedom of speech in general and academic freedom in particular have always been placed under pressure or even active assault because they are, by design, uncomfortable. After all, no one needs the freedom or protection to utter comfortable pablum or to make statements which flatter the rich and powerful. Those statements do not require protection because no one is trying to silence them. It is the uncomfortable statements which require speech protections, which in turn means that free speech and academic freedom are in a sense always going to be unpopular. Now just because a statement is uncomfortable doesn’t make it true, but the wisdom here has always been that this discomfort is good, that it is valuable to create spaces in society where uncomfortable things can be said, precisely because sometimes those uncomfortable things are true and necessary to say and systems which try to selectively limit what can be said end up co-opted by the powerful to serve their interests, rather than the interests of the community.2

But of course that doesn’t make those things comfortable and most people’s response to an uncomfortable thing is to try to make it go away. And so there is a long history of efforts to restrain academic freedom in this country (and every other country): we should not be surprised that it continues. During the 1990s, one of the main focuses of this issue were campus speech codes, most of them authored in the 1970s and 1980s, which placed substantial (but often vague and easily abused) limited on campus speech, particularly by students; at public universities in particular these speech codes fell to court challenges one by one over the 90s and early aughts, particularly at the hands of FIRE, the then Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.3 Then almost immediately there was concern about chilling effects on campus, enforced by overzealous administrators or students, most notably documented by Greg Lukianoff in a pair of books, Unlearning Liberty (2014) and The Coddling of the American Mind (2018). And it goes further back than that as well; the Supreme Court was declaring back in 1967 that, no, professors could not be made to swear they were not Communists as a condition of employment, a decision that today would of course also prevent any public university from making professors swear they were not liberals or conservatives or whatever as a condition of employment.4

From my perspective, there’s good news and bad news in this current moment. The good news is that the legal protections for free speech and academic freedom on campus have never been stronger. The court precedents are mostly in place and there’s a pretty long string of legal successes protecting student and faculty free speech now. I’m also heartened by the strong response to Hamline University’s move, which was nearly unanimous condemnation of the university’s decision to fire5 the instructor, including a faculty revolt calling for the college president to resign. The bad press may not force Hamline to back down, but it will surely caution other universities.

The bad news is that I think a number of other changes make universities less resilient on these issues, especially academic freedom (as distinct from student free speech) than they have been. The first of these is adjunctification; the Hamline episode shows how reducing the faculty to adjuncts makes them more vulnerable to being terminated at the whims of administrators. It is thus harder for adjuncts to organize or speak out, which is to say to do our job as university instructors and academics of challenging prevailing ideas. At the same time, my own subjective experience is that the perception that universities are on a particular ‘side’ of the prevailing culture war seems to have hardened over the last two decades – in part because of how poorly universities dealt with high profile incidents of campus mobbing aimed at suppressing speech, but also in part because of cynical bad faith attacks on academia and universities by politicians. That perception makes universities more vulnerable to external political challenges to academic freedom, as is currently on display in Florida; academic freedom which is only safe when the ‘right’ party is in power isn’t safe because the ‘right’ party won’t always be in power in a two-party system.

I think that academic freedom is valuable for a free society; having institutions that are dedicated towards saying uncomfortable things is crucial for our collective decision-making. There is a reason, after all, that as leaders become more insulated from challenging views (such as dictators who have consolidated their power), their decision-making gets noticeably worse. As a result, I think we need to think harder about how to build university institutions that are resilient against attacks on academic freedom. Because those attacks won’t end; people have always and will always be trying to shut down uncomfortable speech, regardless of if it is true or not.

Part of this is organizational: the shift away from tenure towards greater use of adjuncts both makes a larger portion of the faculty more vulnerable to retaliation (because an adjunct’s contract can simply not be renewed) and makes for a section of the faculty which cannot speak out safely in solidarity if one of them is targeted, since all of them are vulnerable. No doubt university administrators prefer the relative compliance of their adjuncts, but the public should not, because it degrades the value the university provides to them as an incubator of ideas (it also has a negative impact on teaching). Instead they should insist that public universities, as public institutions, be made to reduce their reliance on adjuncts by creating more tenure track appointments.

At the same time universities, especially public universities, need to be more attentive to their role as public institutions that are supposed to serve the needs of their states. Part of that effort should be a greater emphasis on public engagement and on university academics producing resources (talks, essays, instructional materials) which are freely available to the public.6 At the same time, the perception that universities are essentially partisan institutions makes them more vulnerable to political attack. Policies and initiatives that clearly commit the university to free speech regardless of political leaning might help with the perception evidently common among many students that the rules are not evenly applied. University programs can help model productive disagreement across ideological or political divides; the University of North Carolina’s Program for Public Discourse, I think, does this quite well and that model should be replicated elsewhere.

What we can be absolutely sure of is that these challenges aren’t going to go away, because they never have.

On to the recommendations!

I realize because it has been a long time since I have done a fireside that I have not yet noted that my PDXCON 2022 talk with Eleanor Janega, hosted by Troy Goodfellow is now up on YouTube, so those of you who couldn’t make it out to Stockholm can watch it!

Another set of announcements long delayed, our redoubtable narrator has continued making audio versions of my posts. I haven’t had a chance to go back and add links to all of the various posts themselves just yet, but I can roll them all out here: the Practical Polytheism series, and the related post on oaths, our discussions of modern tanks (‘When is a Tank not a Tank?’), and ancient sort-of-tanks, strategic airpower, along with both ship design posts have all been narrated. And looking back, there are also now narrated versions of the Sparta restrospective, the Victoria II ‘Teaching Paradox’ series (added to the larger ‘Teaching Paradox’ playlist) and a series of WWI posts: The Battlefield After the Battle, both Trench Stalemate posts and the endless shade on Luigi Cadorna. So a round of applause for AGreatDivorce our heroic narrator for quite a lot of work!

In less cheery news, for those of you trying to keep track of the War in Ukraine I have a few things of note. First Michael Kofman and Ryan Evans have another update podcast on War on the Rocks (from February 7th, so fairly recent) discussing the potential offensives in Ukraine. Since that podcast we’ve gotten more footage suggesting Russia is indeed stepping up attacks (though so far to little success, but that may change). Also over on War on the Rocks, the folks at Net Assessment recently discussed how we should understand the balance of the offensive and defensive in a conversation that I think does a lot to illuminate the complications of that question.

I also want to note that Michael Kofman has another podcast series at War on the Rocks, The Russia Contingency which does longer-form deeper dives on the history of Russian security policy; it is, alas, behind their subscriber paywall but I’ve found it worth the price of admission.

Meanwhile in ancient history, I know I’ve recommended The Partial Historians podcast before – it is a fantastic introduction to and discussion of Roman history, particularly early Roman history – but they also do episodes on individual topics and I wanted to single out the episode they did with Rebecca Futo Kennedy on Ancient Athenian Women. The podcast is a really fantastic, remarkably frank discussion of what we know about women in ancient Athens. It’s particularly valuable for highlighting how our understanding of the roles and lives of Athenian women has shifted both as our evidence has gotten better but also as we have gotten more sophisticated in thinking about that evidence.

For this week’s book recommendation, I’m going to recommend Joseph Stieb’s The Regime Change Consensus: Iraq in American Politics, 1990-2003 (2021). Stieb’s book follows the path to the Iraq War (2003 to 2011(ish)). Unlike other recent treatments, what is valuable about Stieb’s approach is that he doesn’t begin on September 12, 2001, but rather all the way back in 1990 with the run up to the Gulf War (1991) and sometimes even reaching before that. And that approach displays the limits of a focus which only looks at the George W. Bush administration and its decisions. Instead, Stieb persuasively argues that the range of policy choices considered in the United States pre-dated the George W. Bush administration and indeed even the first Gulf War. In practice decision makers in both parties perceived three options: ‘constructive engagement’ (the policy from 1988 to 1990), containment (the policy from 1991 to 2002) and regime change. The first option seemed clearly discredited by Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in August, 1990, leaving a heightened contrast between strategies of containment and regime change.

Stieb then walks through the 1990s and the steady collapse of faith by decision-makers in both parties at the efficacy and long-term stability of containment. As Stieb argues, early hopes that the reputational damage of the Gulf War, sanctions and the weakness of repression as a tool of control would mean that Saddam’s regime, if contained and pressured, would crumble on its own; those hopes increasingly dwindled as it became clear that sanctions wouldn’t do the job and Saddam’s repression was, in fact, very effective. At the same time, the series of late 90s standoffs over inspections, a product in part of Saddam’s effort to break containment by splitting the coalition, discredited both containment and potential future engagement as long-term strategies, which in turn strengthened the growing arguments of those of both parties who favored regime change. As Stieb notes, by 2000, “What was settled, at least in the perception of the majority of the political establishment, was that containment could not handle the Iraqi menace.” This consensus reduced the question of regime change to “not whether, but how and when,” – in the event the ‘how’ was war and the ‘when’ was 2003.

This book will, I think, be valuable for two sorts of readers: one sort who want an honest accounting of what lead to the blunder of the Iraq War and another sort who want a detailed look at how defense policy gets made in general. Both readers will be well-served by Stieb’s volume here. The book is not overlong (270 pages, notes and all), but it remarkably well detailed, pinning specific decision-makers and thought-leaders to specific positions at specific moments in a way that allows for just about any leader to follow the steps whereby the regime change consensus emerged, aided by the book being written clearly and with minimal jargon. While this is an eminently readable book, it is also a very serious one; Stieb has somehow managed the herculean task of persuading the editors at Cambridge University Press to allow footnotes – not endnotes, footnotes – in this volume and the result is a vivid demonstration of the research that went into this volume and of course an opportunity in many cases where it is public statements that are at issue, for the reader to be assured that the record isn’t being twisted.

This is a necessary book, which is why it is such a fortunate thing for it to also be a good book, readable and clearly laid out (and not insanely priced). I think many readers may be surprised by the breadth of the consensus for regime change that emerged by the end of the 1990s; a sort of folk history has emerged since the Iraq War became clearly unpopular, one in which all sorts of politicians insisted that they had not been or would not have been (had they been in national politics at the time) a supporter of the Iraq War. Stieb fairly clearly demonstrates, on the other hand, why nearly everyone who was in a position to make decisions was either in the consensus or at least unwilling or unable to push back strongly against it, how the previous decade had fatally crippled arguments for engagement or containment. At the same time, of course, the regime change consensus (the idea, not the book) was fundamentally flawed, as the years that followed show, making Stieb’s work documenting how a consensus emerged around a mistake so valuable.

  1. For what it is worth, my own view is that too many universities use DEI paperwork as a lame replacement for the actual work of trying to reach a wider range of students. Finding ways to make college more affordable for low income students, or for state schools to admit more students from under-funded public schools and disadvantaged backgrounds, those things come with real costs in money and institutional prestige and so DEI paperwork seems often to be the excuse to continue doing nothing that would actually matter. For my own part, I find systems where the top x% of every graduating in-state high school class (that is, the top x% of each high school, not of all high schoolers in the state, so you cannot avoid admitting a substantial number of students from underfunded high schools) is automatically admitted very appealing as a more equitable solution to having university classes that draw broadly from the communities they serve.
  2. This is why I generally favor very robust and absolute speech protections. Yes, there is some speech that we may perhaps all agree isn’t necessary or good for our society. But it is the next step, of crafting an institution empowered to make those decisions and enforce them that is full of peril. Even if they are well meaning, it is going to be the natural inclination of those running those institutions to suppress speech or academic activity they find distasteful, uncomfortable or upsetting and of course the matter quickly gets worse if they are not well-meaning. And there is little hope of wielding this institution against the powerful because the people empowered to suppress speech will be powerful by that very fact. Consequently, while free and unfettered speech can harm the weak and marginalized, every form of speech control makes that problem worse by further enabling the powerful to control what is and is not said.
  3. Now rebranded as the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression as they extend their legal work beyond campuses.
  4. Indeed this is one objection raised to diversity statements, that they can sometimes amount to this kind of impermissible demand for a statement of political views. I think the chances that this question will end up before the courts in the next few years now that such statements are very frequently required for hiring and admissions is quite high.
  5. The University insists that they didn’t fire the instructor because she was an adjunct, which is hot garbage, see below.
  6. In a for-instance: every major state university system has at least dozens of historians and nearly every one of them has a university press. And yet state high school curricula still rely on expensive textbooks from major publishers, rather than, say, North Carolina using a textbook produced by the University of North Carolina for use in the state. It might change voter’s attitudes towards their state’s academics if they regularly saw some of their work in their own children’s classrooms.

217 thoughts on “Fireside Friday, February 10, 2023 (On Academic Freedom)

  1. > Stieb has somehow managed the herculean task of persuading the editors at Cambridge University Press to allow footnotes

    Why was this difficult? What does the Cambridge University Press have against footnotes?

    1. It’s typographically more complicated (and therefore more expensive) to have footnotes. TBH, I don’t know if it really is more complicated or expensive with modern word processing software, but historically it was. Also, commercial publishers think it puts readers off and reduces sales, although I don’t know if that is a consideration for Cambridge.

      1. So I am told this is true, but a major factor is also a conviction by many presses that footnotes scare away readers, so only books with no hope at all of ever seeing a popular audience can have them (e.g. stuff published by Brill or De Gruyter).

        That said, Joe’s book is in paperback, so I guess the footnotes didn’t drive everyone away (they’ll only put a book in paperback if it sold as a hardcover first).

        1. a conviction by many presses that footnotes scare away readers

          If anything, I would expect readers interested in scholarly history books to prefer footnotes, since when (as often in such books) the notes include both informative asides (which readers often want to read) & simple citations (which they generally don’t), footnotes allow a reader to distinguish these right away without having to interrupt their reading to look for each note in the back of the book. (For paper books, anyway; with e-books this is not really an issue.)

          1. I’m currently reading a book about economic sanctions, and… approximately 2% of the endnotes are interesting. They’re interesting enough when they’re interesting that I compulsively check, and they’re sufficiently infrequently interesting that it’s infuriating.

            With that said, it also seems to have about one page of endnotes per three to five pages of text, so I can see that putting them as footnotes would take up a significant portion of every page.

        2. Having edited a law journal: it isn’t more complicated. It’s arguably easier (and certainly much easier to edit). You can occasionally end up with a footnote eating the page, but it’s rare (and settings can control that anyway). And the advantages in being able to ACTUALLY USE THE GODDAMN INFORMATION are overwhelming.

          Endnotes are garbage. Absolute garbage.

      2. > It’s typographically more complicated (and therefore more expensive) to have footnotes.

        Even today? I understand if you’re a linotypist or Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg but i’m surprised that modern printing isn’t equally cheap no matter what pattern of black ink on white paper you are printing.

  2. Isnt it the case that containment was highly effective at crippling Saddam’s WMD program, but he still needed to maintain ambiguity on whether he still had WMDs to deter *Iran*?

    As for DEI, Universities will expound at great depth on their stats broken down by racial origin (conveniently omitting to mention most black students are from well-off upper middle-class backgrounds, Afro-Caribbean origin rather than the descendents of US slaves, or biracial) but try to find stats broken down by family income or wealth and suddenly it’s like pulling teeth. Class is the overwhelming discrimination you are not supposed to inquire into.

    1. Hi Fazal,

      It’s not perfect, but viewing the number of Pell Grant eligible students enrolled at a university can be a good indicator of how that institution serves low income students.

      This website is a great resource to look at and compare colleges:

      Beyond just looking at enrollment stats, it also shows graduation and retention rates.

      And beyond class (as wealth can play a large part of enrollment strategy at many universities), the other is legacy (which often goes hand in hand with wealth), that allows for a lot of gate keeping at the most prestigious US institutions.

    2. He did, and this has often been used as a post hoc justification for the Anglo-American view that he had a WMD program ahead of the war.

      However, this narrative easily falls apart due to the Canadians having access to exactly the same intelligence through Five Eyes and correctly calling that he didn’t have anything that constituted a threat.

  3. There are very few US-style First Amendment countries. Many countries give far less absolute legal protection to speech, yet avoid becoming totalitarian hellholes. Germany and Canada, for example, criminalize Holocaust denial. Any most folk in our First Amendment paradise have almost no legal protection from most consequences of their speech. (They are called “at-will employees.”) I would suggest that social mores are much more important than legal rules. I, at least, am more worried about their erosion than any legal doctrine on the books.

    1. This is poorly understood by Americans. In practice, Canadian free speech protections under s.2 of the Charter are very close to being as strong as the First Amendment, and the hate speech laws have to very narrowly tailored to remain constitutional.

      1. As a Canadian with a background in such matters, I would tend to disagree. While the ambit of s2b is arguably even more expansive than the 1st amendment, the limitations under s1 are generally more favourable to the state than those found under the 1st amendment. Consider the tests under Keegstra vs those in Brandenburg for instance. This is before you even get to s33.

        While in much of daily life, the practical application and use of freedom of expression is the same, it’s really the niche corner cases that distinguish different systems of freedom of expression, and enunciate clearly the differing basis and foundations each rely on.

        1. As a Canadian criminal lawyer, I would also disagree. The state very much can get away with quite a bit re speech restriction (and current hate speech legislation is absolutely quite broad). Though part of that’s simply the different culture – Canada’s generally at least a bit more OK with speech restriction than the US. And also that it doesn’t get tested in court much.

    2. The whole point of the First Amendment I’d to protect speech that will offend. IMO the best way to handle the likes of holocaust deniers is to engage and destroy. The basic problem with outlawing offensive spee h is who gets to decide what is unacceptable.

      1. To bring up a counterpoint, as functioning societies, we have collectively, for better or worse, determined certain actions/activities to be out of bounds. That has as much profound effect on society as limiting speech of certain kinds. What then distinguishes the banning of certain activities/actions from banning certain speech. Its still an exercise and wielding of power, either by a representative democracy or not. To extend this then, the problem isn’t about setting limits on speech, it is more about where the draw the line and set the limits. Once the limits are set, society is usually decently equipped to enforce or not enforce them as they see fit.

        1. Setting aside the Constitutional issues with your counterpoint…

          Would you be comfortable with the Other Guy having the power de jure power to limit speech and thus the power de facto to control belief and ideology that you advocate?

          1. Constitutional issues are merely legal issues, but with a higher threshold for change. They are not sacrosanct as we see with amendments and the like.

            In any event, setting that aside, the Other Guy already has control de jure over belief and ideology. Certain activities are banned, despite sometimes those holding them saying they are core and central to their beliefs and identity.

            Part of this is the public consciousness of difference of speech (US) vs expression (Canada) for instance, though the courts have obviously not drawn much distinction in those terms. Expression captures a wide ambit of actions that one would not ordinary capture as speech, but serves the same effect of conveying meaning. Why should speech alone have any special protection from expression. And if we already have widely accepted limits on expression, why then are limits on speech taboo?

            In essence, what I am saying is we’ve already handed control over in the physical realm, and the world has not fallen apart, more or less. Handing over control over freedom of expression I posit is no more different than handing control over other areas of physical freedom in daily life. The same safeguards therefore apply or don’t, so limits on freedom of expression aren’t sui generis, and is merely one amongst the many human rights, which generally have caveats, and I don’t see why freedom of expression cannot function with similar caveats.

            One merely needs to look at the FCC freedom of expression jurisprudence for instance to see the confluence of philosophical/expression freedom with societal regulation of the physical use of a limited public good that is the airwaves.

            I’m not advocating that we should not have generous protections for speech and expression. I am suggesting that we’ve already placed many limits on things that are essentially the same in character as speech, and gone through governance by the Other Guy, on both sides, and came through bruised but not beaten. What I am questioning is if anything de facto will actually change if we took a narrower approach to freedom of expression, given that we’ve have an narrower approach on related rights and haven’t seen a societal collapse.

      2. This is an excellent theory, though in practice it requires some specific social infrastructure to be in place.

        For example, if people interested in “teaching the controversy” on whether Jewish mind control rays have turned academia into a sinister plot to destroy all that is good and pure have billion-dollar backing from an interested billionaire. Meanwhile, people who would prefer to set the record straight do not, as no one with comparable funds available sees it as comparably urgent to spend millions of dollars to quash a conspiracy theory.

        Under such conditions, it can be extraordinarily difficult to “engage and destroy” the aforementioned notion about Jewish mind control rays.

        Money and access to broadcasting/advertising apparatus can artificially extend that staying power of a lie in the public sphere. This somewhat complicates the picture when it comes to media regulation or lack thereof.

    3. Good points! One could also note that America has historically restricted freedom of speech quite a lot for various disliked groups like pacifists, communists, and pornographers

      1. Yes, there are many cautionary tales in our history. I’m pretty sure the fact that “reasonable” limits like “don’t shout fire in a crowded theater and cause a panic” were instantly and directly applied as “jail antiwar protesters” is why those of us who believe in broad speech protections see attempts to rebalance things in favor of speech controls as the camel’s nose in the tent.

    4. +1000. I would much rather take my chance at being censored by the state than at being censored by private employers or by the mob. I’m always going to trust the state more than the mob.

      As you say, social mores here are much more important than what the law formally permits or doesn’t. There are lots of countries with explicit laws about forbidden speech where you can get away expressing a lot more….incendiary/controversial opinions than in America.

      It’s also probably true that true freedom of speech is an illusion and a myth: most societies of the past have declared whole ranges of ideas and statements to be out of bounds, so it’s a fair bet that most societies of the future will too. If the intellectual climate in America is getting less tolerant, that’s just a reversion to the historical norm. I don’t *like* it, but that’s entirely because I’m not a progressive and don’t share these people’s values. But I certainly can’t say that I believe in unrestricted freedom of expression in principle.

      1. Name one instance where the possibility of being censored by the state has saved anyone from being censored by the mob. Without merely shifting who the censored is.

        1. That demand is impossible to meet, surely? We can point to examples where people were censored by the state but not by the mob, but it’s nigh-on impossible to prove that they weren’t censored by the mob *because* the state was doing it anyway.

          1. Then it is silly to prefer the state’s censorship to the mob’s. Even if the mobster is worse, the state is added problems.

      2. “I would much rather take my chance at being censored by the state than at being censored by private employers or by the mob.”–For myself, I would much rather lose my job and be banned from twitter and facebook than spend two and half years in prison, as Eugene Debs did. But obviously it depends on how much you value your job and your social media presence versus your personal freedom.

        1. Also you have to believe that losing your job and being banned from Twitter and Facebook would keep you out of prison. History does not suggest that this is a sound belief.

        2. That depends on what the mob do. Some years in prison is better than being physically torn to shreds by an angry, bloodthirsty mob. (You may answer that being torn to shreds is something different than being censored, but so is being imprisoned).

          1. I’m only judging by things that have happened in America in the past century or so, not by made-up stuff. Private actors fire and blacklist people, the state locks people up.

    5. By a process that I suspect would have surprised the Founding Fathers, US constitutional jurisprudence seems to have evolved in such a way that the First Amendment is a more reliable protection for institutions than for individuals.

      Speech that can find an institution willing to amplify it is often very hard to suppress under our system. Even something like “major news network openly and systemically lies and knows that they are lying for years in a way that is apt to get people killed” can be very durable.

      Speech that does not have institutional backing often relies heavily on ‘security by obscurity,’ in that the only reason that (for instance) your employer hasn’t threatened to fire you for disagreeing with their politics may well be because they have no way of knowing what you’ve said about politics on the Internet.

      1. There is also security by diversity. There are conservative law firms (concededly, a minority of the firms out there) that would hire someone with my credentials; but if the state locks you up, there is no alternative state that will set you free.

        1. This is why as much as possible should be done by private individuals and organizations rather than the state, or even on the state’s dime.

          looks about

          That is not the way the world or the country is trending.

          1. I think part of the problem is constitutional and legal issues that, while not unique to the US, are also not universal rules of how government works.

            For example, at-will employment means that a private individual with controversial political opinions can be easily and arbitrarily fired. And US law makes it difficult for someone fired because of the boss’ discriminatory impulses to find recourse. Making sure your boss doesn’t find out anything about your personal life or political life that he wouldn’t like thus becomes more important, and in effect free speech relies less on legal protections and more on “security through obscurity.”

          2. Welcome to equality. After all, you can quit your job if you don’t like your boss’s opinions.

        1. That article got a lot of push back because media lying is defined very narrowly, and misleading statements or omissions aren’t counted as lying. As well as finding an “expert” on their side of a controversial policy and quoting the expert.. Technically they aren’t lying they are reporting what somebody else said.

  4. As an amateur publisher: no, it’s no longer more complicated or expensive. The typesetting software figures it all out in about the same amount of time.

  5. To speak Truth to Power is one of the hardest things that can be done on both sides of the statement. It must be done, yet as we see, people value power more than truth more and more.

    1. It would be nicer if those who yap of it were not continually the powerful bullying the powerless with lies.

      1. Well, yes.

        Unfortunately, just as the desire for power to implement ideas one believes to be good seems universal…

        …So is the belief that people on My Side are harmless innocents unjustly bullied by a mighty wall of power and guns and money and influence in the lying hands of Their Side.

        The communist will insist that he is fighting for the weak, poor, and downtrodden against the rich. As Umberto Eco famously outlined, the fascist will also insist that he is fighting for the weak, poor, and downtrodden against the rich. However, he will have very different ideas about who fits into which category. The two will soon be at each other’s throats, both crying out that they are fighting on behalf of the good against their evil persecutors.

        There is nothing for it but to do everything in our power to observe external reality.

  6. That book on regime change sounds fascinating. Although what’s striking to me from your description is that it sounds like the one unquestioned thing was whether regime change would actually go well – and whether a disastrous attempt at regime change could undermine goals worse than just having Saddam-dominated Iraq there.

  7. I am just old enough to remember the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) who were still going strong in the late 50s. I was a university and graduate student when Ronald Reagan went after Angela Davis. Attacks on academic freedom for political purposes has a sadly long history. Now we have universities not only using adjunct and contract faculty to maintain control and cut costs, but redefining “tenure” so that it offers no protection (I once worked at an institution where tenure meant you got a five year contract instead of a one year or three year). We should also mention corporate funding of research which allows the corporate sponsors to control publication. I wish that university administrators had the backbone to protect academic freedom, but they don’t and so faculties (whether tenured or contract) need to form and support unions that will stand up for the academic freedom of every researcher and teacher.

    1. Tenure has existed in American colleges for less than a century. It is certainly worth considering whether it was a good idea and produced the results expected, given it is certainly a privilege and not a right.

        1. Yes.

          The interesting thing is that different parts of the status quo often serve different functions, and so removing them serves different functions. For instance, giving defendants a right to an attorney when they go to trial is part of the status quo. The effect of removing it would be to make it much easier to convict people of crimes, with predictable results.

          In this case, the nominal function of tenure is to protect the ability of academics to use their special expertise freely in areas where their views conflict with the interests of powerful forces in society. One might expect that sometimes, a scientist or other expert would have something to tell us that we, as citizens in a democracy, might need to know. Powerful institutions in our society might not want to see these things said, however.

          Now, off the top of my head, I can think of three possible reasons why tenure might be something society should “reconsider.”

          1) “Academia does learn things that undermine powerful groups, but the powerful groups are too nice to do anything about it, so it’s not a problem and tenure is pointless.”

          2) “Academia does learn things that undermine powerful groups, but tenure is not effective at protecting them.”

          3) “Academia never actually learns anything that undermine the interests of powerful groups, and academics who say they have learned such things are just lying malcontents.”

          (1) seems laughable given human nature and the behavior of powerful men throughout history. (2) would suggest replacing or modifying tenure with a different system- there’s some interesting debate to be had there.

          (3) seems like the kind of person someone says if they are deep, deep inside someone else’s propaganda vortex.

          1. It could also be the case that tenure accomplishes exactly your stated goals but has negative side effects that outweigh the benefits. It’s not unrealistic that tenure could shield those who abuse their positions of turn into outright cranks. I’m not saying the bad outweighs the good in reality. But it is a possibile outcome of the system.

          2. 4. Because tenure is a great attraction to cowards, who won’t say anything worthwhile even with it, and trolls, who would say less without it, to the good, because what they say has negative value.

            More to the point, did academia NOT learn things that undermine powerful groups prior to tenure? Was it more or less than with it?

          3. @intropi
            This is certainly possible, and would lead to interesting lines of discussion and argumentation as to whether it is true.

            In regards to your suggested (4):

            4a) As a practical matter, I see no way to protect the heroic man of genius trying to warn the world about impending disaster without also providing job security for a lot of people who just want to publish research papers on obscure random subjects in peace. Whether the latter is enough of a net negative that we should complain about it seems… dubious… to me.

            4b) Which academics are heroic geniuses trying to warn the world about grave injustices and impending disasters, and which ones are cranks and trolls who we’d be better off without, seems like a matter of opinion. Someone deep in somebody else’s propaganda vortex might see honest experts as liars and liars as honest experts. To me, it’s much like the principle of “better that ten guilty men walk free than that one innocent man goes to jail.” There are already processes for limiting the ability of cranks and trolls to control popular discourse, even if they happen to have job security. Providing job security for the people who specifically have something to say that powerful men might want suppressed, on the other hand, cannot be done without a tenure-like mechanism, so far as I can see.

            5) Academia has long learned things that are inconvenient to powerful people. However, we live in an era of much more advanced and complex science, and of much higher stakes, than our ancestors. A medieval king saying “will no one rid me of this turbulent priest” could disgrace himself for posterity, but in the grand scheme of things the world was in no danger of coming to an end. Our modern civilization has enough sheer power that it could conceivably blind itself to its own impending doom by silencing academics.

      1. The Soviet regime change in Hungary was not done by Stalin, Stalin had been dead for three years. Did you mean Khrushchev?

        Anyway, so what? Angela had every right to express her opinion on a political topic, under American law at the time and now.

    1. Basically it argues against some people’s more abstract criticisms of DeSantis’ actions against Florida’s New College &c., i.e., that by violating a norm of academic freedom & independence from politics Republicans like him are just setting a precedent for political coercion that can be, & if they continue likely will be, used by Democrats to impose opposite politics when they win elections. The article’s counterargument is, basically, that most universities are already subject to a left-leaning bias through both their professors (e.g. this discussion of political bias in academic psychology) & their administrators (e.g. diversity statements as ideological tests in hiring, “affirmative action” in student admissions, promotion of progressive politics in official communications & rules, willingness to punish people denounced online for supposed bigotry, &c.), so that DeSantis & al. aren’t so much defecting from a norm of not politicizing academia as responding in kind to the already pervasive politicization of academia by their opponents.

    2. The article’s premises seem very heavily built around the idea that universities methodically and extensively suppress speech for purely political reasons. And that therefore DeSantis is merely retaliating in kind by imposing a corresponding and opposite form of suppression.

      This, in turn, relies on a lot of propositions about academia and the objective truth of the world that are not contained within the article itself.

      The tone contains a certain degree of heavy-handedness, to my way of thinking. The closing paragraphs appear to be saying:

      “If you-all, the people we choose to call ‘leftists’ for reasons of our own, don’t start ‘policing your own’ and behaving more like the way we want you to on university campuses, we will take over the power of the state and use it to force you to do as we please.”

      This is not a new threat. It was, for example, a major plank of Ronald Reagan’s campaigning when he ran for governor of California.

      The thing is, many though not all of the academic claims and student protests in those days, the things many in the establishment thought needed to be beaten out of them by construction workers and police lines and threats to fire ‘communist sympathizers,’ were… Well.

      Were things like “equal rights for women,” “no more Jim Crow,” and “the Vietnam War is a bad idea and you should stop sending people to die there.”

      1. Wasn’t alive during the Reagan era. Suggest you consider the possibility that the situation in academia circa 2023 might be different to how it was half a century ago, and the predominant threat might be coming from a different direction. Academics are hyper-alert to the threat from the right and almost blind to the threat from the left. CF the British defense of Singapore in WW2 – constructed to repel a seaborne assault and blind to the possibility of an overland attack.

        1. What threat from the left?

          I was raised in a communist country. Actual communism, not marxist-bidenism or whatever bizarre boogey man the American right has concocted. The American far left is like two guys and their dog, and they’re more interested in arguing theory and LARPing revolution on social media than… anything else, really. They’re pathetic.

          Meanwhile, there are in this country literal fascist militias performing actual acts of terrorism and participating in the political process, and the same people fearmongering about imaginary communists couldn’t give less of a **** about them. And all this Sturm und Drang about the supposed threat of communist subversives, which Americans haven’t shut up about in over a hundred years, just so happens to be one of fascists’ favorite tactics for coming to power. How serendipitous.

          But no, the real menace to American democracy is college professors failing to spout enough nationalistic propaganda. I had my fill of that in the old country, and it grates the same when the Yanks perform verbal fellatio on Uncle Sam.

          1. Quick, which side was burning down buildings and declaring it has seceded from the USA in the summer of 2020?

          2. @Mary
            This seems like one of those cases of “frozen” public awareness mentioned below. It is eternally summer 2020, when left-wing demonstrators are proclaiming cop-free zones the cops have already vacated under their own initiative, and when crooks are saying “hey, while the cops are busy forming shield walls around that protest over by the precinct station, how about we bust into that storefront and torch the place to cover our tracks?”

            It is never any other time.

            Because at any other time, there might be risk of some other story making the headlines and making the claim that someone burned down an Arby’s somehow inflate to “cities are burning!” seem quaint and rather silly given that the protests have dispersed, the cities are still there, and the police brutality scandals are still coming.

          3. You mean like the police brutally shooting a black girl merely because she was in the act of stabbing another black girl to death?

            Or the case where people are trying to explain that black cops are white when they murder someone?

      2. ” universities methodically and extensively suppress speech for purely political reasons.”

        They do.

        For instance, conservative speakers are regularly shut down on the grounds that hecklers would cause trouble, when such hecklers would be punished if they did the same to leftist speakers.

        1. My sense is that this heckler’s veto issue crescendoed around 2017/2018 or so and has declined since. I won’t say it has gone away, but it sure seems to be less common. I singled out UNC’s Program for Public Discourse as a positive example of how universities can model responsible engagement – that program has brought conservative speakers on campus and to my knowledge (and I went to some of those events) has not faced a heckler problem. I’m sure there are exceptions but many universities seem to have learned the correct lesson, that allowing hecklers to shut down speech creates more PR problems than it solves.

          But I think this speaks to an issue about the public awareness of conditions on campus that it is often ‘frozen,’ crystalized around bad news stories that may already be out of date. Conditions are also very particular campus to campus; some campuses are far more radical than others or have far more robust traditions of free debate (or in some cases, both).

          1. Campuses were shut down really just for Spring and Fall 2020 and Spring 2021. We were open for normal on campus activities, including invited speakers, by Fall 2021. So it’s a pretty robust sample (Fall 2021, Spring and Fall 2022 and now spring 2023) compared to the particularly heckler’s veto heavy 2016 and 2017 years. And the decline was being noted (even John McWhorter, whose own views and politics might incline him to focus on that sort of thing, has commented on the relative decline of that kind of disruptive campus activism) before COVID hit.

          2. Alternatively, De Santis is part of the PR problem that is bringing academic excesses to heel.

    3. These papers seem relevant:

      > A lack of political diversity in psychology is said to lead to a number of pernicious outcomes, including biased research and active discrimination against conservatives. The authors surveyed a large number (combined N = 800) of social and personality psychologists and discovered several interesting facts. First, although only 6% described themselves as conservative “overall,” there was more diversity of political opinion on economic issues and foreign policy. Second, respondents significantly underestimated the proportion of conservatives among their colleagues. Third, conservatives fear negative consequences of revealing their political beliefs to their colleagues. Finally, conservatives are right to do so: In decisions ranging from paper reviews to hiring, many social and personality psychologists said that they would discriminate against openly conservative colleagues. The more liberal respondents were, the more they said they would discriminate.

      > Across three Anglophone countries, a significant portion of academics discriminate against conservatives in hiring, promotion, grants and publications. Over 4 in 10 US and Canadian academics would not hire a Trump supporter, and 1 in 3 British academics would not hire a Brexit supporter…

      > Younger academics and PhD students, especially in the United States, are significantly more willing than older academics to support dismissing controversial scholars from their posts, indicating that the problem of progressive authoritarianism is likely to get worse in the coming years.

      1. Thank you for posting that. The Brexit thing in the UK is especially irritating for me since Leave/Remain doesn’t really follow partisan lines in the traditional sense. Also since I’m a Leave supporter myself (although not a UK citizen so my opinions don’t really matter). Good reason I use a pseudonym on the internet.

        I guess I can take some solace in the fact that “only” one in three British academics would refuse to hire me.

  8. The convention I wish all book publishers (academic and otherwise) would follow: Footnotes for siderbars, endnotes for sources. Nothing is more frustrating that when they mix them all into the endnotes.

    Sidebars should also be limited in length, but that’s a rant for another time.

    1. If the footnote is getting too long it could have an endnote to extend it. It won’t take that many lines to figure out if the endnote is something I want to read in full.

  9. Just asking, as I’m interpreting the issue, there is a perception, correct or not, by many conservatives that most institutions of higher learning in the US have come to mostly favor liberal viewpoints.
    Two questions, and they are not meant to argue any point, but rather to clarify for myself: Am I right that there are a large percentage of conservatives who don’t believe that Trump’s version of populism is really conservative? And if true, is there really any consensus definition of the conservatism in these institutions to which there is a bias against?
    Second, as I don’t see how STEM fields can have much of a political bias, I’m assuming the bias would be in the humanities, as well as in political science and economic fields. Given previous posts by our host on the degradation of the extent of instruction in the humanities in the past decade or so, does this mean that the growth of the liberal bias is in the political science and economic fields?


    1. Insofar as DEI is a specific political ideology, and DEI statements are increasingly required for all academic hiring, STEM can absolutely have a political bias, of the form `conservatives need not apply’ (unless they are willing to stay indefinitely in the closet while publicly professing loyalty to an ideology they oppose).

      1. Conservatism is a choice you make about what goals you support and what policies you’d want to see happen. It’s not a property a person was born with like being gay or anything else that can be closeted.

        The complaint is that you don’t like some DEI handling, which ishrug*. Ca’t comment, because I don’t know the specifics, but this is basically complaining about some paperwork you don’t like.

        1. So if public universities required professors to swear loyalty* to the Republican party, or to Jesus, that would be A-OK because after all religion and party affiliation are something you choose, not something you are born with?

          * If you wish you can replace `swear loyalty to’ by `write a statement explaining their past efforts and future plans to e.g. spread the gospel,’ and make hiring and promotion contingent on how compelling that statement is.


          1. There’s no loyalty test here. It is asking for how a person will advance a particular goal.

            This would be like complaining that “how will you bring in research money” is a political loyalty test, because someone might think the grant system isn’t the best way to do research.

          2. And this is why more ACTUAL diversity is needed. Dillon Saxe is so marinated in uniformity, exclusion, and inequity that it has created the delusion that a loyalty oath is just paperwork.

            DEI must die,lest it continue creating such delusions

          3. OK, suppose that university hiring committees asked each applicant “How will you advance the gospel?” and “How will you advance the free enterprise system?” No problem, I guess. It’s not asking about your identity, just about your advancing a particular goal.

            Correlatively, suppose an applicant’s DEI statement said, “I don’t believe in advancing diversity. I believe in scientific excellence above all, and if a department composed solely of white males (or, perhaps, Asian males) produces the most scientific excellence, then that’s what I want.” Dillon Saxe appears to believe that people who say things like might get hired, since there’s no loyalty test.

          4. Dillon, it would also be like asking: “How will you advance the interests of the Republican Party?”

            And judging them on how well they do that.

            I reserve the right to be sceptical of the “research” conducted under such a regime.

          5. You can have excellent research done under a regime of censorship, as long as the censorship doesn’t touch on the actual topics of research.

            Isaac Newton had to stay quiet about his heretical religious views all his life, as he would have been cancelled / fired if they had become generally known. That didn’t prevent him from laying the groundwork for calculus, Newtonian mechanics, optics and many other fields.

          6. Moot point. The current censors declare everything white supremacy and therefore worthy of censorship.

          7. Do typical DEI statements involve anything recognizable as a loyalty oath? What, precisely, is actually being asked of people here?

          8. @Mary
            That’s a rather vague remark.

            That’s not an article, that’s an editorial. More to the point, it’s also lightly documented, fairly nonspecific about the nature of what concretely is being asked of professors in the UC system, and more generally “how it is.”

            Some people are easily upset and prone to developing robust persecution complexes at the drop of a hat. When people claim to be persecuted, some degree of curiosity as to the precise nature of this persecution and what it is that gives these people cause for complaint is warranted.

          1. The amount of linking between places i frequent on internet is simply astounding. I mean i should not encounter references that often, given the scale of internet, so it gives me impression of living in figurative, say, global village.

            Or, i guess that undeed everyone is only six degrees of separation from anyone.

        1. I discovered ACOUP because of of SSC. This blog has been referenced in the comments and continues to be so with its successor, Astral Codex Ten.

    2. STEM fields are not exactly free of political contention. On the one hand, there are those who believe that the Maxwell equations accurately describe (to the best of current human ability) the behavior of electromagnetic radiation. Opposing them are those who believe that the Maxwell equations are a white colonialist power play.
      In the middle, of course, are the mass of cowards and trimmers who populate institutions where the greatest attraction is guaranteed lifetime employment, at least for a lucky few. They want to have it both ways: physics is true, but you can’t criticize anyone who speaks for Indigenous knowledge.

      1. That’s one downside of tenure: it has a definite attraction to people who dread being punished for their speech. Most because their fear is inordinate — that is, cowards. Some because their fear is entirely reasonable but they enjoy trolling too much — so you end with a professor who asserts that looting proves we can have things for free (economically insane after two seconds’ thought — looting rapidly diverts resources to protecting things — morally bankrupt because it obviously advocates for slavery by the Supreme Court’s own definition — and so toxic that even the professor backed down).

      2. The biggest STEM/politics issues are currently:

        -Global warming
        -Other types of pollution
        -In the U.S. mainly, how COVID spreads, plus vaccines.

        The politics of these line up very clearly.

          1. Given that it means silencing all dissent and calling that consensus it’s probably the most political thing that any university has ever done

          2. “silencing all dissent and calling that consensus”

            If that is what you see happening then we live in different realities. I’ll stay in mine where evidence matters.

          3. Denial of global warming and denial of things about virus spread that would have been seen as well-known and obvious if anyone had said them in 2018 about “the big scary airborne respiratory bug that’s gonna break out late next year…” Uh, those are all over the place. They are not hard to find, they are not ‘silenced’ inasmuch as they are not ‘silent.’

            They only seem silenced to people who are absolutely confident that they are 100% correct and deserve to win everything ever. Which, well… if those propositions are factually true, that’s correct. If they’re not, well… flat Earthers feel silenced too.

          4. As the Twitter files are showing by the day, they were actively persecuted even when completely right. Flat-earthers got less grief, so bad analogy.

          5. Twitter is a private corporation, not a university or the government.

            Also, what is the precise nature of their offense here? “As the Twitter Files plainly show” is not helpful, as the Twitter Files are vast. There are many people who may or may not even have read more than a handful of snippets out of context, and who are very confident that these snippets totally validate opinions they held all along well before the Twitter buyout. Opinions that Musk, the very man who released the files, himself holds.

            One wonders if Musk would have released any documentation he found that tended to exonerate Twitter executives from the accusation that they have methodically suppressed mighty and precious truths. Or evidence suggesting that Twitter executives were driven, not by some nebulous ‘wokeism’ that seems to treat them some kind of motiveless hostile conspiracy against humanity, but by the same profit motive that causes Netflix to cancel TV shows I like.

          6. As the Twitter Files show, Twitter was acting as an agent of the government. Which means that all constitutional protections are fully implicated.

      3. Pardon, but the linked source doesn’t seem at all objectionable, or for that matter to make the claims you impute…? Just some handwavey hippie this-comment-was-typed-on-stolen-land window-dressing on boring old astronomy or data-gathering with some loose connection to optics. I don’t see anything about Maxwell’s equations being a white colonialist power play. Maybe they took that part down?

    3. STEM materials don’t necessarily have a bias, but the industries fed by the field absolutely do. That bias is also wildly and randomly distributed.

      For example, a combination of American Entrepreneurial Exceptionalism and the meteoric rise of software startups in the past few decades produced a strong techno-libertarian movement. On the other hand, being paid quite well, software engineers have the resources to advocate for their pet causes, which, being products of the university discussed above, gives the workers a reputation for liberalism. Meanwhile, it frequently still feels like a boys’ club, because of biases in who got STEM degrees as a result of the opinion starting in the 1980s that computers are toys for boys. (Well, that, and the concerted, decades-long effort to push women out of computing after the second world war when it stopped being a menial job.)

      In general, being a bunch of wealthy weirdos means that you see a lot of generally rare stuff, from bizarre reactionary dominance all the way through expensive explorations of the self. The next generation might be different, because the nerds have successfully taken over popular culture in a lot of ways, but on the other hand, there will almost certainly still be a selection bias in those who take an interest towards people who find interacting with things easier than interacting with people.

  10. Two comments: 1. My father, a tenured social psychologist at UNR for most of his career, liked to quote Voltaire: “I disagree with everything you say, but I’ll fight to the death for your right to say it.” 2. Some years ago, for reasons I don’t recall, I saw the CV of a philosophy professor in the Netherlands. He had two categories of publications: professional and public. He had many in both categories. Knowing the disdain for reaching out to the public among academicians in the US (I was one myself until my recent retirement), I asked someone who knew the Dutch situation about it. I was assured that Dutch academics (maybe especially in philosophy) are expected to do outreach. I’m guessing it’s much like the expectation in the tenure reviews I’ve been part of that you will do “service” (generally departmental or university, public if you must), as well as do research and teach. In my experience, service is a distant third in importance in the evaluation of candidates, though that may vary by the research orientation of the college or university.

  11. I want to agree with everything Devereaux says here, but the fact that he wants to be neutral in conflicts where one side denies the humanity of the other is…uncomfortable. I agree that getting the state to legislate that kind of thing is a bad idea (the past several decades are full of measures nominally intended to fight fascism being used against anti-fascists), but I’m not sure I can philosophically agree. The paradox of tolerance is a bitter thing to cope with.

    1. The most obvious political issue where someone “denies the humanity” of a living creature is abortion. All supporters of abortion rights deny the humanity of that entity which is aborted. Those who are uncertain about abortion are at least neutral about the humanity of said entity.

      So by your own argument, the only allowable proposition should be that abortion is murder, since any other proposition denies the humanity of the aborted. Is this your belief?

      I am having some difficulty thinking of any other political issue where one side denies the humanity of anything.

      1. All supporters of abortion rights deny the humanity of that entity which is aborted.

        Not necessarily. Some supporters accept the humanity of the unborn, but think it’s OK to kill them anyway.

        1. If you can accept the humanity of a group, but still think it’s morally acceptable to kill them, then that implies that there must be a very high bar for what constitutes ‘denying the humanity’ of a group. I struggle to think of any position within the mainstrem Overton window that would constitute ‘denying humanity’ given that standard.

          (FWIW, I think that fetuses possess humanity, but not personhood, and that it’s personhood that should primarily matter for moral considerations.)

    2. I should add that there are many cases of Side A saying that Side B “denies the humanity” of something, but very few cases of Side A saying that Side A itself “denies the humanity” of anything.

    3. Well, why don’t you just stop, then?

      The corrupt universities have certainly contributed to the toxic universe in which people claim it’s denying their humanity to not give them what they want and furthermore deny to other people. (Which is the only context in which that claim is made.)

    4. I’m genuinely confused, which side are you arguing denies the humanity of the other?

      In any case, you can argue that both sides should take certain tactics (firing people who disagree with them, faking surrender in battle as a trap, deepfaking the other side’s politicians etc.) off the table without being neutral.

    5. This observation would benefit considerably from a clear definition of what “to deny the humanity of X” means.

      From patterns, I suspect that what was meant by “to deny the humanity of X” was along the following lines:

      1) We begin from the axiom that every person has some right to a measure of dignity and safety. That is to say, they should not, for example, be reviled and shunned for some fundamental trait about themselves, should not be seen as valid targets for mob violence, and should generally be allowed to live, love, work, play, use the toilet, visit family in the hospital, and broadly speaking participate in society except insofar as they do concrete harm to others.

      2) We observe that some people who are indisputably agreed to be members of the human species, and who seem otherwise broadly like such members of the species as we agree are “people,” are nonetheless reviled, shunned, mobbed, et cetera.

      3) We conclude that the humanity, the personhood, of the individuals listed in (2) is being “denied,” typically due to some custom of our tribe that dictates that these individuals “don’t count” or are in some special sense impure and therefore deserving of bad treatment by the rest of the community.

      1. Do people have a fundamental right of association or not?

        Because if they don’t, I don’t see how “shunning” can be wrong.

        And if they do, I don’t see how compelling others to refrain from “shunning” — that is, compel them to associate whether they like it or not — can possibly NOT be a violation of that.

        The rest is too vague to speak to clearly. (Also the question of “harm” is loaded.)

        1. This is a bit like freedom of movement.

          Everyone recognizes that such freedom exists to the extent that it is immoral to physically restrain a person, as in kidnapping or imprisoning them. And at the same time, people are not free to go wherever they want to. As in it is moral for you can prevent someone from entering your residence, bedroom, etc. and immoral for them to force entry in such.

          The analog with freedom of association would be the right of people to voluntarily associate, and the wrong of forced association or forcibly preventing association. All within a framework that distinguishes private and public domains.

          1. Your point? Because if we invoke other cultures, universities are going to have to REALLY change

        2. @Mary
          >Do people have a fundamental right of
          >association or not? Because if they don’t,
          >I don’t see how “shunning” can be wrong.

          This sounds like a quote from the Cancel Culture Manifesto. Or it would, if there was one; I don’t know if there is. The problem here is one you yourself might well point out- with reason!- under different circumstances.

          The trouble is that society doesn’t consist of a giant cloud of atomized individuals floating in the void. To live our lives under anything resembling acceptable terms, we are forced to engage with institutions that are more powerful than any one of us.

          I listed a variety of examples: “live, love, work, play, use the toilet, visit family in the hospital, and broadly speaking participate in society.” These are things that, to a surprising extent that might shock some of us from particularly blessed backgrounds, depend heavily on outside society’s willingness to play ball.

          It depends on the protections of the law applying evenly to everyone, rather than having law that binds but does not protect some and protects but does not bind others.

          It depends on businesses, which often have a lot of control over whether you can live in an area at all and under what conditions, being expected not to launch into a massive “we don’t serve your kind here” campaign in an attempt to socially engineer the state and enforce a caste system pleasing to their owners.

          It depends on the idea that if I start an organization whose eventual goal is to ensure that everyone like ____ over there gets literally tarred and feathered, that I can expect to be infiltrated by the FBI and arrested if I start boiling the tar, not given a pat on the head and told “good work son” by the state governor.

          This places some limits on just how much intolerance towards its own citizens the state can tolerate from people choosing to exercise “freedom of association.”

          Because in the extreme limiting case, you wind up with a situation like the Jim Crow South where the KKK could lynch blacks for the ‘crime’ of being ‘uppity’ and local law enforcement would just shrug, not least because a lot of them were themselves wearing KKK robes at that lynching.

          My freedom of association, positive or negative, doesn’t override your right to expect equality under the law and sufficient access to society and its institutions that you are able to live a reasonably healthy, peaceful, and successful life so long as you do not commit actual crimes.

          1. I notice you don’t even try to defend the claim that shunning denies people’s humanity.

      2. ” for some fundamental trait about themselves,”

        One notes that the Left is REALLY BIG on reviling and shunning people for some fundamental trait about themselves,. That was, in fact, the inspiration for Right measures that have produced great hysteria.

        1. What is being regarded as ‘fundamental’ here? Are we talking inborn things? Things that someone literally believes they have to do to avoid going to Hell? Or are we talking about things that, statistically speaking, I could change about myself by choosing to believe a different set of news stories published by different mainstream media outlets? Some of these things are more fundamental than others.

          What is the extent of the reviling and shunning? Telling people that they are doing something immoral is not, in and of itself, a form of oppression.

          1. You should inform yourself more before talking. At the very least, you should know of elementary school teachers — in public schools- who have told white children that by dint of their race, they are automatically oppressing the black children in their class.

  12. I love it! And shared with with academic pals, and on facebook. But man, that photo IS so creepy!!!!!

  13. Does anybody know it Bret has had thoughts before on Mike Duncans podcast “The History of Rome”? I’m about to start it and was curious if he had any opinions on Mike Duncans stuff

  14. This is probably the First time i really agree with your take, which is good. I am still firmly on the view that a society need not watch as its enemies use the very freedoms they want destroyed to Dismantel it. Yes, a Balance needs to be struck, but that Balance needs to be struck in many areas of society where government power is concerned and i dont think its good to simply not do so anymore than IT is good to argue that all taxes should be abolished.

    1. You see, that’s the whole issue. Topics like free speech force believers in the liberal (as in spirit of 76/89) system of values to try to explore and draw lines. And just as with every other freedom, there are risks and drawbacks to every possible solution. In fact, one could really say there isn’t a such thing as a solution, since there doesn’t seem to be a stable equilibrium where you don’t drift further to an extreme. Every crackdown, even against speech that has no right to be said (which I believe does exist), carries the risk of creating structures that can be expanded, weaponized. And, of course, less restrained speech will tend to become more unrestrained as the climate of what is “acceptable” shifts is no less a weapon than the state, for the key to power in a liberal system is power over public discourse. You have to balance via constantly reviewing your policies. There is no silver bullet to solve speech, all we can do is be willing to look at it again, and again, and again.

    2. The question of what constitutes an attempt to dismantle society, versus what constitutes an attempt to improve society, is very complex. It is easy to form ill-informed prejudices on the matter, and very hard to truly know.

      There were a lot of people in the slaveholding parts of America circa 1800 who would have predicted that the abolition of slavery would lead to civilizational collapse, and in America circa 1900 who would have predicted that women’s suffrage would lead to civilizational collapse, for instance.

      Was society “dismantled” when those institutions changed? Good question. Maybe it wasn’t. Or maybe it was, and that was a good thing because dismantling a torture machine and making something else out of the parts is a good thing.

      1. A noble statement. However, it rather seems like the inhabitants of the university are only interested in discovering the truth when it is adversarial to society. When it appears that the truth might support society, it is quickly found to not be worth studying.

        1. The creator of this website is an inhabitant of the university. He primarily studies the army of ancient Rome. Are you saying he does this in order to discovers things destructive to the society of the 21st-century United States?

          What discoveries would you say have been made of ancient Rome that are destructive of the modern United States? I have some difficulty imagining what such a thing might look like.

          1. Yes, but they seem to like avoiding all the other history, too, for reasons that Dr. Devereaux has already discussed. Reasons that don’t seem to line up very well with the theory that universities are a conspiracy to destroy American civilization through some sort of hacking attack on loosely defined belief systems without which everything will fall apart and perish.

        2. This perception seems like the kind of thing that would require either:

          1) A truly prodigious amount of careful scholarship to support (in the sense that someone who claims to have disproved the theory of relativity has a high burden of proof because he’s trying to overturn a lot of scientific theories all at once and many of them are themselves carefully supported)… or…

          2) Having spent a very long time listening to people give vague speeches about how academics are plotting to destroy civilization for nebulous reasons and by nebulous means, until the idea that they are doing so sinks in and acquires a certain intuitive “truthiness.”

  15. There are two distinct and separate issues here. One is solvable with an apolitical stance encouraging uncomfortable free speech protections in academics. The other does not and will never have an apolitical solution.

    The first is problems like the professor who was fired for showing, with warning, a picture of the prophet Muhammad. It has an apolitical solution, because the issue isn’t fundamentally political. It’s risk aversion. Colleges which treat their operations as a business and are more scared about the financial impact of whatever media frenzies might occur than how difficult it might be to summarily fire someone will take actions like this. The solution is stronger teacher’s protections. Not necessarily tenure track, actually I think that’s a pretty mediocre solution which only protect people willing to toe the line long enough to become institutional figures. Teacher’s unions are a safer bet in my mind. But regardless of specifics, the solution is to remove structures which make colleges ultra-responsive to short-term media impacts and make it harder to summarily fire teachers.

    The second is, and this is what everyone in academia hates to admit, is an intensely political problem with only political solutions. The US Republican party explicitly has an anti-science stance. On everything from climate change to abortion to policing effects to economic decisions to foreign policy outcomes to the effects of immigration, the US Republican party has problems and solutions which run counter to the research which comes out of scientific institutions. They are extremely aware of this too. They have also abandoned any sense of norms and are tearing down institutional structures and guardrails to cement a minority rule, because it’s literally their only chance at remaining in power.

    Unless universities are going to stop coming to the conclusions the scientific process leads to, they will be an enemy of the Republic party. And there is *no apolitical solution to that*. The only solutions are political. And that’s scary.

    But we are also wasting everyone’s time so long as we keep pretending it’s not true.

    1. The delusion that one side of the debate is “anti-science” is why the issue can not be solved.

      1. Republicans are in fact anti-science. I just don’t think that abortion and immigration are among the reasons why, but as far as protection of the environment, global warming, etc., it’s pretty clear that Republicans are (today), unfortunately, the anti-science party.

          1. I suspect it’s not personally comfortable for you to look at the current situation – but that does not make it go away.

            The Republican party leadership has spent decades pretending climate change isn’t happening. Other observers might select other examples, such as environmental issues, water fluoridation, or stem cell therapy. Sadly, everyone in America got to see their response to the Covid epidemic.

          2. Must be comfortable with your head stuck in the sand.

            Permit me to notice that the climate change forecasters have been wrong for decades. The stem cell therapy was where we were assured that adult stem cells were an impossibility when in reality they are more useful

            As for the COVID epidemic, the Democratic response was not only the anti-science one, it was murderous.

          3. @Mary
            >Permit me to notice that the
            >climate change forecasters
            >have been wrong for decades.

            Tell it to the luxury cruise expedition company now offering cruises through the Northwest Passage. The one that used to be icebound and repeatedly killed Arctic explorers trying to find it.

            Global warming is occurring. The effects of sea level rise are measurable and coastal communities around the world are dealing with them. Communities that used to get snow every year now get it rarely or never. Many other measurable effects also exist. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere objectively has been increasing for decades, and there is no magical effect that causes it to stop insulating the atmosphere at higher concentrations, any more than there was when Arrhenius first discovered the greenhouse effect in the 1800s.

            Specific details of specific models sometimes turn out to be wrong. But saying that this invalidates the fact of global warming is saying that just because I can’t predict which way an ice cube placed on a skillet will skid back and forth as it melts, I don’t know if it will melt.

            It is effectively impossible to argue with this physical fact about the world without adopting a stance of opposition to the basic principles of science, and of academia in general. Because two of the basic principles of science, and of scholarship as a whole, are “observation trumps speculation” and “don’t get so caught up in how you feel about someone else’s theory that you stop checking to see whether it is true.”

          4. You do know we’re in an interglacial period?

            And that the earth has been much warmer than their worst predictions without the existence of mankind?

          5. Multiple factors can affect Earth’s climate; the alternating glacial and interglacial periods, for example, are mainly the result of variations in Earth’s orbit and axial tilt (Milankovitch cycles). Most of those factors have not varied in recent centuries; e.g., the Milankovitch cycles aren’t due to produce another ice age for several thousand years, if ever. But there is one major factor that can explain the warming that has taken place over the past 200 years, and especially the past 50: in the past 200 years, and especially the past 50, humans have dug tens of billions of tons of carbon out of the ground and set it on fire.

        1. Tell us, o scientific one: What are your thoughts on the heritability of IQ? What are your thoughts on genetic propensities to crime? What are your thoughts on the efficacy of broken-windows policing?

          1. It’s a little hard to tell, but are you addressing me?

            I think IQ like most other cognitive and behavioural traits has a very large heritable component, yes. So does propensity to aggression and crime. With the caveat that heritability within a group doesn’t necessarily imply heritability between groups (it migt or it might not, depending on the situation).

          2. Oh lord all it took was one assertion that the political right isn’t too keen on science and the “race realists” came crawling out of the gutter.

          3. Objecting to the very idea of concepts that may question leftist pieties is unscientific.

          4. WJ, I find it very difficult to believe that any academic who discovered evidence that the “race realists” are correct would be well-advised to publish it.

            Consequently, academia has already lost the capacity to test if they are, in fact, right.

            We can have no meaningful evidence about whether they are right. Or wrong. Only prejudice is left to guide us.

            And to be fair to the “race realists”, it was not they who put us in this position.

    2. “Unless universities are going to stop coming to the conclusions the scientific process leads to, they will be an enemy of the Republic party.”

      Scientifically speaking, are there any biological differences between men and women?

      I ask because it seems to me that it is not Republicans that have difficulty giving an empirically accurate answer to that question. On the other hand, it is Democrats that have the opportunity to force universities to come to the conclusion they prefer, scientifically or otherwise, simply because most of the people with authority in American academia are Democrats.

      1. Could you first define men and women? If it is relating to their sex at birth, then how are you differentiating them? If via karyotypes (XY vs XX chromosomes), then there are karyotypic males (XY) who have fully female sex characteristics and genitalia at birth (google androgen insensitivity syndrome). If it is purely sex characteristics at birth, then there are people who are born with ambiguous sex characteristics (google intersex).

        And that’s a pretty different topic to the social construct of gender, which is related to but can be rather disconnected from biology. After all, I suspect that no one from either side of the political divide would bat an eye at the karyotypic male with AIS who after undergoing puberty developed with purely female sex characteristics identifying as a woman or being treated as one under the law.

        The issue du jour on gender does strongly seem to have a biological component to it, given that gender dysphoria has been observed across cultures and can fairly safely be concluded to not be a political construct.

        1. “The issue du jour on gender does strongly seem to have a biological component to it, given that gender dysphoria has been observed across cultures and can fairly safely be concluded to not be a political construct.”

          That would seem to imply that gender is not in fact a social construct (unless there’s some distinction between a “social construct” and a “political construct” that I’m missing).

          1. It implies nothing of the sort, discomfort with the way your primary and secondary sexual characteristics develop (what we call “gender dysphoria”) should be distinguished from the concept of “gender” which is a complex collection of behaviours and performances that we expect from different people based on various criteria.

          2. Replying to WJ (looks like we hit the comment nesting limit):

            According to the APA, gender dysphoria is “psychological distress that results from an incongruence between one’s sex assigned at birth and one’s gender identity”. So no, I don’t think that gender dysphoria can be separated from gender. It’s possible that gender expression (which seems to be what you’re talking about here) is a social construct, while gender identity is not (although I’m not sure if that’s the case). I just don’t see how gender dysphoria can not be a social construct if gender is, though.

          3. A political construct will only exist in places where the political system has attempted to construct it.

            For example, suppose we play the role of someone claiming that “women dressing as men” as an example of a political construct. The claim would be this is the product of a ‘feminist conspiracy’ somehow ‘confusing’ women about their true, natural identity.

            It would then logically follow that women do not ‘naturally’ do this in places where this ‘feminist conspiracy’ does not operate or has not yet begun to operate. If women instinctively wear some very specific type of women’s clothing, then that kind of clothing should be universal and found throughout the world, and in no place should we expect to see deviation from this except where the local climate or available materials make it impossible to have ‘proper’ women’s clothing.

            Our theory would be undermined if we observe (as is true in reality) that many cultures have wildly different standards of clothing, and may regard as menswear things we would regard as for women only, or vice versa. Or if we observe (likewise) cases clothing that we now think of as feminine started out as men’s fashion (e.g. high heels). Or if we observe (likewise) ample evidence in fact and fiction individual women choosing to wear men’s clothing for various reasons. Joan of Arc, for instance, was probably not ‘confused by feminism,’ seeing as how she lived during the fifteenth century!

            Thus, we can deduce that no, women wearing trousers in the modern era is not a sign that they have been ‘confused’ about what is ‘natural’ for women due to ‘feminism’ or some other political force we can treat as a hostile conspiracy aimed against our society. It is simply a change in what is considered fashionable and practical, though it may reflect underlying social changes such as women being allowed to publicly admit that they have legs in Western society without public shaming.

            Similar logic may be applied to other issues.

          4. Suppose that I am a member of a caste within society that is required to wear latex gloves in public at all times.

            Suppose further that I am so unfortunate as to develop a latex allergy.

            The custom that I must wear latex gloves is a social construct. My discomfort and allergy symptoms are not; the are the physically extant consequences of a conflict between what society expects me to do and what my body allows me to do comfortably.

            Other members of my caste may not suffer the same allergy. Thus, I, personally, may be in the awkward position of having to beg society for permission to be released from requirements that I find burdensome, even as so many others of my caste do not.

            Both the original custom, and the predictable negative reactions from society if I start violating the custom for my comfort’s sake, are the results of social constructs. My allergic reaction remains not socially constructed.

        2. You are right that I did not define the words “man” or “woman”. I also did not define the words “scientific” or “biological”. I followed the convention that words in a sentence should be taken as having their common meaning unless there is some specific reason not to. You used that convention when you did not take the time to inform me of the meaning of the word “define”.

          You could always have said “Yes”, and then added a comment about some people wishing to be treated socially as a member of the opposite sex. It is not as if I was asking about a mystical essence of womanhood, after all. Such a thing can not be empirically demonstrated.

          OTOH, it is an empirical fact that some people wish to be treated socially as a member of the opposite sex.

          1. “Male” and “man” are two different words with different definitions in both common and scientific language. A male is a being with XY chromosomes (if we’re talking about mammals, this gets a lot harder if we consider birds), while a “man” is a social role played by a human being in a human society. Animals cannot be men, although they can be males, and a man need not be a male (ever heard of King Hatshepsut?).

          2. a “man” is a social role played by a human being in a human society

            That is a political claim, not an assertion.

            (ever heard of King Hatshepsut?).

            By pretending to be a man, she did not become a man.

          3. This conversation has, I think, veered well clear of the original topic and I think the discussion has become unproductive.

            Let’s go ahead and move on.

        3. Wow, what a bunch of special pleading tarted up with scientific jargon. Androgen insensitivity syndrome and intersex genitals are unfortunate genetic defects, like hemophilia or cystic fibrosis. They occur in an infinitesimal percentage of humans. They have literally nothing to do with transgenderism. Medical science (when not misdirected by woke politics) works to address and cure or ameliorate these defects, as it does with the others I mentioned.

          1. A reminder that you will be civil here, regardless of the topic under discussion. Ey81, this is not the first time you have gotten more than a little sharp (‘tarted up’ is hardly civil and polite language when debating an interlocutor you respect), so I will expect that it is the last.

      2. “Scientifically speaking, are there any biological differences between men and women?”

        This isn’t a biological question, it’s a political one.

        In biology, the question is about how species reproduce, and there’s a tremendously wide range of ways to go about that. Biology tends to be a series of exceptions with just enough rules to keep the whole thing from flying apart. Even with a sexually dimorphic species (and humans are mildly sexually dimorphic), the variance within each sex can be fairly significant. If you assume that it’s related to mate selection you would expect that–after all, the mere fact that they are using these traits to select mates implies that there are options and sufficient variance to allow for choice. This means that by limiting this discussion to two options you’re already inserting a fairly significant number of value judgments into the discussion, without allowing examination of them. David L gives a very, very truncated list of the widely-known biological considerations you run into here; there are plenty he’s left out. For example, rhyzocephalians play merry havoc with the entire concept (as well as the difference between “parasite” and “symbiote”).

        A far better question would be something like “What is the proper division of labor within a family unit in this particular culture?” A division of labor is necessitated by the limited capacity for any individual; it’s next to impossible to do all the tasks necessary to raise a family yourself, in any culture. Different cultures will answer this question differently. Even different subcultures will. Spend some time around folks who work 9-5, then around military families where someone is deployed for months on end; you’ll see very different divisions of labor. And remember, “family” is a plastic term. The Romans thought about it very differently from the Germanic peoples they encountered, and both would consider our concept of the family (the so-called nuclear family) insane if not blasphemous.

        Part of the problem today is that our culture is shifting, so we have conflicting ideas for what the ideal is. The old ideal (“Leave It To Beaver”, essentially) simply doesn’t work, and the current ideal (“The Simpsons”, essentially) is an equally poor option. The question you’re asking ultimately has nothing to do with biology; it’s a question about what the fundamental unit of our society is, what it should be, and how it should function.

          1. If you are really asking “a question about biology” then you’ve already heard enough to know that “man or woman” is not remotely sufficient as an answer.

          2. There comes a point at which one is convinced one has won an argument, but in reality has merely displayed one’s own adamant refusal to listen to inconvenient facts.

            Because if it tells me I’m wrong, it must be a bunch of woke jibber-jabber.

          3. Enough.

            We’re now well clear of the topic of the original post and this discussion long since ceased being productive.

            This is the last warning I’ll give on the matter.

        1. “Confine yourself to sucking poisoned blood from people’s arms, and I permit you to call yourself by the glorious title of Cannibal.”

      3. American (and many other universities ) are not run by the academics but by the administrators. They may tend to vote Democratic, but their raison d’etre is the continuance and development of tertiary education as a grift. In this – as in so much of life – it is not their ostensible politics that counts, but their corporatist attitudes. For example, at Temple University: Head Coach $3.3m pa; Exec VP: $2.1m; Basketball Coach $1.2m; President .94m; Exec VP 0.63m; 5 other VPs all over 0.4m. Average adjunct professor – under $80,000. Or New College Florida – the new President (a crony of the Governor) gets a 400k pay rise, to 900k.

        1. Perfectly leftwing of them. The coordination the left loves is always good for those on top.

          1. Maintaining this ‘always’ sometimes requires interesting definitions of ‘on top.’

            The Teamsters’ Union is definitely a very good deal for some union executives, but its absence would be an even better deal for some much wealthier and more powerful trucking company executives.

          2. No leftwing government ever managed to get the purity you are describing here. Not even the USSR after the Show Trials.

    3. Immigration isn’t an issue that “science” can resolve, surely? Whether you support mass migration of not is at bottom a matter of values and preferences, not facts. Science can illuminate what the tradeoffs are, but it can’t tell you what conclusion to come to, because science is (ideally anyway) a value neutral enterprise.

      I’m a biologist and very much opposed to mass migration: while I think my scientific training helps confirm and strengthen my anti-migration sentiments, I also realise that it’s ultimately not a matter that science can resolve one way or the other.

    4. I’m curious* how one would use the scientific method to determine what the optimal foreign policy, or immigration policy is.

      *And by “curious”, I mean “extremely skeptical of anyone who would claim to be able to do this”.

      1. Given any particular goal, you can decide how best to achieve it only by some mix of evidence and reasoning. Sounds like science to me.

        More specifically, what you want to do is improve the ability to forecast the results of various possible policy decisions.

        Improving forecasting accuracy was the goal of the Aggregative Contingent Estimation Program at IARPA. In principle, it was not difficult. They had a forecasting tournament.

        They started with proposed outcomes that would be demonstrably true or false (e.g. more or less than X people will be estimated to have immigrated to the US between dates a and b, according to Trusted Statistics Source Y). Then they had teams attach probabilities to the various outcomes (eg 63% chance of more than X, 37% chance of less than X). Then they used a Brier score to measure how good each teams forecasts were.

        Keep doing that, and you can work out which teams have the best strategies for making forecasts. And how to improve said strategies.

        Once you have your Quantifiable Forecast Team (or teams), you can have them forecast the results of your proposed policies. (Assuming you want a reliable forecast, of course. On the whole, decision makes are selected for their desire for power, not for their desire to make good decisions.)

        1. “Given any particular goal”

          Well, that’s kind of the thing. Most political issues arise when there are several competing goals. Once you’ve decided that you’re going to focus on any one particular goal, you’ve already gone a decent portion of the way to deciding what your optimal policy is.

          As for predictions, I think it is generally helpful to be able to accurately predict what the effects of a proposed policy will be. However, there’s still quite a leap from being able to predict how many people will immigrate given a particular immigration policy, to deciding what the best immigration policy is.

  16. It seems to me that supporters of “free speech” generally believe that it is necessary, or at least helpful, to getting at the truth. I doubt that is actually true.

    After all, there are generally far more ways of being wrong than of being right. Almost certainly, the great majority of possible statements are meaningless, and the great majority of possible meaningful statements are logically invalid, false, or both.

    For what is said to be useful, there must be some mechanism that identifies false or meaningless statements, and discourages people making or repeating them. You are not going to get the truth, or anything that closely approximates it, unless you discriminate in its favour.

    This is perhaps most explicit in the sciences, where theories are explicitly meant to be tested against logic and empirical reality, and people who repeat claims that fail such tests are certainly expected to be discriminated against. It is also true in any practical field – if you follow someones advice about plumbing and find yourself up to your knees in water, you will probably discount their future plumbing advice at the very least.

    But it doesn’t have to be that way. Consider Philip Tetlocks study of newspaper pundits and suchlike people, Expert Political Judgement. Famously, he concluded that their advice and prognostications was worthless – the phrase he used was “dart-throwing chimp”. They were rewarded for attention-getting articles and TV shows, so that was what they ended up producing. The truth was irrelevant, and so was ignored.

    The issue with free speech in universities is therefore not so much that some people wish to discourage certain statements, as that they want to discourage statements according to whether they seem convenient for their own political faction, not whether they seem to be true.

    A university that does not discriminate in favour of statements backed by evidence and logic, or which discriminates in favour of other things, is without value in this world. Mankind could only benefit from its extinction.

    1. The problem I have with statements like this is that they’re always made by someone who thinks they (or someone who thinks like them) will be the ones determining what’s allowed to be discussed. I have never heard anyone say “Free speech should be limited, and they should start with my beliefs!”

      “A university that does not discriminate in favour of statements backed by evidence and logic…”

      The issue is, most people believe their statements ARE backed by evidence and logic. They are in fact screaming their evidence and reasoning as loudly as possible, on both sides. Yet each side believes only THEIR side has facts and reason to support it. This is maintained by, as you demonstrate in your post, simply not taking the other side seriously (see your 6th paragraph).

      1. I wrote: “The issue with free speech in universities is therefore not so much that some people wish to discourage certain statements, as that they want to discourage statements according to whether they seem convenient for their own political faction, not whether they seem to be true.”

        You responded: “The problem I have with statements like this is that they’re always made by someone who thinks they (or someone who thinks like them) will be the ones determining what’s allowed to be discussed.”

        What line of reasoning led you to conclude that I must think that people who think like me are the ones at universities who “discourage statements according to whether they seem convenient for their own political faction, not whether they seem to be true”?

  17. Hey All,

    Since this blog post is about history and jobs – among other things. I would like to ask – what is the opinion of Brett and other commenters on Victor Davis Hanson and all his many (25+) books and many posts on military history and such?

    I very much admire and respect Victor even though he and I are often at odds over many of his political views/rants. I’d luv to have him as a next door neighbor as we grew up so similarly.

    As for Brett and others – if you know Victors past you know at one point in his life he went to Fresno State an told them they need somebody to teach classics and they gave him a shot and he ended up teaching there for over 20 years (25?). My point point here is if you can’t kick the front door open go in the side/back/window? Is this absolutely impossible anymore? Has anyone here tried? Why does it need to be a totally conventional route?

    My first comment here and happy to see a post I can comment on.


    1. There are a couple of questions here. On VDH’s scholarship, you need to understand it as in two categories: the stuff on hoplites and everything else. On hoplites (so that’s Warfare and Agriculture, Western Way of War, The other Greeks and perhaps A War Like No Other) VDH’s work still has some purchase in academic circles though certainly the balanced of published work in the past 20 years breaks with VDH and instead favors the views of Hans van Wees. Unreserved defenders of VDH’s views on hoplites are very few these days in the technical debate.

      Everything else (Who Killed Homer, Soul of Battle, Carnage and Culture, The Savior Generals, etc.) has been very poorly received by specialist scholars. Whatever one thinks about VDH on hoplites, he is obviously out of his depth – often severely so – basically anywhere else. Carnage and Culture in particular is one of those books that became popular with the public over the substantial screamed objections of a range of actual historians for the many errors and misrepresentations in it and its deeply flawed overall argument (see the first chapter of J.A. Lynn, Battle: A History of Combat and Culture (2004) or S.J. Willett, “History from the Clouds” in Arion (2002)). Since his last serious Greek warfare book was The Other Greeks back in 1995, the result is that the broad consensus of military historians I know is, to put it bluntly, “everything VDH has written in the past two-and-a-half-decades is trash.” I tend to agree with this assessment; since 1996 Victor Davis Hanson has largely specialized in writing books that are very good at deceiving lay readers into trusting them but very bad as actual history.

      As for his career path, VDH’s career path is one of those things that stopped being possible by the end of the 1980s. Universities don’t hire like that and haven’t in decades; almost every public university has rules in place that require nearly all new tenure lines start with a national (or international) search and mandate the steps of that search. Moreover, VDH got hired at a time when the competition for jobs in both Classics and History was massively less competitive than it is now: it used to be hard to find a well-qualified academic to teach things, but with the substantial contraction in the number of teaching positions in the United States, if Fresno State advertised that job today they would likely have around 200 applicants (not a made up number – that’s about the applicant pool for ancient history these days) for their one job.

      My apologies if those weren’t the answers you wanted to hear, but they are the ones I have.

  18. I am a professor of management in the collage of business at a medium sized regional university. Part of my teaching job is to help students understand what DEI is and why DEI policies exist. Much of the recent criticism of DEI stems from the cynical exploitation of the term “critical race theory” by some on the right to paint liberals and especially African-American scholars as anti-American. Some Americans are susceptible to such claims because they don’t understand what DEI is and have been told most of their lives that universities are Marxist institutions.

    Second, actual substantial discrimination against conservates on campus is wildly exaggerated but not non-existent. Third, universities sometimes respond poorly to these situations, and this has worked against both conservative speakers and liberal speakers. Fourth, and this point echoes Prof. Devereaux’s point about proper public discourse, it would be nice to see more respectful and productive public discourse around issues such as global climate change, covid treatments, etc. This won’t be possible so long as student groups continue to invite speakers with the purpose of trolling the other side. Furthermore, it would be difficult in some instances to have a productive discussion about issues when some of the participants have a different standard for what is factual and what the research has shown. We need to stop pretending that there are always two sides to each issue, each side having equally persuasive and compelling reasons for their positions.

    Finally, while I am not suggesting that my own experience in academia is representative, in the 20+ years I have been a professor, I have never once seen an occasion during a faculty hiring process where a candidate’s political views were ever solicited or discussed by the hiring committee. I suppose individual committee members might make inferences about politics, but they also make inferences about any number of other things that might not be job-related, including the person’s race or gender.

    1. “This won’t be possible so long as student groups continue to invite speakers with the purpose of trolling the other side.”

      It certainly won’t be possible as long as people dismiss other people’s choice of speakers as “trolling.”

    2. “We need to stop pretending that there are always two sides to each issue, each side having equally persuasive and compelling reasons for their positions.”

      Perhaps you could suggest a few issues on which you are on the side without persuasive and compelling reasons for the position?

      1. This is the very essence of what is meant by “demonizing.” Unless you’re able to recognize that people with opinions are *necessarily* persuaded by them, you have relegated their attitudes to mere thralldom. That is, that their thoughts are not human thoughts; their attitudes are subrational and subhuman.

        I don’t know about anti-American, but my experience with DEI has been exactly this kind of high-handed, petitio driven line of argumentation.

        1. Then perhaps you’d like to invite Holocaust deniers, creationists, Flat Earthers, and advocates for slavery to speak. Since, after all, you’ve decided that we have to discuss all the sides to every issue.

          Some debates aren’t pedologically useful. No one is obligated to give those people assistance to make their case, which a university invitation absolutely is.

          1. Who exactly is going to disallow speakers, following what process, and why should it be trusted by people who don’t control it?

            If it’s just a bunch of activists for some political faction, I think you can forget about it ever being trusted. Such a process should never be trusted. It will almost certainly rig things in its own favour.

            And since the great majority of academics and administrators ARE drawn from one political faction, academia has lost the ability to conduct any such process fairly, or in a trustworthy manner.

            There are no honest judges in their own cause, or at least none who can reasonably be trusted as such.

          2. Which views of yours aren’t pedologically useful? So we shouldn’t invite you to speak on them.

  19. Darn, I can’t believe I incorrectly spelled “college.” I was distracted by an over-long Zoom meeting.

  20. No worries on your reply Brett – thank you! I’m always interested in others perspectives.

    A little more on me. I know very little about classical studies. I only know two people who graduated in history an they both went on to law school and passed the bar. My background is in agriculture and natural resources and I do have a PhD. I’m a year younger than VDH so my best before date is long gone too. That said my interest in VDH ties mostly into his views on corporate agriculture, agrarianism past present and future – not really subjects for this website. That said I grew up playing wargames AH battle of the bulge and the like and still play them so your site is a pleasant find for me and is providing some great reading material.

    One facet I see in VDH work is that his study of the classics on up to the present has apparently led to his understanding of human nature and what has worked and what has not throughout history in terms of societal functioning. I wonder if any other historians have gone down this route and what their ideas are. Are there any for me (and others) to consider?

    Keep up the good work!


  21. The issue with free speach is clearly the “apolitical politics”, so popular lately. Ruling party, no matter it’s actuall political ideology, isn’t right or left. It’s always somewhat center, and most importantly good and therefore disagreement is bad, by definition.

    1. There are two confounding factors here.

      1) If the definition of “is liberal” is stable over time and from survey year to survey year, then changes in society at large may bias the results. We may see the illusion that universities are becoming unusually left-leaning when what’s actually happening is something along a line of “a flowing river pushes all boats toward the sea.” For instance, support for gay marriage is now a majoritarian position in the US, while it was a minoritarian position in 1990. It would be very surprising if academia’s attitudes towards gay marriage hadn’t changed in the same timeframe, becoming significantly more LBGT-friendly, given that society at large has undergone that exact same change.

      2) If the definition of “is liberal” is not stable over time, then we have a different problem. Because it may well be that changing beliefs among specific political institutions may ‘scare off’ academics who no longer consider those institutions to be intellectually reputable, even if the actual views of those persons have not changed. For instance, repeated government shutdowns might convince a professor of economics to stop voting for the political party responsible for the shutdowns. Promoting medicines likely to prove ineffective against a dangerous disease may convince a professor of biology to stop supporting the political party that encourages promotion of those medicines. This isn’t the kind of thing we’d normally expect to see labeled as ‘wokeism’ or ‘political correctness’ or what have you… But it can have effects over time.

  22. ” For my own part, I find systems where the top x% of every graduating in-state high school class (that is, the top x% of each high school, not of all high schoolers in the state, so you cannot avoid admitting a substantial number of students from underfunded high schools) is automatically admitted very appealing as a more equitable solution to having university classes that draw broadly from the communities they serve.”

    I really can’t agree. This purported solution to a real problem falls into the trap of wishful thinking as a substitute for policy: like so many well-intentioned ideas it requires a wand and a supply of pixie dust to magic away inconvenient facts. The inconvenient fact is this: some public high schools are God-awful. Whether this is due to historic racism, underfunding (although that is less true than commonly claimed) or any of a host of other reasons, the fact of their awfulness is there and can’t be wished away. If the valedictorian from such a school would only have a D average at a school in, say, Cary, handing him admission to Chapel Hill is not suddenly going to make him prepared for a university education. Policies like this ultimately increase little beyond dropout rates.

    1. If the variation between the quality of schools is as great as all that, the best students from the worst schools are going to be much smarter and more hardworking than students with higher grades from better schools, making it likely they will catch up with and surpass them.

    2. The kind of person who graduates as valedictorian from Urban Hellhole High may or may not have had as many opportunities for advanced coursework to sink in as the average graduate from Posh Heights High.

      But universities will not be inherently degraded or debased by offering remedial courses, and if the university can provide a good learning environment, it will find that valedictorian advancing rapidly when no longer shackled to all the terrors and chaos of UHH.

      1. It would be far more prudent to have a school that specializes in such cases so they can be structured to fit the students.

  23. Hope this is not too random but can someone explain why some comments on here get so long and thin.

    1. Because WordPress’ default comment viewing setup sucks on mobile devices and I don’t really have the time or technical acumen to find a solution.


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