Are Campuses Really More PC Today?



[Steven Pinker] – As someone who's plotted
an awful lot of graphs tracking things quantitatively over time, I'm always suspicious of any argument
that something is bad now, therefore, it's worse than it used to be, because often those
claims don't survive fact-checking. I'm not getting any younger, but I have a
good enough memory of what things were like in the 1970s when I was a college student,
and things were pretty bad then as well. I remember my first week on campus at a junior
college. I was only 17. This was 1971. There was a guy behind a table, several people,
selling or giving away some sort of the Marxist, Leninist, Trotskyist, People's Workers United
Manifesto Party circular with a picture of Mao and Stalin and Lenin, and he was getting
into an argument with someone who was trying to engage him in argument, and I remember
him shouting him down, screaming, "Fascists don't have the right to speak." This was 1971. Most people here weren't born yet. So, this syndrome goes back a long way. In the 1970s and 1980s, a number of psychologists
who mentioned claims that by now are fairly unexceptionable, like: "evolution might have
something to do with behavior," like: "there may be some genetic differences among individuals," were shouted down, often assaulted. E.O. Wilson, Emeritus Professor, still here, was
shouted down by chanting students who said, "Racist Wilson, you can't hide." "We charge you with genocide." Dick Herrnstein was shut down when he tried
to lecture on pigeons back in the 1970s because of his Atlantic Monthly article, which did
not mention race. This was well before "The Bell Curve." These attempts at shutting down unpopular
beliefs goes back at least 40 years. I think one of the things that happened is
that the generation that first tried to shut down speech, namely, we Baby Boomers, got
into power. We expanded the Student Life bureaucracy,
and we created something of an invitation to students who I believe are getting far
too much blame for this movement. The idea that millennials are snowflakes that
can't handle unpopular beliefs I think is totally wrong. It's really our generation that has kind of
welcomed this, rewarded it, and used it. I think a better analogy than snowflakes who
are traumatized might be the cultural revolution in China in the 1960s in which one faction
of the adult generation mobilized the students to attack another faction of their generation. A lot of the enabling was done by, not by
the students, but by the factions that egged them on. So, what's to be done? I would certainly like to see, I would like
to find out how much we are seeing a case of pluralistic ignorance, where everyone assumes
that everyone else is offended, and no one actually is offended. Everyone assumes that everyone else has these
dogmatic politically correct beliefs, but it may not necessarily be a majority who do,
and to crack this pluralistic ignorance you really do need people who announce that the
emperor has no clothes, who say in public what everyone else might be believing in private. That's gonna be a crucial step in making it
happen, in response to your question. [Wendy Kaminer] – I wanna disagree with you
just a little bit, Steven, your description of what it was like on campus in the 60s and
70s, 'cause I was there too. I'm probably a little older than you, even
though my hair isn't gray, and will never be. [Steven Pinker] – But I can't ask you your
age. [Wendy Kaminer] – You can ask me my age. My age is not a secret. Of course, there are always people who are
extremely intolerant of speech. That's human nature, and there are always
probably only a minority of people who are really strong free speech advocates when it
comes to protecting the speech they don't like. There are always people who indulge in "heckler's
veto." I think the difference on campus is that there
are now administrative systems that are devoted to shutting down whatever somebody complains
of as what we might think of as a minor offense. [Steven Pinker] – I agree. [Wendy Kaminer] – You didn't used to get disciplined
for telling a joke that offended somebody. [Steven Pinker] – The guy who said, "Fascists
have no right to speak," is now a dean. [Wendy Kaminer] – But I also think that it's
not our generation as much as it is, you know, most of these Student Life Administrators
are not in their sixties. I think most of them tend to be, I don't know,
what? In their forties? What I'm seeing is a real generational divide
that, I don't know, I think the cutoff is probably 45 or 50, and that younger faculty,
and by younger I mean under 45, and administrators are people who were raised under these speech
code regimes. They were educated under speech code regimes,
and that's why it's important to remember that they date back to the early 90s. So, the people who graduated from college
in the early mid-90s are now middle-aged, and somebody can shut that phone off. And they're the people who are enforcing these
things. I also wanted to– [Tom Slater] – I just wanna quickly bring
Brendan in, little bit of Robby, and then we'll go back out 'cause I wanna get some
more questions in. [Brendan O’Neill] – Just one quick point
on what to do next, I mean, it'd be really interesting to hear other people's views on
that, but I think, I completely agree with Steven. I dislike this word snowflake so much and,
in fact, we recently banned its use on Spiked, not that we're in favor of censorship, but
it's such an unuseful term in terms of describing what's going on, and this idea of uniquely
fragile millennials and so on, I think that's a real cop out because what we really face
is not simply a new generation that's quite intolerant, and not simply campus craziness,
in fact, but it's really a counter-enlightenment, and then the challenge to all the ideals of
the enlightenment, the ideal of universalism, the ideal of self-government, the ideal of
freedom of thought and freedom of speech, of course, the ideal of using moral reasoning
to negotiate your way through the world. It's all those things that are under attack. You can't blame that on some 20 year-old, that– They're not responsible for this. It goes back much further than that. The reason they express it so keenly is because
they've been socialized through childhood in school and so on into this new counter-enlightenment,
into this new culture that devalues freedom of speech, devalues due process, sacralizes
self-esteem, and so on and so on. So, they are only the end products of a culture
that I think has been growing probably before the 70s, going back maybe even to, you know,
I'd like to blame everything on the 60s 'cause I'm quite anti 1960s, but maybe even before
that. These students strike me as the foot soldiers
of the West's own self-doubt, and I think unless we grapple with the origins of that,
then we will just end up shouting at young people, which is not very productive. [Tom Slater] – So, Robby. [Robby Soave] – I actually have a slightly
different perspective than that. I am constantly struck by how un-ideological
the opposition to speech is on campus, that it is purely psychological. This is an enormous difference and a very
recent one among college students that their hostility to speech is based in discomfort
to harmful emotions, and this you can measure. I have students report feeling anxiety and
depression and trauma at off-the-charts higher rates than even ten years ago, even among
kids who aren't even yet in college, who are in high school. Jean Twenge has some fascinating research
on this and how smartphone usage might correspond with it. But when I talk to students, they describe
their hostility to offensive ideas in that it's not really a deeply philosophical opposition. It's this idea hurts me or maybe it hurts
people in my community. It hurts them emotionally, and emotional harm
is the same as violence because it triggers my trauma, a trauma I've been taught to think
I have by this enormous campus bureaucracy that really weaponizes this trauma, or permits
you to weaponize it because then you can shut someone down if you have it. So, there's an incentive to make yourself
be a victim when you really aren't, or you're no more than anyone else, that it is increased,
I believe from looking at the data, is new and increasing and powerful and is the main
driver of censorship.

17 thoughts on “Are Campuses Really More PC Today?

  1. How can you use Moral Reasoning to solve problems, when you are not taught morals and you are not taught how to reason.

  2. Idiots in college have been around forever in one form or another. Difference today is that we have social media and the like.

  3. Pinker is a great thinker. I don't understand why neither he nor any of the other free speech advocates resists the real-world censorship mentioned without embarrassment by the hypocritical editor moron who censored a word. Also sad that such knowledgeable people have consensus that millennials specifically are not oversensitive, yet the only justification they give for this conclusion really just explain the causation of the phenomenon that they just denied: Millennials are oversensitive because of the environment of the 1990s or because of middle aged school administrators or this or that– but they aren't oversensitive so it's totally wrong to label them "snowflakes".

    Also funny that Pinker defends his point that campus censorship is not new but doesn't notice that the given examples show a critical difference between then and now: the censorship did not used to be all in one direction, against conservative thoughts. Consider net effects of mixed censorship vs. all supporting one outlook.

  4. I think the first panelist hit avery important point: most people are not offended, but are acting in behalf of people they think is.

  5. From what I've heard the radicalization of the Left has been compounding since the 1960s and things escalated in recent years probably as a fairly direct causation to a dramatic increase in the cost of higher education, stagnated wages, and the 2008 recession that created fertile grounds for a boost of marxism

  6. The most important difference between today and the past is the ability of these people to organize much more broadly and quickly via social media. Whereas extremists would have been much more isolated in the past, they can coordinate across distances and impose a far greater influence on society than is justified.

  7. Your skin has to crawl when you hear this guy talk. How do effeminate men and feminists become leaders of anything? If these people run anything our country will turn into a combination of Venezuela and South Africa.

  8. Argh. Can't the right admit it engages in "political correctness" too?

    Shut down BLM with "all lives matter".

    Don't call it "gun violence", call it "gun freedom".

    It's not "global climate change" its "a Chinese conspiracy to undermine American competitiveness".

    Or one of the most recent political footballs "don't call it trickle-down, that's gross and no serious economists calls it trickle-down, call it supply-side-economics".

    Everyone engages in trying to shape the conversation by manipulating the language being used. The left, right, center, communist, fascist… everyone. So stop complaining about it, be aware that it is so and get on with life. Oh, and put down the dumb-ass juvenile ad hominems like libtard and cuckservative.

  9. I think what's being left out is the Compound effect of Authoritarians trying to shut down anything they Disagree with For Decades.

    And it's no Coincidence that such people would take over the Colleges due to their Need for Control, Prestige, and personal laziness.

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