In a recent essay, Don Moynihan regrets a tendency to ‘fetishize’ campus debate, arguing that this position misunderstands the value of debate within universities. Moynihan emphasizes that debate involves persuading audiences and defeating opponents, meaning that it has little pedagogical value. As conservatives call for greater debate on campuses, liberals have adopted similar arguments. Aside from Moynihan’s points, other liberals assert that research is a technical activity, debate having little relevance to it.
I hope to read more of you on this topic because this is such a rich seam for insights into the culture in general and I enjoy the even-handed approach you take.
Slightly tangential to this is a fascination I’ve developed for what’s popularly labelled ‘liberal hypocrisy’. I see it in the discourse around everything. That and the authoritarianism of those I flippantly call ‘the sensibles’ - the educated and credentialed class who routinely vilify anyone with different value sets.
Your observation that personal or community values determine what gets academic attention needs airing more widely too. My Psypost feed of latest social sciences papers now reads like a campaign to establish once and for all that Trump voters are thick authoritarian racists but continues to skip gaily past the inconvenient fact that many of them voted twice for Obama.
I have a thought that may be too esoteric for this newsletter that what we’re really witnessing in academia is a terrified reaction to a liminal phase we may have reached, which I enjoy calling the post-enlightenment. My best friend is an academic and his fury over contrarian views on things like mask policy seems only accountable for by recourse to a notion that the ‘do your own research’ folk pose a threat to his very identity.