Face the facts: Don't suppress them
July 6, 2018
(Jewish Media Resources)—My brother recently sent me a three-hour video of the Weinstein brothers, Eric and Bret, in conversation. Eric, the older brother, holds a PhD in mathematical physics from Harvard, and has published widely in both physics and economics. He is today the managing director of Thiel Capital, the investment arm of PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.
Bret taught biology at Evergreen State College until he ran afoul of the social justice warriors. He tried to teach his course on a “day of absence” declared by black students: whites were strongly discouraged from entering the campus that day. His position on the far left—he was a member of the Occupy Wall Street movement—did nothing to protect him from being labeled a racist.
At the very least, listening to the brothers is an immediate cure for anyone who thinks he or she is brighter than they actually are. Both brothers are extraordinarily articulate on a whole range of subjects about which most of us have never heard and lack even the basic tools to discuss.
Eric is generally credited with having coined the term “the Intellectual Dark Web” for a group of thinkers who have gained an enormous following—Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, Jonathan Haidt, et al.—by challenging the cultural hegemony of the left on college campuses and in corporate America.
Though generally associated with the right, most of these figures have actually been expelled from the left for their refusal to comply with the regnant political correctness. Eric Weinstein, like his brother, leans decidedly left. He voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primaries.
There is tremendous pressure, Eric notes, on campus and other left-controlled cultural venues to salute the flag of political correctness. And most people play along on the grounds that it is simply not worth the price of noncompliance. But there are always a few brave souls who won’t play along because they can’t.
Those brave souls, the brothers agree, cannot salute because they possess a fully developed world view within which whatever they are being coerced to do does not fit, and they will not sacrifice that which they have striven so hard to attain.
Those who refuse to capitulate to the authoritarians trying to impose uniformity of thought turn out to be interesting for a whole slew of reasons quite removed from the issue that first brought them to public attention. “The least interesting thing about Jordan Peterson is that he refuses to use newly created pronouns to comply with the new gender orthodoxy,” is how Eric Weinstein puts it. (Actually, Peterson will use those pronouns if someone asks to be addressed in a certain way. He will simply not allow the Canadian government or the University of Toronto, where he teaches, to tell him what pronouns he may or may not use.)
Those who have developed their own models of how the world works tend to be doing the most interesting research because they share the Weinsteins’ perception that many academic disciplines and societal institutions have reached dead ends and are in great need of reform.
Read out of the left, the leaders of the Intellectual Dark Web have found a welcoming place for expression on the right. “The center-right,” says Eric, “is the blankest space on the canvas” to discuss and debate new ideas. Conservatives are far less bothered by disagreement with one another. They would rather debate ideas than suppress them. In that blank space, many diverse thinkers coming from different disciplines have discovered one another.
Meanwhile the left behaves more and more like a cult. Members are enjoined from contact with anyone whose views might prove “disconfirming.” The left has revived the playground game of “cooties,” according to Bret. Exposure to the wrong ideas is infectious and therefore those ideas must be suppressed. He labels that view “preposterous.”
The orthodoxy of a cult is the last thing needed in the present moment, the brothers argue. The least important people are those who are “certain,” rather than exploring. They decry the effort to simplify the world into binary categories—for or against. As an example, Eric cites the PBS News Hour’s inability to use anything from a 90-minute interview with him on immigration because he could not be pegged into a box labeled “pro-immigration” or “anti-immigration.”
Another aspect of the left’s anti-empiricism is its utopianism. The left seeks to “wish itself into a better tomorrow,” charges Eric. Both brothers label themselves as anti-utopians for the simple reason that all utopias end up as dystopias when the original hopes turn sour.
Nowhere is that desire to create a better future by wishing it into being more evident than in the left’s thinking about gender, which Eric suggests is completely detached from any empirical research about actual human beings. Another is the left’s view, often codified in governmental regulations and court decisions, that differences in outcomes—for instance, rates of school discipline among blacks and whites—can only be explained by racism and oppression.
Amy Wax, a chaired professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and likely the most credentialed member of the faculty—Yale BS summa cum laude, Marshall Scholarship to Oxford; Harvard MD, Columbia JD, six years in the Solicitor General’s office—ran afoul of that orthodoxy last year, when she and Larry Alexander, a fellow law professor at another law school, wrote an op-ed arguing that all cultures are not equal and the “bourgeois values” that dominated American culture from the end of World War II through the end of the ’60s and ’70s are more likely to prepare people to be “productive citizens in a modern technological society.”
What were those values? “Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness... Be a patriot, ready to serve the country... Avoid coarse language in public... Eschew substance abuse and crime.” Loss of that “cultural script,” Wax and Alexander argued, was responsible for many of America’s current ills: Depression-era levels of male wage-force participation; the opioid crisis; skyrocketing rates of illegitimacy and children raised by single mothers; ill-prepared college students lacking basic numeracy and literacy.
Fully half of Wax’s law school colleagues promptly published a letter rejecting her heterodoxy and urging students to monitor her classes for signs of “stereotyping and bias.” She was labeled a white supremacist and racist, charges repeated so frequently that they have begun to lose their force.
Wax was in even hotter water after an old interview surfaced of her speaking to Glenn Loury, a conservative black economist at Brown University, in which she cited her experience at Penn Law School to the effect that students who had been accepted via affirmative action lagged behind their classmates in grades. Her own dean suspended her from teaching mandatory first-year courses, despite her past awards for excellence in teaching, and she was accused of having violated the law school’s policy on grade confidentiality.
In a response in the Wall Street Journal (“University of Denial,” March 22), Wax insisted “[there is] an objective reality that exists independent of what people want reality to be.... Hiding facts is not the same as changing them,” especially when those facts have real world consequences. Those consequences will not be altered by “angry petitions, irritable gestures, or professors’ removal from the classroom.”
Charges like Islamophobia are ways of shutting down discussion of important issues such as the impact of Muslim immigration on Western countries. But they do nothing to solve the problem. (My example, not Wax’s.)
Attempts to suppress awkward facts only convinces the public, in Wax’s words, that “truth yields to power.” That use of political power to determine objective reality is one of the hallmarks of totalitarian societies, she notes.
Is there a cautionary tale here for our own society? I’m not sure. But it does strike me that all tightly knit communities may be vulnerable to certain forms of internal terrorism in which name-calling takes the place of argumentation and in which too many “disconfirming” viewpoints and facts are excluded from the discussion.
A society in which empirical facts are suppressed and truth is no defense is one that will necessarily have a difficult time solving its internal problems and responding to new societal needs. Having observed the havoc wrought by the cultish behavior of the left elsewhere—not the least in its contempt for religious liberty—may we be wise enough to preserve the open discussion needed to address our most pressing challenges.
Jonathan Rosenblum is a columnist for the Jerusalem Post and Israeli director of Am Echad.