Friday, February 15, 2013


March 6, 2012
Updated  Feb. 15, 2013

See article on "battle for the Mike" that illustrates the thrust of this website.

This website can be considered to have begun on that day I saw a flyer at the University of California San Diego library describing a conference on  "Political Civility and Scientific Objectivity"   We don't really care about civility in the sense of being polite, but in the political context, its absence, something I describe as "virulent partisanship"  from the medical definition "extremely infectious, malignant, or poisonous  often leading to the death of the organism," in this case of our very society.

Universities are charged not with amassing knowledge for its own sake, but to provide the setting, the values and the skills to address society's most challenging problems.  Unlike the intentionally adversarial political system,  the academic process defies simple explanation, differing among disciplines and across eras. Military colleges teach the skills of vanquishing a foe and schools of theology teach the perpetuation of the sects beliefs, but these are the exceptions, and useful as a contrast to the liberal arts university.

A few weeks after I started this website, I was visiting the UCSD campus and saw this headline on the college paper about this report, "STUDY: UC EDUCATION IS TOO LEFTIST"  I laughed, thinking that someone had been reading this website.  I knew it was from a right wing think tank, and didn't want to even read it, as they were from the other team.  I read the full report, and wrote this commentary on its insights and exaggerations.

This study, as important as it is, misses the origin of the leftist bias, which is conflict between the early church based colleges in this country and the secular public university.  It is illustrated by a book that could be the first shot in the culture wars that continues in a different form to this very day, "God and Man at Yale" written in 1949 by the founder of the current conservative movement, William F. Buckley.

I am not associated with this university or any other, except in the sense that I help fund it as a taxpayer, but there is something much more important; as a citizen I'm ultimately a beneficiary of what universities achieve. This conference was open to the public, and I accept this invitation not as an individual but as someone who is not part of the set of relationships and exigencies that define every institution.  As such I feel an obligation to evaluate these proceeding as one so unencumbered, to make these observations available to the participants and any other interested parties.  My obligation is also to those students who did not critically respond to the presentations, except one who thanked me for presenting a different view.

It could be that the sponsoring departmental consortium of Science Studies was not inclusive enough to address this larger issue, excluding disciplines such as political science, psychology, anthropology and law.  I have been reaching out to those of these disciplines who are addressing this issue, and will be included in this website.     If the departments included were too limited this also should be noted.  At this point I am attempting to gather the text of some of the key presentations, so my observations will be from notes and some recording taken at the conference, subject to revision upon reading the material presented. .

This was the email about the conference that I sent out:

This is being sent to a diverse group of friends and associates, who all share some interest in exploring political life.

The event starts Thursday evening, all day Friday the 2nd, and Saturday morning. Here's the title and link for more information and registration, which is free and open to the public.

Political Civility and Scientific Objectivity:

This promises to be interesting, even if they fail in advancing their goal of increasing scientific objectivity. How the speakers address this issue, whether it is tainted by the purported liberal bias that Senator Santorum claims is the goal of liberal arts college education, will be interesting in itself.  Will there be a tacit assumption that scientific distortion is the sole province of conservatives, or will there be meaningful examples of such bias from the left in spite of the liberal orientation of state liberal arts institutions.

This is a multidisciplinary presentation, something that augurs well for reaching the ideal of Edmund O. Wilson's concept of "Concilience," transcending the limits of academic disciplines to achieve a higher level of understanding. All of us who decry the decline of political discourse should consider attending this presentation, and getting more familiar with this stellar institution right in our back yard.
This website is a work in progress as I connect with the academic participants and others who are interested.  The comment section is open.  Due to limits on this blogspot formant, on the right side clicking on each month opens a list of different articles not necessarily in chronological order.

Essays on individual subjects related to this are found on the right column.

Howard Zinn's Mistake

Here's the link of a dialogue, actually an argument between two of the pre-eminant historians of the Viet Nam era, Howard Zinn and John King Fairbank.  The event was a meeting of the American Historical Association (AHA) December 28, 1969 during the peak of the anti Viet Nam war movement, when Fairbanks wrested the microphone from Howard Zinn who would not discontinue his argument for a resolution against the war.

Zinn was a different kind of an academic historian, of working class roots, having served in the Second World War in a particular position that illustrated the monstrous actions that could be taken by the good guys, his own country, something he spent his entire career exploring.  John K  Fairbank,  Zinn's adversary and the President of the academic group is a name I just came across reading his book, "The Great Chinese Revolution." that shows his amazing ability to turn the broad convoluted scope of this empire's long history into an intriguing conversation.  His vibrant humorous personality must have inspired generations of students and opened many doors to exploring his area of study.

I admire Fairbank even more as he expressed then, in what has become known as the "battle of the mike" what I feel is paramount in this day, that however important one's political position, protection of the idea of academic freedom by divorcing it from active political action is paramount.  We reach this conclusion for different reasons as I will describe at the end of this essay

Here's is Fairbank's central argument:
This distinction lies at the heart of the pluralism that gives the AHA its legal freedom from interference, intimidation, or coercion by the government or other political forces. “Politicization” is no joke. It can cut both ways. If we today could use AHA to support a worthy nonprofessional cause, others tomorrow could manipulate it for an evil cause. In other words, academic freedom has a distinct institutional basis that we should not act to destroy. 
Zinn, who was an early activist against racial segregation among other causes conveyed his position in a longer paper (linked above).  It is really an argument for academic activism, dismissing the power of the state to squelch such if it varies from the dominant political values.  In some ways he has won, as todays academics do express values, but in ways so subtle that conflicts such as this do not take place.   From Zinn's response:

What can democracy possibly mean if not that people assembled whenever and wherever they can, for whatever reason, may express their preferences on the important issues of the day? If they may not, democracy is a fraud, because it means that the political leaders have effectively isolated the citizenry by taking up their time in various jobs, while the leaders make the policies, and the citizens, in 99 per cent of their life, remain silent, reserving moments of expression to biennial gestures in the voting booth, comments to friends over lunch, and mutterings to oneself from time to time. 
As a historian he brings in the most recent and emotional example of a passive professoriate:

It’s no wonder that the war goes on, because all those concerned for the sanctity of their “profession” have surrendered their rights as citizens to speak out wherever they are, whatever they are doing, on matters of life and death. If you were at a meeting of historians in Germany in 1936 would you take the same position in the midst of the killing of Jews? If you were at a meeting of historians in Mississippi in the midst of the lynching of blacks, would you also insist you could not speak “as historians”? If you want to invoke prudence and profit, that is one thing. But there is no moral principle in a position that allocates a small portion of our spare time for moral indignation and the largest part of our lives for immoral silence.

Next is a part of his response where I take issue with him.  He makes his point about the reluctance of various professions to challenge political authority:

If all Americans, in all the thousands of assemblies that take place through the year, insist on keeping out of politics because neither war nor racial persecution nor poisonous vapors coming in through the library window, affect them as historians, chiropodists, clerks, or carpenters—then “pluralist” democracy is a facade for oligarchical rule.
Without refuting his argument, he misses the more central value at stake, even transcending Fairbank's concern over political reaction to activism or the continuation of a tragic and immoral war. Among the occupations of the organizations that Zinn describes above, only those constituted of tenured professors have the protected province of articulating positions irrespective of public receptivity.  Historians especially are charged with not only the privilege, but the obligation to transcend the momentary zeitgeist.

 It is for this very reason that both Zinn and Fairbank missed the essential element, that an aggregation of professors who vote as a majority for a given position is actually a diminution of their individual influence.  It is a professor's mandate to express his or her convictions-- whether garnering fame or infamy-- irrespective of what others may think, not only in their classroom but to the public.  This is a unique privilege that is so fragile, so little understood by society, that it must be protected even at the cost of avoiding a unified stand against egregious social harm.

Academic Freedom is an odd concept, as it does not exist in law but rather in traditions that coincide with the growth of enlightenment mentality.  It means that to be a history professor one must be both a Howard Zinn and a John K. Fairbank. And for this to happen there must be no consensus, no official joint resolutions that define what is orthodox in a particular intellectual community.

It is odd that one such as myself who is outside of the academic world can have a fuller appreciation of the institutional protection of academic freedom than many possessing this privilege.

American Historical Associatoin,  February 20, 2010  Forty Years On: Looking Back at the 1969 Annual Meeting

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Race-No deviation allowed from universalist orthodoxy

April 2012

My purpose in this website is to explore systemic defects that have sapped the capacity of public universities to address the most searing issues of our times.   Recently, as I was walking to a talk on Ludwig Wittgenstein, I stopped by the quad where there was an avid conversation between the student promoting libertarianism and his interlocutor;  it was intense, articulate and to me a pleasure to listen to.  The moderate (only to differentiate him from the libertarian) was probing, pointing out that the man's radical prescription only works in an ideal system that does not exist, and perhaps never did.  It was a conversation of focused intensity, that only ended as the moderate had to go to classes.

I asked the libertarian if he really knew the work of Fredrich Hayek, one of the founders of the underlying economics of libertarian thinking.  He showed me that the had the book, and that he had read the condensed version.  I asked him a few probing questions about it, that he could only guess the answers, which were correct, but by not reading the actual book, only a couple hundred pages, he wasn't sure.

Then I told him how happy I was to see the kind of vitality of the previous debate, and asked him how frequently it occurred.  His answer confirmed the pattern that was forming in my mind about the this university, and beyond,  "This was the only one in the week that we've been here.  Yeah, this was the best. "  The thousands of students who walked by every day, didn't have the interest or the inclination to engage this person who represents Representative Ron Paul,  the single figure in public life who is an actual radical, who prescribes changing our accepted values for something else.

Since there was virtually no engagement, neither this advocate nor any other student will be emotionally invested in understanding the limits to such change, why radical changes take a toll and are so easily dismissed, and the consequences of either road for society.

The evidence for my thinking was illustrated by the following exchange of emails with a professor I met at the conference.  Name is withheld per request.

Political Civility Conference
Friday, March 30, 2012 3:37 PM

Dear Dr.

I was the man in the audience who asked a few probing questions during the conference and I'm now writing an essay on the event from the view of someone not a part of the academic community.

If I recall, your talk was on the the broad subject of genetics, and how this has been viewed by science and medicine in recent history. Dr. Hamlin's has sent me the text of his keynote speech, and if available, I would appreciate access to your presentation.

You covered several issues that I have been interested in over the years. You alluded to this assertion, one that is considered a truism among scholars, that "Race is a social construct." While you did point out that this was controversial, I could not discern whether the truth of this statement was so accepted by the audience that no elaboration was required, or whether it is still controversial, even in the science studies department of UCSD.

The syntactic implication of the statement is that being a "human" construct means that it is inherently inconsistent with its mapping to objective reality, which is a conceptual distortion of what a scientific construct means. If this statement had used the the word "false", "political" or "hortatory" to replace "human" (which is an inherent aspect of all scientific constructs), it would have indicated that race is not based on objective reality. Yet, this has become the meaning of this statement.

You touched on some of the underlying causes of political incivility, yet they were not used as a starting point of understanding this country's political divisiveness. You presented a history that should be seen for what it is, one of the core elements underlying political incivility.

I would appreciate acknowledgement of receipt of this email


Al Rodbell


I don't remember exactly what I said about the 'race is a social social
construct' argument, but I refer you to the first UNESCO statement on
race, in which Ashley Montagu says something to that effect.

If you want to know what I think about that, it's something along the
lines of 'There are different human races, but there's an infinite number
of different ways to define them. You could lump us all together, or split
us into the traditional three divisions of Asian, Caucasian and African,
or divide us into haplotypes, or create more and more fine subdivisions
almost to the individual level. Each one of these classifications carries
a different set of assumptions and implications with it, so I would say
that races exist, but not in the sense of having anything like objectively
definable boundaries. I assume that the same is true for species,
sub-species and varieties of all organisms, but what makes humans unique
is the way in which the classifications themselves have looping effects
that tend to self-reinforce, as in the case of laws banning intermarriage.
So not only is race not objectively definable, there's also no way of
escaping human values in our classification schemes, so scientists had
better pay attention to the social and political aspects.

I attach the bullet points of the talk.

Thanks for your interest!

Name Withheld

I was gratified and encouraged by this response, so I elaborated my position


Let me thank your for your cordial response.

I just finished reading your notes on your presentation, which I understand you had to abbreviate due to time constraints. They were thoughtful and informative. I could concur with your explanation of your personal views on race.

But, I have to tell you, that when a comprehensive complex history as outlined in your notes is condensed, your audience will fill in the story by providing a narrative that you may not have intended. An audience brings its own values, along with what they feel is the consensus of the group. What I perceived, was the conference audience, including those who will be soon teaching students themselves, internalized the 1949 statement:

“For all practical social purposes ‘race’ is not so much a biological phenomenon as a social myth. … The unity of mankind from both the biological and social viewpoints is the main thing. To recognize this and to act accordingly is the first requirement of modern man.”“Lastly, biological studies lend support to the ethic of universal brotherhood; for man is born with drives toward co-operation, and unless these drives are satisfied, men and nations alike fall ill.”

Many who hold this opinion do so with a vengeance, using this example from your notes, "American race theorist Carleton Coon as well as some of his German colleagues" I would suggest that being a "race theorist" is now considered highly pejorative to the general public and perhaps also to the audience at the conference. While you may not have meant to condemn Coon, in the context of current norms, you just may have.

In my view, to the degree that the very subject of race is verboten, science as carrier of the torch of the enlightenment, is the loser. Studying race morphs into racism, and few risk their career to challenge this trend. This subject is getting to the heart of one of the roots of virulent political divisiveness of our country, the subject of the conference.

Your final sentence is important: " there's also no way of
escaping human values in our classification schemes, so scientists had
better pay attention to the social and political aspects. "

Race is one of the central sources of the political divide of our country, with tragic reminders on todays front page, as reflected in the killing in Florida. You appear to have a well reasoned informed understanding of this broad subject, but I couldn't tell whether this is shared by your colleagues and, more importantly, those who are apprentices for such positions.

When the right wing reviles liberal academia for its avowal of this tenet, " The unity of mankind from both the biological and social viewpoints is the main thing. To recognize this and to act accordingly is the first requirement of modern man." The accusation is that objective science is being sacrificed to achieving this end, that indoctrination to this imperative has taken priority over research into painful truths of human differences. To the the degree that this is true, and the claim does have some validity, then Carlton Coon's admonition of its autocratic nature is valid, confirmed, in a way, by his professional banishment.

This is a major issue, one that should be engaged by universities such as UCSD. In the absence of any follow up, or documentation of the presentations that were made, I have started this website to extend the discussion that the conference began. Let me know if you have any objections to your email and notes being included.

Any suggestions you may have to advance the goals I have described would be greatly appreciated.

The following response that I received was a change in tone, from a cordial interaction to a certain defensiveness, or rejection of my position that I felt was placing me among the Nazi racist apologists, or those who lend reasoned support for what is universally condemned.  It is just as possible that it was I who was overreacting, as this subject is so loaded that the very emotionality makes useful discourse difficult.   


I've looked at your website, and I see that your target is liberal bias in academia. While I am all in favor of that line of inquiry, I'm afraid that I *did* mean to condemn Coon. The fact that you could take my last email to mean otherwise makes me very reluctant to grant you permission to quote me.

My position is that studies of human difference *cannot* be value-free, and so the values that inform them must be acknowledged, and had better be good ones. Coon's condemnation of Montagu's sentiments as akin to Nazi pseudoscience refused to acknowledge the very real ethical difference between fascism and universalism. The fact that he was joined in his condemnation by German geneticists who had contributed to fascist racial theory is, to me, a jaw-dropping irony.

When it comes to the study of human difference, I think of scientific freedom as similar to sexual freedom: an important value with equally important limitations. Indeed, some of the same issues of consent, reciprocity and vulnerability are at stake in, for example, scientific studies of Native American descent, hence the persistence of the metaphor of scientific rape. I know that this reveals my liberal bias, but I am prepared to argue for my position from first principles rather than just engage in the assumption that we all should share my values.

It is obscure to me how you connect these issues with the Trayvon Martin case.

Name Withheld


I will honor your request not to post your words. (These are the words of the interchange, but the individual is not named)  If there is to be any closure of my effort, I may paraphrase our conversation, any inaccuracy of which you will have the opportunity to correct.

My last email mentioned the Trayvon Martin case only to illustrate the passion, and the intense feeling on both sides of the question. Here's where my being outside of the academic setting has value, as I know individuals, including one man with a Poly Sci. MA from Michigan and a Law Degree from Harvard, -on the short list of a Rhodes Scholarship-who feels that it was Martin who was to blame.

I doubt that you have many conversations with such people.

Yet, I have no difficulty in dissecting and prevailing in a debate with him on this. For clarity sake, I did not take your last email to mean that you supported Coon, as I carefully described my uncertainty of what your own sentiment was with these words: "While you may not have meant to condemn Coon, in the context of current norms, you just may have."

You may be familiar with this monograph “InWays Unacademical”: The Reception of Carleton S. Coon’s, The Origin of Races. It goes into extensive detail on the controversy between Coon and those who blamed him for the use that his work was put to by segregationists (The writer shares your conclusions) There's no value in our replaying this debate, which was also reprised a few decades later over "The Bell Curve."

I hope you appreciate how difficult it is to write about the subject of race, yet I also hope that you agree that it is worth doing, perhaps necessary; as the rancor across the political divide is only increasing as the underlying anger simmers. Those who disagree with, may I call it the academic consensus, do not just go away. They form political groups, from which one may run for President, and win-- and then get to appoint Supreme Court Justices who define the laws of our country. Don't think of this as a debate with me, which isn't worth your time, but as a window on those who don't express these views in settings where they will be not acceptable.

One thing you should be clear on, anything that I posit in this discussion is not the result of right wing indoctrination. After a decade of working, I spent several years doing graduate work in social psychology at Columbia, including courses at the school of public health, with some eminent scholars, where the skills and goals of objective value free science were inculcated. I happen to believe that this ethos is essential-- and this personal approach has allowed me to be respected by thoughtful people of both the left and the right among my circle of associates.

You are the first academic at UCSD who has engaged me in a dialog. It only makes sense to explore this if our discussion can be made public, used to expose others, mostly those who will become academics, to what is a rare articulated expression of sentiments that usually are expressed by very angry people in rather ugly ways.




Hi Al,

Thanks for your thoughtful message.....  Believe me, I appreciate the difficulty of writing about race, and I'm with you 100% about the free and open dialog question.

But precisely because of the delicacy of the subject, matter, I would prefer not to 'go public' about this question, since I don't have the time to engage in as thoughtful a way as the topic deserves.


Name withheld

At this point I may attempt to continue this discussion off the record.  The reluctance of this professor can perhaps be explained by this excerpt form Wikipedia, by Physicist Lee Smolin, whom I have corresponded with on a different issue:
Some argue that modern tenure systems actually diminish academic freedom, forcing those seeking tenured positions to profess conformance to the same views (political and academic) as those awarding a tenured professorship. According to physicist Lee Smolin, " is practically career suicide for a young theoretical physicist not to join the field [of string theory]( AR note: Or science studies professor not to reject the reality of race )."[2] This may be even more so now that many universities require several years in non-tenure track positions (e.g. Visiting Assistant Professorships or Post-Doctoral Fellowships) before beginning the 5-6 year process preceding tenure.  
Such realities of our university system have deep pervasive consequence that are largely invisible to those within this system.  The career incentives seem reasonable enough and by adhering to them, there is belonging--- along with the promise of attaining status in a respected institution that provides the potential to affect society.  As Smolin concludes and this exchange illustrates, gaining a position to implement these ideals requires repressing risk taking, and becomes a way of thinking that is internalized.   Thus, an institution that gained its respect, including the rare prerogative of Academic Freedom that allows transcending social norms, becomes without anyone noticing,  a perpetuater of such entrenched norms.

It's no wonder that virtually no students stop to debate politics

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Politicization of Sexual Orientation

Psychosexual development is something that has been the province of those who investigated its cultural and biological correlates for decades.  Before it became the grist for a political movement, Sigmund Freud, in his earliest work understood the imperative of this inborn impulse, and tried to tease out some of the dynamics of the polymorphous perversity that he understood was our genetic heritage.  Freud explored this with the realization that such intrapsychic conflicts were not only ubiquitous, but inevitable, as were so much of human conflict, as sketched out in "Civilization and its discontents."

The process of politicization is a transformation of language from that which informs to that which energizes.  "Homosexual" or gay" is neutral, while "queer" or "fagot" is confrontational, fighting words.  Homophobe is the is the linguistic weapon of choice to categorize those who oppose gay equality, as it imputes a motivation that is other than rational, rather protecting the individual from his or her own impulses.   Ironically, it's use is an epithet that defines an individual by one dimension,  the very essence of what progressives so disdain in other contexts.  

Freud came to maturity during the apogee of the Austrian German intellectual Renascence,  when normalcy became understood as the acceptance of cultural norms, which were ways of a given society to cope with its stresses at a given moment in time.  Freud, and those who followed his ethos, if not his system, had no illusions that any society could be perfected to banish injustice or personal suffering.  The principle was that understanding, being open to why we act as we do could provide some barrier to the worst excesses of any culture.  Here is Freud's 1935 letter on this subject to a mother that began by pointing out great men who had been homosexual, that it is nothing to be ashamed of and continued:
By asking me if I can help [your son], you mean, I suppose, if I can abolish homosexuality and make normal heterosexuality take its place. The answer is, in a general way we cannot promise to achieve it. In a certain number of cases we succeed in developing the blighted germs of heterosexual tendencies, which are present in every homosexual; in the majority of cases it is no more possible. It is a question of the quality and the age of the individual. The result of treatment cannot be predicted.

What analysis can do for your son runs in a different line. If he is unhappy, neurotic, torn by conflicts, inhibited in his social life, analysis may bring him harmony, peace of mind, full efficiency, whether he remains homosexual or gets changed.

In the course of a few generations, this final paragraph of the founder of the intrapsychic understanding of human behavior, if spoken today would be castigated as hostile to homosexuals.   It is almost exactly what was expressed by Dr. Robert Spitizer that subjected him to such vocal criticism that he retracted this conclusion.......actually that is not what he did.   He apologized for the effect of a study supporting this that was flawed, while never retracting his conclusion that some people could have sexual orientation changed by therapy.  Neither Freud nor Spitzer were advocates of reparation psychotherapy, which has a completely different ethos and perspective from that of any form of therapy based on the loosest values of Freud and his followers.  By the time Spitzer did his research, the quest for understanding of homosexuality had gone the way of understanding racial differences, banished from academic discourse.  Spitzer used this religious based treatment only because it was all that was available to explore the effect of intervention on this personality attribute.  In the two professional generations between the writing of Freud's letter and the research by Spitizer, Homosexuality was transformed into the Gay movement, no longer a topic for anthropologists and biologists, but an issue for civil rights theorists and political operatives.

This is best illustrated in this excerpt from the American Psychological Association (APA) document, Sexual orientation and homosexuality:  What about therapy intended to change sexual orientation from gay to straight?
All major national mental health organizations have officially expressed concerns about therapies promoted to modify sexual orientation. To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective. Furthermore, it seems likely that the promotion of change therapies reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons. This appears to be especially likely for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals who grow up in more conservative religious settings.

Notice that although the broad subject is Sexual Orientation,  while dispelling the image of homosexuality being opprobrious, the guidance for therapists encountering those who seek help for psychosexual  conflicts only provides one choice, which is that conflict over sexual orientation should be resolved by accepting the non biologically congruent choice.  It closes the section with:

Helpful responses of a therapist treating an individual who is troubled about her or his same-sex attractions include helping that person actively cope with social prejudices against homosexuality, successfully resolve issues associated with and resulting from internal conflicts, and actively lead a happy and satisfying life.

There is no acknowledgement that ambiguity, that mixed sexual attractions can be dealt with other than by, in effect,  accepting that such impulses should be embraced.  This concluding paragraph is a pastiche of political correctness that ultimately says nothing substantive

Mental health professional organizations call on their members to respect a person’s (client’s) right to self-determination; be sensitive to the client’s race, culture, ethnicity, age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, language, and disability status when working with that client; and eliminate biases based on these factors.
Out of this verbiage (its carelessness of thought reflected in it's grammatical inconsistency) anything can be construed, yet the clear words as expressed by Freud,    "If he is unhappy, neurotic, torn by conflicts, inhibited in his social life, (therapy)  may bring him or her harmony, peace of mind, full efficiency, whether he remains homosexual or gets changed" is conspicuously and blatantly not included as an option for this helping profession in the 21st century. How is a therapist to be "sensitive to a distressed person's sexual orientation" when that is the presenting conflict to be explored.   The only interpretation is that "sensitive to" is to be construed as not suggesting the shared journey of exploring  impulses, the conflicts and the options available to the individual.   "Sensitive to" in the context of politicization of homosexuality means  embracing the now common perception of homosexual impulses as being of the essence of the individual,  and forming a mindset that this is the inevitable identity based on other than the mutual exploration of the individual's best interests.

 When Robert Spitzer was instrumental in changing homosexuality from a personality disorder in the Psychiatric Diagnostic and Statistical Manual III of 1980, his goal was to specifically validate treatment for the conflicted individual suffering that Freud described, whatever the outcome of post therapy sexual orientation.  What he never intended to do, either in his paper on the minimal efficacy of reparative therapy of 2001, or his retraction of it in 2012, was to refute the statement of Sigmund Freud described here.  His initiative of the 1980 removal of homosexual as a personality disorder was never meant to deny that there were those who presented with a problem of homosexual impulses or activity who were amenable to resolving them in the direction of heterosexual identity.  Nor did Spitzer, any more than Freud, make a judgment of which was preferable, as such determination would resolve itself through the process of self discovery in psychotherapy.

The tone of this this current document referenced above by the American Psychological Association is clear,  that they condemn the therapy for homosexual impulses. There is no acknowledgement of Freud's conclusion, that homosexuality may be part of complex of maladaptive adjustments where the ultimate orientation of the client should be discovered rather than imposed.  Freud's message is that it is equally wrong to do therapy to reinforce homosexuality as it is to attempt to eliminate it.

In the politicization of this sexual activity over the last few decades what has been sacrificed is the interests of the suffering individual, which has no political agenda other than finding a life that fulfills his or her potentials.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

San Diego Publication reference

The San Diego Reader, circulation around a hundred thousand,  published this letter to the editor in a prominent page four position on May 15, 2012, :

No Insights Wanted

The conference at USD described in “Catfish, Tulsa, Nazis, Jefferson — Civility” (City Lights, May 10) seemed to get no further engaging the issue of Political Civility than the one I attended at UCSD a few weeks earlier. It was sponsored by a consortium of departments, importing guest speakers from top-tier universities in this country and Europe in an attempt to elevate objective science over partisan rhetoric. I understood the liberal bias of this era’s public universities, but had hoped that a conference dedicated to transcending this in political life would achieve such purity, at least in this setting.

While there have been no reports or transcripts of the presentations, I personally got a great deal out of attending the three-day event. Beyond the objective presentations, I discerned a clear subtext of the content that reflected values attributed to the left. Ironically, only a few weeks after the conference, and after I created a website based on it, a major report, “Virulent Incivility, the Academic Challenge,” was released by an association of conservative academics on the liberal bias of the University of California, exactly the issue I had attempted to engage.

I sent a critique of the analysis to their director of communication who invited me to write an article on it, as she concurred with many of my points. But, after many attempts, I was struck by the realization of the same conundrum facing both the USD and the UCSD conferences. I could not express any insights on this issue of partisanship without political self-identification, without which the message is meaningless.

My goal is to push for a space where knowledge is untainted by values, no matter how convinced its academic advocates may be of their worth.

You can read more about the UCSD conference, along with my interactions with the participants, on my personal website:

Al Rodbell

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

National Association of Scholars, on left bias in UC system

Working paper on critique of  report by a conservative group, National Association of Scholars, NSA.  The  87 page pdf page report is at this link, A Crisis of Confidence, The Corrupting Effect of Political Activism in the University of California, April 2012.   The format of this review will be my comments in italics, before and after excerpted text referenced to PDF pagination.

The introduction sections, covering the purpose and theory of higher education, is consistent with many of my own views expressed elsewhere on this website.  It  expands on the inherent incompatibility between the goals of the political and the academic arenas.  One arena, the political, is to obfuscate and to indoctrinate; while the academic is to inform, and explicate, allowing individuals to seek his or her own personal conclusions.  This analysis of the report will describe the main points, and explore whether their prescriptions for change, both explicit as recommendations,  and implied in their choice of examples and terminology will achieve this desired result.

A concise summary of the introductory phase is this. 
But all the instincts of radical activists go in the opposite direction. Their natural tendency is to denigrate the past in order to make the case for the sweeping social change that they seek. Accordingly, they don’t look at the past and see accumulated knowledge and wisdom, but instead a story of bigotry, inequality, and racial and sexual prejudice that needs to be swept aside. Political radicals are interested in the utopian future and their never-ending attempts to achieve it, not in the cultural past that must be  overcome to get them there.

The use of the term "radical activist" is excessively adversarial.  It also too narrowly defines the source of their stated problem as emanating from the few who meet this description rather than those who quietly reflect these values and subtly communicate them to students. 

Here the report enumerates and describes he many self described Marxists in the CA university system. 

In their constant efforts to expand the frontiers of knowledge, academic thinkers must continually rethink and reevaluate everything as they come to terms with new evidence, new discoveries, and new theories. Sometimes new developments can make them see everything they thought they knew in a different way. All of this sounds a very long way from the temperament of people who cling to an obsolescent political theory and refuse to reevaluate it no matter how badly it turned out to work when subjected to an extensive test in the real world. This is why those extraordinary numbers are so important. To surround oneself with grossly disproportionate numbers of people who share a congenial political standpoint just as that standpoint is decisively failing the test of experience looks very much like a way of insulating oneself from the lessons of experience, and a means of avoiding rethinking, reevaluating, and responding to new developments. But that is tantamount to a refusal to be an academic. An academy that contains substantial numbers of people who do not think and behave as academics must do is in serious trouble.
John Stuart Mill, an important nineteenth century thinker widely respected among liberals is cited extensively. 

Mill made another interesting remark about the need of both left and right for each other: “it is in a great measure the opposition of the other that keeps each within the limits of reason and sanity.” This remark is the key to the rise of political radicalism to dominance on the campuses. Where there are no right-of-center voices to keep the left healthy, the result is a much more extreme political culture. Political monocultures will inevitably degenerate into incoherence. The noted liberal scholar Cass Sunstein, in a recent article entitled “The Law of Group Polarization,”(24) has gathered together an impressive array of findings in social  sychology to document Mill’s point that groups heavily dominated by one political perspective, whether left or right, will over time become increasingly extreme. This implies that one-party departments are ultimately as bad for those that they include as for those that they exclude. As elements of a college campus they will be an intellectual catastrophe.

The following touches on a cogent point, one that I have been exploring myself, as I describe in the comments after this excerpt. 

....... the frank admission by Cary Nelson, the AAUP’s (American Assoc. of University Professors) present leader, that political criteria in hiring “are clearly fair when deciding whether or not to hire a faculty member in the first place. You have a right not to hire someone whose views you consider reprehensible.” It seems safe to assume that for campus activists, “reprehensible” will be anything to the right of center. Once again, the present AAUP violates the clear sense of its own classic statements of principle. Vince Carroll displays a more realistic awareness of the problem posed by an academy where left-of-center faculty “don’t merely dominate the faculty, they essentially are the faculty.” Carroll concludes: “One has to wonder, however, about the self-correcting ability of an academic culture so in-bred that it reflects only half of the political spectrum. What arguments will be overlooked? What lines of inquiry ignored?”

The report hits the nail on the head here in the description of those rejected for an academic career by the current president of the professors organization.  He does not say that the applicant's views are wrong, or simplistic, but "reprehensible."  The use of this word, this moral loathing is the crux of the distinction between the left bias and that of the right.  Reprehensibility is akin to revulsion, a visceral reaction that controls the organism that needs no further rational justification.  A paraphrase would be "these people make me sick."  It simply demands rejection, and is justified by the perception alone.  And so an academic candidate who takes any position that could impede the goals of minorities is not to be evaluated, his position more carefully considered because it goes against the consensus, but to be condemned prima face.  This may be an effective long term political strategy, but it is antithetical to the essential values of a university.   
Next is a long list of book assignments from various departments across the UC campuses, with the following conclusion

We can generalize about all of these choices: they are all political; they are all written from the same radical perspective; they all concern the same small group of endlessly-repeated politically correct themes; no opposing points of view that could spark realistic debate are ever offered; and they have emotional appeal but not the intellectual complexity of an academic treatment. None require of the student what is often called “deep reading” – reading that requires continuous thought and processing of complex ideas, as opposed to the rapid absorption of a single message that continues unchanged throughout the book. This is a sad loss of an opportunity to introduce the students to ideas and writing that are complex enough to challenge them, ideas that they will not already find in ordinary, everyday politics. Once more, ideology crowds out education.
Next, is the section that begins to undermine the conclusions of the observations and descriptions of the bias that the report documents. 

An illustrative example is a teach-in that took place on April 24, 2006 at UC Santa Cruz. The title of the event was “The War on Terror,” but it was largely about the war in Iraq. As the publicity for the event announced, an extraordinary number of campus agencies sponsored the event: Major funding for the teach-in has been provided by the Offices of the Chancellor, Executive Vice Chancellor, and Student Affairs, with additional contributions from the Anthropology Department, Center for Cultural Studies, Center for Justice, Tolerance and Community (CJTC), College Nine, College...

That level of institutional funding could only be justified if this were an educational event, rather than an anti-war rally. Any academic teacher knows what an educational event on the war in Iraq would look like. It would start with an exposition of the case for the war, and follow that with an exposition of the case against the war. To ensure a first-rate educational event, the organizer would seek out speakers who could be relied on to make the best possible cases for and against. Following these initial presentations would be a series of
speakers commenting on the strengths and weaknesses of the two cases, after which audience questions to the speakers would be invited. Done well, this would make a splendid contribution to
a deeper understanding of the subject.

This section is deeply problematic.  There was no "exposition of the case for the war" for a cogent reason, if it exists it is not in the public domain.  The coalition lead by neo-con Republicans in the administration and endorsed by many Democrats can only be understood by a Realpolitik that is not acknowledged by any respected academic or public figure.  The invasion of Iraq was justified as the projection of American power as the hegemon of a post cold war world  (see Project for a new  American Century).  If this were presented, it would have been just another anti war argument, yet it is the only viable explanation. 

The NSA writers of this report have an obligation to actually describe what an explanation that supports this war would be.  As was known then, and confirmed now, the evidence for existence of WMD was spurious and such information was willfully ignored. The expectation of American control of a "liberated" Iraq was equally unfounded.  The harsh reality of our war in Iraq, reasonably anticipated before our entry and confirmed during our occupation and after, is that any explanation of the dynamics of our entry only further condemn the actions of those responsible for it.  A balanced argument can not be created unless such an argument actually exists.   

While this may not be a justification for university to treat an anti war rally as a teach in,  this example is one that shows that some of the described liberal excess is a reaction to the mythologies of the right.  It is the inclusion of this part of the analysis, the interplay of conservative and liberal forces that is necessary to complete this picture of the existing academic bias.  While this absence does not negate many points of this report, it shows that this is not a comprehensive study of the this vital subject- rather being somewhat of a polemic, exactly the main accusation against the liberals who control the current academic agenda. 
The report makes an extensive argument that the current politicized environment, because it elevates indoctrination over academics, is most harmful to current minorities:

Arum and Roksa give us further evidence of the damage that is being done here. We know that African-American students enter higher education with lower Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) scores than their white counterparts. But Arum and Roksa found that “During their first two years of college, white students gained 41 CLA points, while African-American students gained only 7 points…. As a consequence, the gap between African-American and white students increased over time.”72 Initial inequalities ought to have moderated but instead have been exacerbated. This is a horrifying result, one that should cause everyone to think hard about how it has happened.

Another dimension to this problem emerges when Arum and Roksa report that while students on average study only 12 hours per week outside of their classes, African-Americans study even less – two hours less. They also take courses with more than minimal writing requirements at a rate one third less than white students. Why should a group that knows it has to catch up put in less, not more effort than others, and take less, not more demanding classes? There may be many factors at work, but one is clear: they are targets of the demoralizing message of politically radical professors.73
This segment refuses to address other possible causes of the lack of increase in performance over time in college by African American students.  Yes, the other causes are more difficult to deal with, implicating deep intractable cultural or intellectual attributes, the discussion of which is eschewed by liberals--- and as reflected here, also by conservatives.  This is a fundamental conundrum for American universities, one that has been a contentious issue from the earliest post WWII period when the very concept of race, including its academic study was first conflated with "racism" and continues to this very day. This report by esteemed scholars of the right, seems to prefer to use this divisive subject as a political football to castigate their political opponents, rather than honestly discussing the issue, as their ideal true scholars are charged with doing. 
There are other segments when this often realistic analysis is flawed, as shown here:

That faction has been able to remake the campus history curriculum in a way designed to instill in students its own low opinion of the country. Any reasonably thorough survey of American history and institutions would turn up events that do not represent our nation’s finest hour, but it would also find much that is admirable and even inspiring. A survey that ignored the negative factors in the nation’s history would be unrealistic, but it is just as unrealistic to ignore what is positive.

Historiography does not do "admirable" or "inspiring"  as historical data, but perhaps as the perception that is fostered by nationalist movements. This is the stuff of propaganda, no better when celebratory than cynical.  The writers of this article betray their own bias with snippets such as this.

There have been two prongs to the strategy to conceal anything that might be encouraging. First, required survey courses in U.S. history have been largely abolished; and second, the optional courses that remain have concentrated on those aspects of national history that promote the radical activists’ negative attitudes. In this way much of the basic knowledge of how U.S. history unfolded is withheld, for the simple reason that it would make the country look better than radical activists want it to look.

Here the writers of this report have veered into "The Simpsons" territory, when they did a parody of such an assistant professor of history who wowed over Marge for a while, until he was uncovered as the simpleton that he was, as understood by the program's vast audience.  In this eighty seven pages of decrying poor writing, the group responsible for this report missed that one element of effective polemic is restraint, that overstating an argument will destroy it.  I won't let that happen in this case, as there are legitimate points being made.   But to advocated cheerleading as in this section, weakens the argument for correcting the actual problems of lack of intellectual stimulation caused by a predominance of a single partisan view.

 In spite of the serious flaws, and maybe because of them, this is an important report.  Its solutions, more imposition of rules by the California State Regents over hiring and subject matter appears unrealistic, and given the subtext of the report, if successful, would only lead to a swing of the pendulum towards another bias. The challenge of this report was to illustrate an ideal of non partisan education, which seemed to be attempted for a while by focusing on objective research.. I heard later the voice of another contingent of this committee formed document trying to make points that, by being politically colored, damaged the central argument.

  Yet, to ignore the central premises of the first part of the report, the pernicious effect of a university with a social agenda advanced by a dominant culture, from administrators to department heads to professors, would be an over reaction to its defects.  Attention should be paid.  There need be more rigor, more dedication to values that, while not exemplified in this report, were well articulated.  It should be the beginning of a serious dialog.  

The criticism and response of this report is emblematic of the culture clash that is reflected throughout our society, the political dialogue that determines elections that change our legal climate as well as what happens ion our universities.  I will be writing more on this issue, including my contacts with the group, NAS, that wrote it and the responses from the U.C.

The following is an essay that describes why I take a personal interest in this issue.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Epistemic or Moral Communities

"Epistemic" is a word I first heard at this conference.  It was used frequently, and sometimes unclearly, and after extensive research found that it relates to knowledge, understanding.  This makes little sense as an adjective for "theory" as all theories are about knowledge.   This explains my personal motivation for reviewing this conference, and its attempt to address Political Civility.  I will attempt to illustrate that this department, and from this sample of distinguished academics in this field, is closer to being something other than their self defined, "epistemic community" but rather a different kind of community that is inherently inimical to the discovery and expansion of knowledge.

This is quoted from this essay by Jonathan Haidt in Science. The New Synthesis in Moral Psychology
A moral community has a set of shared norms about how members ought to behave, combined with means for imposing costs on violators and/or channeling benefits to cooperators. A big step in modeling the evolution of such communities is the extension of reciprocal altruism by “indirect reciprocity” (31) in which virtue pays by improving one's reputation, which elicits later cooperation from others. Reputation is a powerful force for strengthening and enlarging moral communities.

There is no better example of this than an academic discipline or department.  While it does not describe "how members ought to behave" it does prescribe the contours, the limits of the values that can be shared among members.  Haidt goes on to explore other types of communities, in this case religious.

Whatever the origins of religiosity, nearly all religions have culturally evolved complexes of practices, stories, and norms that work together to suppress the self and connect people to something beyond the self. Newberg (37) found that religious experiences often involve decreased activity in brain areas that maintain maps of the self's boundaries and position, consistent with widespread reports that mystical experiences involve feelings of merging with God or the universe. Studies of ritual, particularly those involving the sort of synchronized motor movements common in religious rites, indicate that such rituals serve to bind participants together in what is often reported to be an ecstatic state of union (38). Recent work on mirror neurons indicates that, whereas such neurons exist in other primates, they are much more numerous in human beings, and they serve to synchronize our feelings and movements with those of others around us (39). Whether people use their mirror neurons to feel another's pain, enjoy a synchronized dance, or bow in unison toward Mecca, it is clear that we are prepared, neurologically, psychologically, and culturally, to link our consciousness, our emotions, and our motor movements with those of other people.

Patriotism could be substituted for religion in the act of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.  I have studied the jurisprudence of this ritual beginning in 1941 up to the present day's pending appeals.  " Studies of ritual, particularly those involving the sort of synchronized motor movements common in religious rites, indicate that such rituals serve to bind participants together in what is often reported to be an ecstatic state of union" Such an example of synchronized motor movements is placing the hand to the heart when this is recited.  The concatenation of sounds are meaningless, not only to the five year olds who first repeat the words, but were to the Georgia State legislators, who recently passed a bill threating secession hours after affirming their pledge to "one nation indivisible."

Haidt is right in that the power of emotion, especially when potentiated by group fervor.  This has another effect, one that turns the ecstatic state of union into an equally powerful hatred of he who fails to join in the ritual.  It is an ugly dynamic to see in a lynch mob, or an old film of the Nuremberg volksprecht or to this eye, the mass recitation of this patriotic ritual in the halls of congress.  And when I see a hint of it, albeit for noble causes, in a house of erudition, a sacred hall of unfettered knowledge, where only discovered truth is exalted, it is an atheistic sacrilege that I must resist.

The goal of my effort, perhaps to resonate with a few, is not joy, or even serenity, but quite the opposite, the engagement of diverse ideas, the sharing of experience and insights that has the capacity to transform individuals and societies.