Related: Heuristics for Evaluating the Soundness of the Academic Mainstream, Admitting to Bias, The Ideological Turing Test
David Friedman writes on his blog.
I had an interesting recent conversation with a fellow academic that I think worth a blog post. It started with my commenting that I thought support for "diversity" in the sense in which the term is usually used in the academic context—having students or faculty from particular groups, in particular blacks but also, in some contexts, gays, perhaps hispanics, perhaps women—in practice anticorrelated with support for the sort of diversity, diversity of ideas, that ought to matter to a university.I offered my standard example. Imagine that a university department has an opening and is down to two or three well qualified candidates. They learn that one of them is an articulate supporter of South African Apartheid. Does the chance of hiring him go up or down? If the university is actually committed to intellectual diversity, the chance should go up—it is, after all, a position that neither faculty nor students are likely to have been exposed to. In fact, in any university I am familiar with, it would go sharply down.The response was that that he considered himself very open minded, getting along with people across the political spectrum, but that that position was so obviously beyond the bounds of reasonable discourse that refusing to hire the candidate was the correct response.The question I should have asked and didn't was whether he had ever been exposed to an intelligent and articulate defense of apartheid. Having spent my life in the same general environment—American academia—as he spent his, I think the odds are pretty high that he had not been. If so, he was in the position of a judge who, having heard the case for the prosecution, convicted the defendant without bothering to hear the defense. Worse still, he was not only concluding that the position was wrong—we all have limited time and energy, and so must often reach such conclusions on an inadequate basis—he was concluding it with a level of certainty so high that he was willing to rule out the possibility that the argument on the other side might be worth listening to.An alternative question I might have put to him was whether he could make the argument for apartheid about as well as a competent defender of that system could. That, I think, is a pretty good test of whether one has an adequate basis to reject a position—if you don't know the arguments for it, you probably don't know whether those arguments are wrong, although there might be exceptions. I doubt that he could have. At least, in the case of political controversies where I have been a supporter of the less popular side, my experience is that those on the other side considerably overestimate their knowledge of the arguments they reject.Which reminds me of something that happened to me almost fifty years ago—in 1964, when Barry Goldwater was running for President. I got into a friendly conversation with a stranger, probably set off by my wearing a Goldwater pin and his curiosity as to how someone could possibly support that position.We ran through a series of issues. In each case, it was clear that he had never heard the arguments I was offering in defense of Goldwater's position and had no immediate rebuttal. At the end he asked me, in a don't-want-to-offend-you tone of voice, whether I was taking all of these positions as a joke.I interpreted it, and still do, as the intellectual equivalent of "what is a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?" How could I be intelligent enough to make what seemed like convincing arguments for positions he knew were wrong, and yet stupid enough to believe them?
Follow up post: Academic Orthodoxy: Official Lies
Are you sure about that? It seems like a function of universities can/should be to filter out as many terrible ideas as possible so people can spend time exploring and exchanging worthwhile ideas without spending too much overhead on epistemic hygiene.
A good restaurant with a diverse menu won't put spam-and-mustard-cake on the menu, even though it would certainly up the diversity.
It turns out that different people mean different things by "diversity".
Some people make the argument that diversity of participants' social, economic, or cultural backgrounds is good for truth-seeking inquiry. If everyone in the discussion is from similar backgrounds, they are more likely to have correlations among their biases and areas of ignorance, and the results of their inquiry will reflect these.
(However, there may be particular cultural views which are incompatible with participating in diverse inquiry because they manifest intolerance of diverse inquiry. One example: views which instruct the adherent to kill people who disagree with them, or to kill people of particular cultural backgrounds. The problem with having a Khmer Rouge partisan in your conversation is not that he keeps saying Khmer Rouge things; it's that he keeps trying to kill the intellectuals.)
Some people make the argument that culturally non-diverse organizations are more likely to do things which are harmful to the unrepresented people; so underrepresented people should seek representation to avoid harm. For instance, ceteris paribus, a government consisting only of white people (as in apartheid ... (read more)
This type of argumentation isn't really what I want posted. Too much straw, not enough subtlety.
For more good examples of many of your points, see Hitchens e.g. 4:30. If you feel like reading something taboo today, I would recommend the old apologetics for American slavery. Some of them are really good: will black people be better off as somebody's valuable property or as a competing source of poor labor? Who here really likes black people? How do you think they'll do when they are "free"? We can give a half-shrug to the paternalistic crap, but we can't shrug away what happened after Reconstruction ended.
All that said, David Friedman is disastrously wrong.
Should we never hire a slavery apologist for a professor? No, we should still require ourselves to think. Should it be counted against an applicant? Yes, and heavily. I promise to explain, but first, "diversity".
If you can't recognize the distinction between "let's not fill the room with old white dudes" and "any diversity is good for its own sake", I can't help you. (If you really need me to, I will argue why the examples of diversity in the first paragraph here matter.) Not all representation is good. We all know it isn't good to have "both sides" present. It'... (read more)
Like there's no God, and mankind wasn't a special creation of the Lord, but shares common ancestry with chimps, rodents, and slime mold. How abhorrent!
Hitchens had it right in his comments that you point to, and you'd do better to attempt to refute them than ignore them. Hitchens in other venues has defended David Irving as "probably one of the 3 or 4 necessary historians of the Third Reich". People who question your fundamental premises are extremely useful for helping to clarify why you believe what you do.
Having the state disqualify people for employment based on the moral repugnance of their ideas is the mark of theocracy. Out with the blasphemers!
Is it diversity to hire a creationist to teach evolution? Should we get a few faculty with no higher education? Perhaps some that are illiterate?
I think, implicitly, there are things we want to be diverse about (backgrounds, religions, genders, races) and things we want to be non-diverse about (ability to communicate, ability to teach, commitment to communication and teaching at University level, commitment and ability to treating students and colleagues with respect.) Beyond that, I believe we had an easier time attracting females in to engineering... (read more)
The idea of an illiterate professor is intriguing. If someone illiterate is an excellent teacher of dance, a visual art, story-telling, or something else which doesn't require writing, why not?
I'll point out that a major component of why universities seek "diversity" is not because of an expected value in a broad assortment of perspectives, but to ensure that parts of the population aren't locked out of the academic system in a self perpetuating cycle. Affirmative action supporters generally look forward to a day when the groups favored by affirmative action policies will be able to break the cycle and compete evenly with other applicants purely on the basis of qualifications. The policies are more for the sake of the minorities, who t... (read more)
If you're presuming that I support the policies as practiced, you would be incorrect. I think that the argument has some merits in theory, but the implementation is not well devised to realize them.
That said, while I don't doubt that the rate of university dropouts among target minorities is higher than it would be without affirmative action, I would be interested and surprised if this led to a net decrease in university graduations among target minorities, which would be an allegation I haven't heard before.
This... makes so much sense for the human hardware, actually.
"How can you be smart enough to discuss the topic X intelligently, and yet dumb enough to not notice that the tribe X is losing the fight and you could have easily joined the winning side instead? How can a person so epistemically rational be so instrumentally irrational?"
By the way, how much of the tension between 'diversity of peopl... (read more)
I would argue that this is a go... (read more)
If that's the only question these heuristics and arguments get wrong, I'd say that's pretty darn effective heuristics and perhaps I should base everything I believe on what they say.
In some cases, maybe, but you have not named names so I remain skeptical, and in some of the cases I would expect you or people like you to produce, I would still disagree.
I will give a specific example which I hope establishes the general form of my argument on this topic (that however warped or incorrect one believes the expert or academic consensus or elites to be, that the general layman beliefs in the general population are even more outdated, partial, warped, or ill-informed; the average person is... well, average, and one would think things like Snopes.com would caution against too high a belief in the accuracy of hoi polloi's beliefs), and if I'm lucky it'll both be a convincing demonstration and also one of the examples you would have picked if pressed for specifics.
Take IQ; my impression is that you would cheerfully cite IQ-related topics as a great example of how the experts are systematically worse than random, but my own impression is actually the opposite: laymen are more likely to get IQ completely wrong by claiming it is meaningless or arbitrary or irrelevant or less important than... (read more)
Unfortunately, Freidman picked apartheid. He could just as well have picked Citizens United, the 2nd amendment, opposition to racial quotas, and the desire to enforce immigration laws. My guess is that these would equally be held to be "beyond the bounds or reasonable discourse".
Years ago, I dated a woman in a graduate english department wh... (read more)
Out of curiosity, How much support for Apartheid does the Articulate supporter of Apartheid have to show?
For instance, when Margaret Thatcher died recently, I found out that she considered by some to be a supporter of Apartheid and I remembered that I had just read this David Friedman point recently.
If I am reading the wikipedia link correctly, it contains a fair portrayal of Margaret Thatcher's Apartheid Policies that doesn't summarize well.
However, if I were to attempt to summarize it... (read more)
Not sure what to say about the post, but just as a random association, one of Moldbug's posts has a funny argument that mixing decreases diversity:... (read more)