Witch-Hunting Returns to Massachusetts
By all accounts, today's college campuses grow more intolerant by the day. We move closer to the old Soviet Empire, where political dissidents risked the gulag for even joking about Marxism. In the U.S., however, the hate crimes concern anything that touches on race, ethnicity, gender differences, diversity, and sexuality (see here and here). Even an old-fashioned ethnic joke almost guarantees mandatory counseling.
Skeptics need only look at the pervasiveness of campus speech codes, coerced sensitivity training, the mandatory injection of multicultural propaganda into courses, and other top-down censorship. Even an exposed hate crime hoax has become a "teachable moment." None of this existed when I began college in 1959.
Nevertheless, just when you thought that imposing the PC orthodoxy could not get any worse, it does. The latest example concerns the firing of Jason Richwine from the Heritage Foundation. Richwine's heresies can be found in his 2009 Harvard dissertation, not anything he said or did while employed at Heritage. He asserted that racial/ethnic groups differed in genetic-based IQ and then suggested that U.S. immigration policy might recognize these differences when dealing with immigration from Mexico.
It's pointless to debate this issue here, but let's just say the scientific evidence for this assertion satisfied his dissertation committee (which included the well-known liberal Christopher Jencks). Clearly, Richwine is not a crackpot, and the IQ/immigration nexus might warrant academic study.
Richwine's heresy has been widely (though often unfairly) condemned, but one such attack demands extra-special scrutiny, for it shines light into just how far campuses now go to burn witches. Here is part of a statement issued by 23 Harvard student organizations regarding Richwine's dissertation (italics added):
Central to his claim is the idea that certain groups are genetically predisposed to be more intelligent than others....We condemn in unequivocal terms these racist claims as unfit for Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard University as a whole. Granting permission for such a dissertation to be published debases all of our degrees and hurts the University's reputation[.] ... Even if such claims had merit, the Kennedy School cannot ethically stand by this dissertation whose end result can only be furthering discrimination under the guise of academic discourse.
In other words, though Richwine might be factually correct, his research should be condemned, since it tarnishes the Harvard degree and reputation and will only promote discrimination by giving it an academic veneer. Being offended now trumps intellectual freedom. Note well, the dissertation is already online, and there is zero chance of it being removed from the Harvard archives, so all of this denunciation is just speech-making, taking "a stand" against "hate."
Ironically, absent this publicity, the dissertation would have remained obscure. Moreover, what harm will occur as a result of Richwine's assertions, regardless of veracity? Will the finally uncovered facts instigate violence? Will Hispanic workers be denied employment (or even fired) since employers now finally recognize their below-average IQs vis-à-vis Ashkenazi Jews? In short, other than getting a Harvard Ph.D. fired, this outrage accomplishes nothing.
How did this happen? Surely the 23 organizations are aware of academic freedom and the First Amendment. And surely they could read The Bell Curve and the rejoinders before condemning Richwine. Obviously, something is very wrong when Harvard students are so easily roused to stamp out thought crimes.
Let me suggest the theory of cognitive dissonance that often explains apparent irrational behavior. In a nutshell, this theory holds that people are uncomfortable when holding two opposing ideas or beliefs (this is called dissonance). To reduce discomfort, people will achieve consistence by such tactics as denying one view or avoiding situations that expose contradictions. The classic study is Leon Festinger's When Prophecy Fails, where the day of an end-of-the world UFO cult's exact prediction of the world's demise came and passed, but they nevertheless reinvigorated their prediction rather than admit foolishness.
Here's how cognitive dissonance applies to these book-burning Harvard students. From kindergarten onward, every one of them undoubtedly encountered firsthand some minority students who performed less well academically (including in classes at Harvard). Most also read about the academic problems of these minorities, including the billions spent on failed programs like Head Start. They likely also encountered the disproportionate achievements of Asian and Jewish classmates, an inescapable firsthand reality that closely matches Richwine's data.
Simultaneously, their teachers often told them the very opposite: all groups -- blacks, Asians, Hispanics, men, and women -- possess equal intellectual abilities, and "diversity makes us strong." In effect, youngsters are told to disregard a plain-to-see reality -- trust only what your teachers and textbooks tell you. Yes, test scores and professional attainment are unequal, but these just reflect environmental advantages. Better yet, race really doesn't exist; it is just a social construct.
How is this conflict between an unavoidable reality and school learning to be reconciled? The solution, as we suggest, is to fervently denounce any evidence contradicting the political orthodoxy. Recall the Soviet Union circa the 1980s -- don't fall for the capitalist propaganda about life being better in the West.
Such cognitive gymnastics are not easy, so every contradictory fact has to be hounded down and destroyed. Constant vigilance is necessary, and as tension grows, the greater the necessary exertion. It is insufficient to just opine, "Well, I disagree." Obliterating infuriating evidence demands public approbation and hyperbole lest anyone doubt one's commitment to the PC orthodoxy. Condemnation is not about Richwine per se; it is about sustaining a belief that plainly differs from reality. Recall the infamous Two Minutes Hate of Orwell's 1984. Anything less fervent might permit a bit of doubt to survive, and who knows? Like a cancerous cell, it might metastasize and lead to Klan membership.
Thus understood, the condemnation of Richwine by Harvard undergraduates cannot be softened, let alone reversed, by lecturing them on academic freedom or the value of intellectual honesty. It is equally pointless to explain that vulnerable Hispanics are safe from a heretofore obscure Harvard dissertation (or that the federal government is better-suited to protecting them). Rather, outrage reflects a crisis of faith, an ever-widening chasm between the PC orthodoxy and an indisputable reality. The parallel might be a Harvard undergraduate who believes in Creation taking a course on evolutionary biology.
This indignation suggests that such assaults will only worsen, and, correspondingly, fewer and fewer researchers will venture into career-ending territory. After all, there seems no end to futile budget-busting efforts to bring about an egalitarian fantasy while educators continue the propaganda. Millions of youngsters will continue to hear about the joys of racial/ethnic differences while personally witnessing a world of ethnic strife. Stamping out heresies to solidify the faith will also intensify as universities hire yet more "anti-hate" specialists who discover yet more heresies.
I recall one university president who, when asked if he had read The Bell Curve, said that not only had he not read the book, but he would not even think about reading it. Such is today's life of the mind. What's next? Requiring all college freshmen to sign a loyalty oath promising to expunge all bad thoughts?