Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Judge Posner on Larry Summer's Apologies

Federal judge and law professor Richard Posner compares the apologies of Larry Summers to the confessions of Stalin's victims, and looks at the broader topic of freedom of expression on university campuses. Link.
One comment compares his apology to the confessions of Stalin's purge victims: "Everyone should oppose a 'signal of discouragement to talented girls and women.' [That is a quotation from Summers's first apology.] But the truth is that such a signal, to the extent it occurred, resulted from deliberate, intense, and misleading responses to his remarks. That's classic totalitarian suppression of an unpopular view, with forced public acknowledgment of guilt and forced repudiation of the 'wrong.'" Another comment quoted: George Wills: "Forgive Larry Summers. He did not know where he was...He thought he was speaking in a place that encourages uncircumscribed intellectual explorations. He was not. He was on a university campus."

But no one who has spent much time around universities thinks they've ever "encourage[d] uncircumscribed intellectual explorations." The degree of self-censorship in universities, as in all institutions, is considerable. Today in the United States, most of the leading research universities are dominated by persons well to the left of Larry Summers, and they don't take kindly to having their ideology challenged, as Summers has now learned to his grief. There is nothing to be done about this, and thoughtful conservatives should actually be pleased. As John Stuart Mill pointed out in On Liberty, when one's ideas are not challenged, one's ability to defend them weakens. Not being pressed to come up with arguments or evidence to support them, one forgets the arguments and fails to obtain the evidence. One's position becomes increasingly flaccid, producing the paradox of thought that is at once rigid and flabby. And thus the academic left today.(...)

One further note: several comments point out that genetic factors can influence preferences as well as capabilities. Even if women are just as capable of doing science at the Harvard faculty level as men, it is possible that fewer women than men find a career in science congenial. This might or might not reflect innate differences. One notes the enormously greater percentage of men than of women who are in prison. Could not this "discrimination" reflect innate differences in attitudes toward violence, risk, and transgression?

Compare the reactions in academia; the piling on toward Larry Summers for a slightly-right-of-left-wing remark, with the demands for academic freedom for Ward Churchill.


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