FAIR Weekly Roundup
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This week on the FAIR Substack, we published an essay by Indian-American Nandini Patwardha, who came to America as an immigrant in the early 1980s after being inspired by America’s ingenuity, generosity, and commitment to equal opportunity and non-discrimination.
But Patwardha has recently become concerned with a recent cultural shift that appears to be undermining merit in STEM fields. She says:
We need to recognize excellence, whether achieved through natural talent or through perseverance—not only as a reward for what a person is or has mastered, but as an investment in what the person can yet become, invent, or create. As Thomas Edison said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
Patwardha believes that successful societies need to reward merit and not “sidetrack those who have proven that they have what it takes.” Instead of spending so much time and energy on policies focusing on rationing out jobs on the basis of skin color, she asks us to “imagine those very energies being deployed for skills development and to craft solutions that prioritize the flourishing of all Americans.
In this piece, essayist Kevin Mims wrote about recent revisions to the classic 1957 Broadway musical The Music Man after being revived on Broadway to make it more “politically correct.”
The content purported to be offensive was a sing called “Shipoopi,” which is a slang term referring to “a sweetheart who is hard to get.” According to a reviewer named Helen Shaw, the term had overtones of sexual assault. Mims laments these modern revisions artists’ works of art.
If Willson had filled his show with racial slurs that, though historically accurate, made it hard to listen to these days, some bowdlerization of the work might be understandable. But Willson did nothing of the kind. If Willson’s original version of The Music Man can’t pass muster with today’s wokest playgoers, what play written prior to yesterday afternoon possibly could?
This week we are spotlighting experimental psychologist and FAIR Advisor Steven Pinker on our Substack. Pinker is no stranger to controversy, which is what one can increasingly expect when speaking truths that may not align with what is deemed “politically correct.”
Recently, Pinker has been concerned with a growing cultural intolerance to free speech and academic freedom, which he believes may imperil the advancement of our species. He says that, “Moves to punish, censor, cancel, and demonize heterodox opinions are in danger of disabling the only means our species has to approach the truth,…namely to broach ideas and evaluate their logical coherence and empirical warrant.”
Pinker hopes that FAIR’s pro-human movement will “embolden those who wish to resist the more pernicious aspects of ‘cancel culture,’ but are worried that they will be alone in their opposition.”
For The New York Times, Margaret Renkl wrote about “one of the formative artistic experiences of [her] life”—when she watched the award winning film A Man for All Seasons. Sir Thomas More’s words, “When a man takes an oath, he’s holding his own self in his hands, like water. And if he opens his fingers then, he needn’t hope to find himself again” resounded deeply with her.
Though Renkle describes More as a “genius,” she is well aware that More was a complex and complicated human being who did many things we would describe as immoral today. But given that we are all imperfect, we should not discard valid life lessons due to a figure’s imperfections.
But part of living comfortably in a complicated world means recognizing the complexity of human beings—their inscrutability, their ever-changing priorities, above all their capacity for self-contradiction. Much as we might prefer it to be otherwise, it is possible for a person to do unforgivable things and also things that are remarkably beautiful and good. We do human wisdom a great disservice when we expect it to be perfectly embodied in a flawed human being.
This week The Wall Street Journal published the wide-ranging opinions of five college students about whether self-censorship is “taking over our universities.”
One student, Thomas Wolfson at University of Maryland, described a campus culture where “students are afraid to share their opinions because they’re scared their peers may lash out at them.” But, according to Wolfson, the main problem is with school administrators who often “shield students from exposure to differing points of view.”
Another student, Carolyn Breckel at Yale University, disagrees, saying that instead of censorship, what students voicing their unpopular opinions may be experiencing is simply other classmates’ exercising their free speech in disagreement. She says that “[f]eeling a sense of embarrassment if my point is ill-received is not censorship, since no one is preventing me from voicing that opinion.”
For The Globe and Mail, former sex researcher Debra Soh wrote about the issues with widespread self-censorship on college campuses, as was revealed in a recent campus survey by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). The survey showed that approximately four in five students report self-censoring at least some of the time, and about one in five report self-censoring often.
According to Soh:
We rightfully frown upon discriminating against people based on characteristics like race, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity, yet it remains socially acceptable to exclude and demonize people for their political beliefs. This is not an issue confined to the loony fringes of the academic world, but something that affects everyday people in the workplace, as well.
Ultimately, Soh is worried that colleges are preventing “some of the most interesting and inspiring conversations” that can arise from cordial disagreement. And not only that, but being shielded from such conversations causes them to “miss vital opportunities to refine their critical thinking skills and better understand the world we live in.”
For Bari Weiss’ Substack Common Sense, journalist Aaron Sibarium wrote about the troubling influence of intolerant “social justice” activism on America’s legal system. Whereas it was once the public who had admonished lawyers for representing people they deemed morally repugnant, this admonishment is now coming increasingly from other lawyers.
Now, the politicization and tribalism of campus life have crowded out old-fashioned expectations about justice and neutrality. The imperatives of race, gender and identity are more important to more and more law students than due process, the presumption of innocence, and all the norms and values at the foundation of what we think of as the rule of law.
In response to this trend, Andrew Koppelman, Northwestern University scholar of constitutional law, said: “People will ask: ‘How can you represent someone who’s guilty?’ The answer is that a society where accused people don’t get a defense as a matter of course is a society you don’t want to live in. It’s a totalitarian nightmare.”
An Observer editorial in The Guardian discussed The Cass Review’s interim report on gender identity services for children and adolescents finds that children with gender identity issues are ill served by adults who shut down debate.
In part, the review calls for a “fundamentally different service model” for children, that “is more in line with other paediatric provision.” This includes providing “support for any other clinical presentations that they may have.” The review calls into question current “gender affirmation” models in favor of an approach that explores all potential underlying factors that may be contributing to, or the root cause, of feelings of dysphoria.