FAIR Weekly Roundup
Tribalism is a “we” problem
On our Substack, Rienard Knight-Laurie argues that the most effective way to push back against tribalism is for each of us to focus on developing a healthy individual identity. He warns us that the appeal of the “hive-mind” mentality is especially strong in the age of social media, but we have the tools we need to prevent ourselves from falling prey to its incentives.
We have an intense desire to understand and be understood. Social media gives us at least the impression that we’ve found that understanding, and that is far too satisfying for most of us to give up. The real issue is our susceptibility to the insatiable human need to belong, and the only real way to address this is to recognize that each of us needs to develop a strong sense of self—a reindividuation—in order to be fully realized in our personhood and avoid the hive mentality.
Representation matters. We need to do it right.
Also on our Substack, FAIR Director of Messaging and Editorial Angel Eduardo writes about the issue of representation in the media. Dissenting from the popular view that representation should refer to skin color or other immutable characteristics, Eduardo contends that true representation must encompass our deeper qualities as human beings.
I have no problem with relating to characters that look like us, or who share characteristics we find important to our identities. It’s a beautiful thing that today we can see all types of people in movies and television, as characters who represent the vast spectrum of human achievements, struggles, flaws, and philosophies. It wasn’t always possible. I’m glad that’s improved, and I hope it continues. What I take issue with is the subtle but pernicious implication that the superficial things we tend to focus on—a character’s “race,” gender, or sexuality—are necessary for us to connect with those characters, and with each other. There is so much more to art, and to us. Reflection and representation aren’t the same thing, and I would argue that reflection is a narrower experience we shouldn’t dupe ourselves into preferring. Complexity abounds; we should embrace it.
I’m pro choice. But I don’t think pro-lifers are bad people.
For the The New York Times, FAIR Advisor John McWhorter wrote about the abortion debate in America and how people on the pro-choice side often mistake well-intentioned disagreement for malevolence:
I deeply wish that we were not on the verge of Roe being overturned — a decision that, if it came to pass, would be opposed by a majority of Americans and would disrupt or even ruin lives. It would represent further and grievous evidence of our broken political system, with the Electoral College a keystone anachronism, having put Trump into a position to recast the Supreme Court according to priorities unshared by most of the population. However, I cannot see opposition to abortion, in itself, as either naïve or evil. As much as I wish it were not, it is a position one can hold as a knowledgeable and moral individual.
McWhorter writes in response to the leak of a draft opinion from US Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, which suggests that Roe v. Wade will be overturned.
Social Emotional Learning: Empowerment or Ideology?
For Free Black Thought, FAIR Advisor Erec Smith and Jason Littlefield dig into the evolution of “Social Emotional Learning” (SEL). At its inception, SEL had the relatively uncontroversial goal of teaching students how to manage relationships and to avoid certain anti-social behaviors. Today, however, educators are increasingly relying on a new iteration of SEL, “Transformative SEL,” which focuses on “transforming inequitable settings and systems.” Smith and Littlefield argue that instead of embracing this new version, “we must save and improve upon Traditional SEL.”
Since Transformative SEL only began to be put into practice relatively recently, in December 2020, it’s not too late to question its intentions, critically examine its impacts, and abandon any harmful practices associated with it. It’s not too late to shift toward cultivating the individual and building the foundations of cooperation in ways that draw upon but go beyond the SEL paradigm. Continuing highly ideological practices of dubious value and thereby neglecting the social-emotional wellbeing of students and educators, especially in the midst of our ongoing national social-emotional crisis, may well create negative ripple effects for future generations. We believe that an acute awareness of this danger is the wake-up call we need at this moment to inspire us to empower humanity and affect the wellbeing of future generations in profound ways. It’s up to us to make the shift.
Why you should never protest outside someone’s home
For Spiked, Brendan O’Neill addresses the concerning protests that have recently taken place outside the homes of several Supreme Court justices. He argues that the recent upsurge in this form of protest is emblematic of the broader dissolution of the barrier between public and private life.
If you are protesting against a policy, you will challenge the policy itself. Sometimes with a flourish of invective, of course, but your outlook and your language will be political. In contrast, if you’re protesting against an individual – because you consider him or her to be fundamentalist, evil, a threat to your emotional safety – then your approach is more likely to be fuelled by animus than civic opposition, by fear or hate rather than cogent dissent. Witness the hyperbolic fury that has been visited on everyone from gender-critical feminists to right-wing critics of mass immigration as politics has increasingly moved from the realm of civic conflict into the sphere of emotional antagonism.
While O’Neill makes clear his opposition to protesting outside the homes of public figures, he concludes by stating that “anything that unjustly limits [the right to protest] is a bad thing.” Instead of a ban, he hopes that this form of protest can be marginalized through a “restoration of moral and public sense.”
Some lessons from the sorry history of campus speech codes
For Persuasion, Greg Lukianoff and Talia Barnes discuss the history of attempts to curtail “hate speech” on university campuses, showing that such attempts “do little to increase tolerance, but have ended the careers of many students and professors, chilled legitimate discourse, and—in the process—undermined public faith in the intellectual integrity of higher education.”
Future participants in the discussion of hateful speech should recognize that discriminatory harassment can be banned in a way that doesn’t lead to the abuses and collateral consequences that characterize campus efforts to ban the hazy concept of hate speech.
If we hope to protect the widest array of perspectives and improve the quality of discourse, we should identify and restrict real harassment without conflating it with protected speech.
The Certainty Trap
For Tablet, Ilana Redstone argues that initiatives to combat misinformation and promote civil discourse aren’t effective because they fail to get at the root of the problem—what she calls the “Certainty Trap.”
The fight against mis- and dis-information—a worthy goal—is often based on two flawed assumptions. The first is that definitive answers are known to the disputed points. The second, related to the first, is that the right people to provide those answers can be identified and agreed upon. Both assumptions are themselves often steeped in the Certainty Trap—a resolute unwillingness to recognize the possibility that we might not be right in our beliefs and claims.
Although it will be challenging for us to break out of the Certainty Trap, Redstone reassures us not only that it is possible, but that our doing so could fundamentally change for the better the way that we communicate.
Breaking out of this trap provides a path forward based on curiosity and a more precise reflection of what we know about one another. It’s a path that can nurture openness and build trust. And ultimately, it’s a path that can transform how we communicate with one another in ways that absolutely do not end with political topics. Better solutions, better communication, and more open conversations are within reach, if only we’re willing to take them.