Last week, the New York Times‘s Nicholas Kristof acknowledged what he called “The Liberal Blind Spot.” Kristof insisted that liberals should support ideological diversity, in addition to racial diversity: that college campuses should be areas of true free inquiry, not just liberals speaking to each other and “social justice warriors” silencing free speech.
While some conservatives are glad to hear a liberal like Kristof calling for what amounts to “affirmative action” for conservatives, it should worry us that he needs to support such a thing at all. Indeed, when Kristof wrote an article confessing liberal intolerance, he received terrible backlash. “You don’t diversity with idiots,” said the stop comment, recommended by 1,099 readers.
In 2011, Baylor University’s George Yancey found that “politically — and, even more so, religiously — conservative academics are at a distinct disadvantage in our institutions of learning, threatening the free exchange of ideas to which our institutions aspire and leaving many scientific inquiries unexplored.” And that’s just the fancy academic loss of learning.
The social consequences of ostracizing people due to their having different opinions or expressing views that could be considered “microaggressions” go well beyond a loss of learning. The hatred and fear of ideas opposed to one’s own threatens free speech, especially if the “social justice warriors” can gain the force of law.
In New York City, this is already almost a reality — with the Human Rights Commission’s claim that city law requires employers, landlords, businesses, and professionals to refer to transgender employees, tenants, customers, and clients by their preferred pronouns: he, she, and the newfangled “ze.” As Eugene Volokh wrote, if you “feel uncomfortable about being forced to use terms that express social status views (‘Milord’) or religious views (‘Your Holiness’) … you should feel uncomfortable about other people being force to use ‘ze,’ which expresses a view about gender that they might not endorse.”
Here are the reasons Nicholas Kristof favors intellectual diversity, and today they’re more important than ever.
Next Page: Discrimination is wrong, even against conservative Christians.
1. Stereotyping and discrimination are wrong, even against conservatives and Christians.
Kristof attacked stereotyping and discrimination, “whether against gays or Muslims, or against conservatives or evangelicals.” Speaking impartially, he argued that “we shouldn’t define one as bigotry and the other as enlightenment.”
He referenced the Baylor study: “When a survey finds that more than half of academics in some fields would discriminate against a job seeker who they learned was an evangelical, that feels to me like bigotry.” Yes, signaling out someone for averse treatment due to their faith is exactly the kind of bigotry liberals attack conservatives for doing — and it is very rich to hear them complain about it while engaging in it themselves.
Nevertheless, Kristof still defended some kind of religious discrimination. “I don’t think that a university should hire a nincompoop who disputes evolution,” he explained, as if there were no scientific arguments against an unproven scientific theory. Granted, he could have only meant the “nincompoops” who dispute evolution, as opposed to serious scientists who dispute it, but even evolution should not be off limits.
Next Page: It helps to have people expressing different opinions.
2. The benefits of ideological diversity.
Kristof added that “there’s abundant evidence of the benefits of diversity,” referencing the different perspectives and opinions of different races, but also the various views of different ideologies. “Yet universities suffer a sickly sameness: Four studies have found that at most only one professor in 10 in the humanities or social sciences is a Republican.”
There is some ideological diversity among Democrats, but universities would be more effective at cultivating different kinds of ideas if Republicans were also involved. When you have too much agreement in academia, it can blind you to actual hatred and close-mindedness. If you see everyone who supports Western Civilization as a bigot, you will likely turn into a bigot yourself. Higher learning is about being able to understand other people’s arguments, and to be able to reason with them to come to the truth.
“I’ve often denounced conservative fear mongering about Muslims and refugees, and the liberal hostility toward evangelicals seems rooted in a similar insularity,” Kristof argued. “I suspect many liberals disdain evangelicals in part because they don’t have any evangelical friends.”
This liberal writer does not acknowledge that there are reasons to fear some Muslims and the large influx of refugees. A certain approach to Islam lies behind the Islamic State (ISIS) and many terror attacks in the past fifteen years. Many conservatives do not know Muslims, but even those who are lucky enough (like yours truly) to have Muslim friends acknowledge the bloody history of Islam and the religious motivations of many terrorists.
Nevertheless, at times it does seem as though liberals look at conservative Christians in much the same circumspect way that many worried conservatives look at Muslims. They see us as agents of ignorance and bigotry, blinding themselves about us as some conservatives might blind themselves to think that all Muslims are terrorists.
“Sure, achieving diversity is a frustrating process, but it enriches organizations and improves decision-making,” Kristof argued. “So let’s aim for ideological as well as ethnic diversity.”
Next Page: Liberals actually weaken their arguments by shutting themselves off from conservatives.
3. Liberals marginalize themselves by only speaking to each other.
Kristof argued that “when scholars cluster on the left end of the spectrum, they marginalize themselves.” When sociologists and anthropologists only acknowledge one political ideology, they are easier to tune out as mere partisans.
“In contrast, economists remain influential,” he wrote.”I wonder if that isn’t partly because there is a critical mass of Republican economists who battle the Democratic economists and thus tether the discipline to the American mainstream.” Ironically, the battle between two camps in the university makes it more likely that Americans outside academia will be interested in listening in.
As it stands, many of the conservative Christian thinkers are in separate colleges and universities. Schools like Hillsdale College in Michigan, Grove City College in Pennsylvania, King’s College in New York City, and Regent University in Virginia offer a haven for conservative thinkers to teach and influence the wider world.
Kristof argued that “there simply aren’t many conservative social scientists available to hire,” and most conservatives tend toward disciplines like history, literature, theology, philosophy, or the hard sciences. Then again, there are some sociologists like Rodney Stark.
At the same time, Kristof wrote, “The self-selection is also understandable: If I were on the right, I’d be wary of pursuing an academic career (conservatives repeatedly described to me being belittled on campuses and suffering what in other contexts are called microaggressions).”
Conservatives should be glad a liberal like Kristof can acknowledge what is obvious to those of us Christians who find ourselves on the wrong side of the “social justice warriors.” He may still have some residual close-mindedness about evolution, but he deserves praise for being a man about admitting liberal bias.
This part of his article is particularly apt: “Sure, there are dumb or dogmatic conservatives, just as there are dumb and dogmatic liberals. So let’s avoid those who are dumb and dogmatic, without using politics or faith as a shorthand for mental acuity.” Those are words to live by, whether you’re liberal or conservative.