May 10th, 2018
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: email@example.com
The repeated outbreaks of fascination with the question of whether women and racial minorities are inherently unequal were not quite the product of the disinterested pursuit of the truth, Kitcher argued; otherwise, the same unpleasant questions would not keep appearing in radically different pseudoscientific forms. Instead, the recurrent interest stems from public and elite eagerness to believe that discrimination against women and minorities was justified.
This was reinforced by individual intellectual incentives to cultivate contrarianism for the sake of fame, or, as Kitcher describes it, the “temptation to gain a large audience and to influence public opinion by defending ‘unpopular’ views” — views that, in truth, mirrored widespread societal prejudices.
Not only was it considered acceptable for pundits to speculate about the limitations of other races or women, or to engage with the nastier corners of the intellectual right, but it was often seen as a good thing — a sign that one was tough-minded and decidedly not beholden to 1960s-era leftism. Hence, intellectual centrists prided themselves on their political independence from both sides of the political spectrum but were often more at pains to distinguish themselves from the left than from the right.
Now, this has all changed radically. Centrist liberals still have many political blind spots. But writers who suggest that black people are relatively more likely to be stupid are likely to have a much rougher time of it than in the 1990s or the aughts. The same is true for men who call for women who have had abortions to be hanged by the neck until dead.
These changes explain why Weiss and her arm’s-length comrades in arms feel so embattled. What they all share is not a general commitment to intellectual free exchange but a specific political hostility to “multiculturalism” and all that it entails. In previous decades, their views were close to hegemonic in the intellectual center.
Arthur Schlesinger, for example, feared that multiculturalism might weaken America’s vital center (although he also acknowledged the cultural threat from the right). Structural arguments about the oppression of black people and women didn’t often make it into mainstream publications. Now, the hegemony has been overturned.