False Neutrality & the Left
Alan Jacobs knocks it out of the park with his analysis of that obnoxious Vox article on conservatism and guns (I blogged on it yesterday in this post about Vox and “bitter clingers”.) If you read the post, you’ll see how Jacobs reframes the same information from the point of view of someone who considered conservatism normative, not liberalism. And then he says:
Precisely the same conclusions — but notice how differently the argument reads when it treats liberalism as a deviation from conservatism rather than the other way around. Note that the article says that the conservative response “might exhibit differences” — but from what? From the norm, of course. The assumption that liberalism is the default (and presumably rational) position, and that any deviation from that position is what requires scientific explanation, not that position itself, is deeply embedded in the article, and indeed in the ideological framework of American social science tout court.
Here’s a related example, from the Chronicle of Higher Education, sent in by a reader. Journalism professor David R. Wheeler writes that people like me, who praised President Everett Piper of Oklahoma Wesleyan for telling students that they are not at a day care, but a university, are all wrong. Here’s Wheeler’s essay, in which he, as a graduate of a similar school, proclaims that he “can usually smell conservative-evangelical hypocrisy a mile away.” Well, golly. Let’s hear more:
Piper’s letter begins with a bewildering story of a student who said he felt “victimized” during a chapel service at the university. The sermon featured a reading from 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13 — the “love is patient, love is kind” passage. “I have a message for this young man and all others who care to listen,” Piper wrote. “That feeling of discomfort you have after listening to a sermon is called a conscience!”
Be more loving. Right. What reasonable person would disagree with that? But has Oklahoma Wesleyan taken that advice? Does it, for instance, love transgender people? You tell me, after reading this quote from Page 8 of the university’s 2014-15 student handbook: “We maintain that a person does not have the right to alter one’s sexual identity, for surely this would be a defilement of the body which is the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 6:19).” For those not familiar with Christian scripture, that’s 1 Corinthians, Chapter 6, Verse 19. So, if you’re a transgender person who has undergone gender-reassignment surgery, you’re not welcome at Oklahoma Wesleyan. You have “defiled” your body. And yes, that’s the same book of the Bible that Piper cites as the reason for the student’s seemingly outrageous claim of being offended. If you’re appalled by the fact that a school would use the same biblical passage to both encourage love and to shame transgender people, you’re starting to understand conservative evangelical colleges.
Wait, that’s his evidence? To be “loving” the college has to abandon its Christian convictions about sex, gender, and human nature? And what on earth does that have to do with Piper’s claim that the purpose of a university is education, not therapy?
Wheeler goes on to point out that Oklahoma Wesleyan doesn’t support gay marriage, and has very conservative expectations of its students in terms of behavior, e.g., a curfew, a ban on frequenting “dance clubs”). This is supposed to be evidence that Piper is a hypocrite? Oklahoma Wesleyan is far more restrictive than I personally would like, but its policies on student conduct say next to nothing about its educational philosophy. If you don’t want to go to Oklahoma Wesleyan, fine. But if you attend, you are to understand that you’re not there to stay out late dancing, but to get an education. So what?
We get to the meat of the matter: David Wheeler resents his conservative Evangelical education, and believes that it’s scandalous that students can use federal student loan aid to “attend a college that not only discriminates against legally married gay students, but also forbids students from dancing.” More:
Evangelical colleges are struggling. My own alma mater, Asbury University, I’m ashamed to say, has a “human sexuality statement” that forbids gay marriage. The day after the Obergefell decision, a former president of Asbury, John Oswalt, publicly called for $100-million in new fund raising, in part to survive the day when the government requires accredited colleges to admit transgender and gay students. “I think it is a very, very real possibility that within 10 years, maybe sooner than that, a college will not be able to distribute federal funds unless they sign a nondiscrimination pact with regard to gender,” he said in remarks recorded for posterity during an alumni reunion. “That means that Asbury [University] needs an endowment of about $100 million. … You as alumni of Asbury have to step up to the plate here.”
More hypocrisy, according to David Wheeler — who evidently wants to do exactly what John Oswalt fears liberals are going to do!
What is interesting to me about David Wheeler’s essay for the Chronicle is not that he despises colleges like Oklahoma Wesleyan, but that he assumes that pointing out that they are not progressive on LGBT issues, and have a restrictive student code of conduct, is sufficient to prove that they are “hypocrites” when their leaders dismiss PC trendiness among college administrators. It’s all non sequitur, and entirely about progressive virtue signaling. The thing is, if I were an editor at the Chronicle, I would have rejected this piece, not because I wanted to protect Evangelical colleges from criticism (I don’t), but because the piece does not remotely justify its claim. The only thing it proves is that a conservative Evangelical college is conservative and Evangelical, and that David Wheeler thinks they are a bunch of poopyheads who ought to be forced off the federal teat for being politically incorrect.
It’s just a really weak column. But David Wheeler, who teaches journalism (ahem!), apparently knows his audience at the Chronicle‘s editorial office, and what they find to be reasonable analysis. It seems reasonable to assume that within the ideological framework of the Chronicle of Higher Education, an op-ed piece as feeble and petulant as Wheeler’s makes sense. I hope that the undergraduates who study journalism under him learn how to argue more effectively.