Walking On Eggshells

Recently, I was in New York City attending a conference concerning the preservation of open inquiry, constructive disagreement and viewpoint diversity on college and university campuses through an organization called Heterodox Academy (HxA).

In terms of rhetoric, we are in the age of walking on eggshells, i.e. a constant worry and concern about saying the wrong thing at the wrong time regardless of intention, however honorable that intention may be. HxA is therefore a welcomed and much needed reprieve for those who like to critically examine issues and are concerned with the free expression of both actual ideas while not assuming ill intention behind opposing ones.

It would seem, from my experience, that HxA exists in part to preserve the right to risk cracking some fragile eggs.

If one is into constructive disagreement, this conference is the mecca of all meccas. If you are not, then names like hard-hitting-shell-crackers Jonathon Haidt (“The Coddling of the American Mind”), Bret Weinstein (former Evergreen State biology professor famously forced to resign for not joining a campus activity), Lenore Skenazy (“Free Range Parenting” and famously noteworthy for allowing her then 9-year-old son to ride the subway to work), and Nick Gillespie (Editor-at-large, “Reason” magazine who Robert Draper in The New York Times Magazine writes, “Nick Gillespie is to libertarianism what Lou Reed is to rock ‘n’ roll, the quintessence of its outlaw spirit.”), among others, will mean nothing to you…much like if you were to read me a list of superstar European soccer players. (Forgive me, I am writing this from London so the futbol analogy at this moment –during the women’s world cup- seems apropos).

As for me? Just a little slice of heaven as I am not just listening to these people, I am having lunch and conversing with them, in some cases, over adult beverages. I am learning that really smart egg crackers can be super friendly egg crackers.

And speaking of smart…I like smart. I love experts in their field. In fact, I like people who are a whole lot more informed than I. As a professor, I am in the continual practice of teaching and lecture, while attempting to reach students at their level. So, to be perfectly understood–and simultaneously stretch to understand in conversation–is very appealing and a position I do not frequently encounter.

It is not only the conference attendees’ intelligence that is so extremely appealing, it is the notion that we are on the same page, a page that attempts to understand and improve our cultural dialogue and examine how to become both more engaged in civil argument. All the while, with a commitment not to finding what is “right,” rather, discussing why something may be right, or wrong, or neither, or both, today, yet may not be so tomorrow

However, to journal about my experience at this conference is not the foundation for this blog entry. Rather, it is to contrast this experience with its interplay on the culture at large.

Let’s get cracking.

When I joined this organization and subsequently attended the conference, I had a notion that such a place may be an unintended enclave of somewhat frustrated conservatives; frustrated due to both the growing presence of the hyper ever-increasing forced censorship of the progressive far left as well as the perceived intellectual shortcomings of the current powerful far right. Surely there must be room for reasonable people with a somewhat conservative leaning to find solace? Enter Heterodox Academy.

In conversations with some at the conference, I found that an impetus to many of the sentiments expressed were in direct opposing response to contemporary progressive ideas such as virtue signaling, call out culture, and “microaggressions.” I am not suggesting that HxA takes an official position on any of these matters, in fact I believe they must not since some of these notions were spoken of in a positive light by panelists. HxA clearly states that they are a non-partisan collaborative.

What I am suggesting is that in spite of what any official position may be, HxA attracts a right leaning audience, disgusted with what they perceive to be a progressive left that is spiraling out of control, leading culture into an anesthetized state of silence for fear of offending…anyone at any time over nearly anything.  

I sense that a good amount of these members may have voted for Trump, if they voted at all (in conversation, I found many that sat out the 2016 election) not for his snarky style, his bombastic personality, his hurtful rhetoric, or seemingly lack of thoughtfulness; rather they voted philosophically conservative for fear that the left has gotten so out of control they pose a far greater threat to our country’s welfare than a one-man-crazy-show could possibly pose.

Of course, I realize I am projecting my personal perceptions in attempting to make sense of a newfound organization and its direction, yet I had no trouble finding simpatico voices in my frustration of the growing amount of self-censorship I must apply in the contemporary college classroom due to a growing eggshell-like sensitivity: a sensitivity I have not experienced in my thirty plus years of teaching, until now.

Perhaps I am guilty of prioritizing the values of free expression and free speech over many others in the world of important ethical principles. Though in a world where a plethora of needed humanitarian values are needed to thrive, such as justice, fairness, and authority just to name a few, we all must decide for ourselves which take priority in the moral execution of our lives.Still I find Jimmy in tension. Nearly all cultural evolution has been met with resistance from the “back in our day” crowd. If things are indeed evolving into a heightened sense of profound accommodation for all, I want to be a part of it. However, from where I sit, it seems things have just simply gone too far, beyond the point of reason. Yet, have not nearly all trends seemed unreasonable when first practiced? My 85-year-old father still refuses to wear his seat belt stating, “I’ll be damned if the government tells me how I should drive!”

That said, my partner Rene’ writes for a local publication. As she was writing about the notion of celebrating the fourth of July, she sadly lamented to me that she had to stop writing as she was afraid that a couple of her favorable opinions about the US would be met with resistance from not only her clientele, but her own friends.

Is this really what we want?

I truly want to understand and embrace sensibilities when justified and warranted. I really, really do. Yet until I hear reasonable arguments, that I hope to hear from organizations like the Heterodox Academy, I must embrace a line of logic that does not threaten a free expressing democracy.

We are in the season of hypersensitivity and walking on eggshells. Ironically, all eggshells are designed to eventually be cracked, either to give birth to new life or sustain existing life.  An eggshell not cracked is, well, a completely worthless egg.

Perhaps such conferences will inspire the cultural dialogue to focus not on the cracking of the eggshell, rather the new life that emerges once the breaking of it is complete. Good ideas are typically the result of the trial and error of some bad ones in order to evolve to better cultural practices. We must preserve the right for a diverse marketplace of ideas, as the evolution of our humanity depends on it.

And some eggs may be cracked along the way. We have no choice.

 

jimmysintension

9 Comments

  1. Hello professor, could you help me to learn English as a language? You wrote it such a nice comprehensive way. I can’t write like this, I can’t even speak like this. But I want to be like it. How I can? I need your help. I am looking forward your guidance. Please e-mail me your response. Appreciated. Your very old student. Sally.

  2. While reading an idea occurred to me. Actually it is a suggestion you might use at the beginning of each semester and might even then be used as a discussion item or two. The idea is for you to ask each student to turn in a list of subjects/ideas/ideals that they consider to be personally offensive.
    With that list you could avoid subjects that will offend them, or at least use to choose the subjects and language you want to use.

    • Great idea and I thank you. I would love for students to turn in a list (anonymously) at least for the purpose of having a discussion on the nature of offensiveness/why we get offended/the difference between being offended and strongly disagreeing, etc…I find students themselves worrying more than ever about being offensive and like to choose speech topics that will not ruffle anyone’s feathers. I am discovering that students are taught about what they should be offended about rather than being offended all on their own. Does that make sense? Thanks Don!

  3. An egg with too thin an eggshell wouldn’t survive the incubation of the mother hen sitting on it.Thicker shells mean less cracks and stronger birds (or turtles, lizards, or snakes).

  4. Excellent piece!!! I am glad to know that there is an organization that dedicates itself to the “open” discussion and exchange of ideas from all points. I have found that any opinion I might offer that is based on what I consider thoughtful conservative ideas, if offered to anyone who is left of center politically elicits one of two reactions. An immediate “We’ll just have to agree to disagree.” or an abrupt, expression of the persons low opinion of my character and/or intelligence.
    Thanks Jimmy for a glimmer of hope that there is someplace where civil discourse is expected.

    • Thank you Georgia. I am hesitant to use the term left or right in terms of open inquiry, viewpoint diversity and civil dialogue or the lack thereof….both sides have their fair share of close minded ignorance that only want to shout people down as opposed to respectfully hearing each other out. You and I totally differ politically Georgia, that is no secret. I in no way, shape or form support Trump, for example. I could never support such a person for their lack of statesman qualities alone. That said, what is most troubling to me is that it is the far left that got him elected. Back in 2016, as the comparisons to Hitler and Satan ensued, my 56 years on the planet inform me that the populace will always find the center…meaning that as the far left pushed harder and harder against Trump and weirdly made up shit about him (when you did not have to….he would easily hang himself with his own rope!) the accusations became more outlandish and eventually people just wrote off those whose accusations as over the top. I desperately want a moderate democrat in 2020, though I am afraid we did not learn anything from 2016 and continue to push further and further left….and we will have 4 more years of Trump to show for it –as his opponents are becoming bullies in order to try to outbully him, rather than sit back and just outclass him while he tweets away to his own demise. You are a gem Georgia! Thank you for your contribution 🙂 and go Blue Magnet!!

  5. In the introduction of Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death, he talks about the function of books dedicated to certain theories. In essence, he explains that writers have to almost exaggerate their philosophies and build them up while arguing for them. For example, an author writing about optimism will spend an entire book on the subject and maybe will only contribute a chapter of counterargument in which they may cover radical optimism. Likewise, when you want to be heard in a room filled with millions of talkers you’ve got to say something intriguing. Howard Stern is a perfect example. What’s the one thing that Stern’s lovers and (for lack of a better word) haters have in common? They both still listen to his show. While Stern was certainly about “spectacle” and provocation more than having something academic to say, he will be remembered because he had 𝘴𝘰𝘮𝘦𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘨 to say. Though we should think about what we say before we say it, we also shouldn’t constantly shy away from speaking because of a fear of opposition. If anything, we should welcome opposition when it arrives; after all, there might be something worth saying on the other side too!

    • I am really thrilled you brought up the book, The Denial of Death. One death denial practice is to aggressively protect our beliefs/dogma about meaning and life. Becker discusses this in terms of religion specifically. However, for many into today’s political climate, politics is their religion and what provides true meaning for them in their life. It is then no wonder that when one wants to openly discuss an issue, say cultural appropriation, that just the idea of discussing it is off the table in terms of exploring both its positives and negatives. If one wants to openly question the merits of a religion, Islam specifically, they are now a “phobe” even if the discussion is an open and honest one looking to seek best alternatives and viewpoints. What has the world come to if we cannot have open dialogue over ANYTHING that certain groups do not even want questioned? Enter Bridge USA!! I am, and always will be, a champion of free speech, open inquiry and viewpoint diversity. Yes, Chris, we will be called all kinds of derogatory names….because ad hominem is all one has when opposing viewpoints do not want to engage in reason and dialogue.

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