Articles & Essays
The key question surrounding the concept of human nature is whether it is mostly fixed or broadly malleable. We know individual people can change and become better. But what about larger populations overall, such as the American electorate?
A Response to Glenn Loury and Clifton Roscoe
In small pockets of the intellectual heterodoxy there are rising calls for deracialization—separating race and racialization from our minds and public lives. Most certainly a minority position, this radical idea faces an uphill battle, not the least because many academics and public intellectuals take the existence of race as a social and historical fact as a basis for incredulity about the prospect of disentangling ourselves from race.
Perhaps Our Crisis of Expertise Is Really a Crisis of Governance
“In this house, we trust science.” How many times have I read that declaration on a lawn sign while walking down the street in Oakland or Berkeley or Austin or Boulder or Denver? It’s a political statement, a nod to the primacy of expertise in an era of “anything goes” when it comes to who we trust and who we believe. At first glance, a societal rift between politics and truth would seem a dangerous trend that heralds a host of future problems. How can our politics succeed if we can’t trust science? Or is such expertise a thing of the past? In a world where every political position seems to have its own “expert” opinion makers, has expertise been fully polarized, never to be broadly trusted again?
When you hear the word “hierarchy,” what arises? The first thing to notice is that something is arising. Beneath or behind or within your conscious mind, there is a storehouse of memories, beliefs, and associations that can be summoned to the surface and sorted through by something else. There are, in other words, levels, parts, and structures that constitute what you call your mind. In pondering the word “hierarchy,” a hierarchy is doing the pondering.
Integrating 1776 and 1619
American democracy is in trouble. We now hear a steady drumbeat of dread from both sides of the commentariat: Americans hate each other with an intensity not seen since the civil war. And even as the lamentation grows louder, the way forward remains unclear. America’s impending decline seems to be taken as a given, and each side blames the other for the increasing hyperpolarization that is tearing our nation apart. But although we must face these facts, I’m growing tired of all the pessimistic doomsaying accompanying their reporting. While I agree that we’re in trouble, my interpretation of American history gives me much reason for hope
The Problem with Don’t Look Up and a Call for Climate Pragmatism
“If only it were so simple,” I thought to myself as the credits rolled on the movie du jour, Don’t Look Up, courtesy of Netflix. For the past few weeks, my messages and social media feeds have been filled with references to the film. Many have praised it as powerful and relevant to our moment. The movie, written by David Sirota (editor of Jacobin) and directed by Adam McKay (accomplished director of The Big Short, among other films, and a fellow denizen of Denver) has progressives buzzing and the media chattering. Finally, they suggest, someone has captured the profound disconnect that characterizes our historical and political moment. The movie’s premise—a young scientist discovers a comet headed for an extinction-level collision with Earth . . . and nobody cares—is intended as a dramatic allegory for climate change politics.
For the past twenty years, political and social commentator David Brooks has been an influential voice in American culture. At times, I’ve found his opinions to be timely and even inspirational. But I also often find myself balking or groaning at his views. The middle-brow accessibility of his writing helps him speak to a wide audience. Yet it’s this same accessibility that prevents him from being taken seriously in many intellectual circles. I do, however, take Brooks seriously and thus offer the following constructive critique.
From progressive liberalism to post-liberal progressivism
Soon after I launched Liberal Confessions, a few readers challenged me to be more specific about what I meant when talking about “wokeism.” Like me, they’d long identified with the progressive liberal side of the American political spectrum. Unlike me, they didn’t perceive woke politics as inimical to those commitments. On the contrary, they saw them as a salutary extension. Sure, they acknowledged: Overly zealous woke activists sometimes push things too far. There are, at times, “excesses.” But, they pointed out, that’s only to be expected. It’s an unavoidable part of any meaningful process of social change. You’ve got to break a few eggs and so on. In the bigger picture, it’s all for the greater good.
Cultural Intelligence and Climate Change
The lion’s share of attention in climate discourse is devoted to the “hard” side of the problem: the needed STEM solutions. But solving the hard side is not sufficient. While political will is not a “hard” problem, in the United States it is proving to be the hardest problem of all. Thanks to social scientific research, we now know a lot about how psychology and culture shape people’s views around climate change, in particular that the “information deficit model”—exposing climate skeptics and deniers to scientific evidence—doesn’t work
Jonathan Haidt is a national treasure. His courageous opposition to the mounting pressure for ideological conformity within American academia continues to serve as a light of liberalism for America’s embattled universities. And as Haidt points out, the strident demands of this new kind of progressive fundamentalism are now impacting institutions across the American landscape. I applaud Haidt’s cogent critiques, and I especially appreciate how he has managed to forward his advocacy for viewpoint diversity and ideological pluralism without embracing right-wing partisanship. I thus consider him to be "post-progressive" in many important respects.