Common Wisdom v2.0

Reading time – 2:50; Viewing time – 3:52  .  .  .

This post has waited a year to be published for the obvious reason that so much craziness occurs constantly that some important things get left behind.

In a May 31, 2017 article in the Wall Street Journal entitled, Why Do The Young Reject Capitalism?, by Warren A. Stephens, the claim was made that our colleges and universities are bastions of lefty-ism that teach our young pups to hate capitalism. The letters to the editor that followed on June 11 were all in agreement, one of them even declaring that our children have been “on the dole” all their lives, so of course they expect others to do the work. It’s all a very tidy package of stereotypes. There’s a palpable self-satisfaction of all the writers pointing fingers at and judging colleges and students who just don’t get the pure perfectness of unfettered capitalism and who are probably harming we who do get it.

But where is the substantiation for the claim that higher education in America is anti-capitalism and teaches our students to be freeloaders? It’s easy to make the sweeping claims, but doing so doesn’t make those claims true, any more than what’s-his-name accusing President Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower made his evidence-free claims true.

Young people have always worn their idealism on their shirtsleeves – you did, too – but does their idealism mean that our schools are teaching them to hate capitalism and be bums? That common wisdom may be common but I see no evidence of wisdom. Somebody please show me the unbiased research that justifies such claims. Otherwise, Warren A. Stephens, you can just shut up.

Everyone knows that our popular press is lefty. In a June 17, 2017 piece for the New York Times entitled Notes on A Political Shooting, which was prompted by the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise and security people at a baseball practice, Ross Douthat casually wrote, “But because our centrist elites are actually center-left there is a constant, involuntary tug toward emphasizing what’s wrong on the right-wing side of the spectrum and excusing what’s wrong on the other.” Apparently, those centrist elites are torqued until they’re lefty blue and we are all misled by their slant.

Douthat’s claim of a lefty press is made as a given, and others make that claim, too, but is there any truth to it? Where is the unbiased study that says overall our so-called “elites” – does that mean journalists? – are lefties? It certainly isn’t true at The Wall Street Journal or The Arizona Republic or The Chicago Tribune or The Manchester Union Leader or The Orange County Register, all of which are editorially righty publications, and there are many others. Nearly all of our talk radio is either conservative or extremist right fringe. I’m not convinced of the wisdom of Douthat’s common wisdom. Somebody please show me the research that justifies his claims. Otherwise, Ross Douthat, you can just shut up, too.

The claims of left-leaning anti-capitalism of our colleges, our students and elites are easy to make, but I want someone to substantiate them with actual factual facts. Not an “everybody knows” justification, but empirical data. You know – like science-y stuff. Until then, my wisdom about these claims of common wisdom is that the wisdom part is missing. These are yet another set of stories told over and over until people come to believe the claims, without having any justification that’s grounded in reality on planet Earth.

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6 Responses to Common Wisdom v2.0
  1. John Calia Reply

    What fantasy world are you living in? Shall I go and dig up all the polling of media and college faculty showing their leftward bias? Because you are a left-wing extremist, you don’t see the bias. The steady stream of presumptive statements and pithy conclusions uttered daily by the so-called mainstream press is gaggingly obvious to those of us who don’t share your views. Wake up!

    • Jack Altschuler Reply

      Thanks for your energetic response, John.
      And yes, I’d like to see the data to which you refer regarding the overall lefty-ness of our institutions of higher education.

      Regarding Stephens, I’ve re-read his piece and herein correct myself: he doesn’t claim that our colleges are teaching students to reject capitalism, although many others do. He does claim – and rightly so – that our Millennials largely reject capitalism. What he misses are the reasons for that and therein lies the missing wisdom of his common wisdom.

      He makes a robust defense of capitalism and ignores the power plays – the greed – of the recent tax act and the other self-aggrandizing moves of the wealthy and powerful to increase their wealth and power, often at the expense of the rest of us. Millennials care about the way off center pivot point of our economic teeter-totter and, right or wrong, attribute the cause to capitalism.

      I don’t know what to do with Douthat’s claim about elites, whom he defines as, “network anchors and magazine editors and editorial boards,” whom he vacuously labels center-left. He does so with unsubstantiated aplomb.

      My primary point in this post is that it’s easy to make sweeping claims, but that doesn’t make those claims true, even as their hyperbole may sway others.

      I agree with Stephens in his criticism of government as an impediment to economic prosperity. What he misses is how that same government constantly acts to increase the wealth and power imbalance that hurts millions of Americans. His righty common wisdom is lacking at least half the wisdom. And the half he misses drives the social, political and fiscal views of our young.

      Douthat offers no foundation for his claim about “elites.” All he does is throw gasoline on our partisan fires, which is in direct opposition to the main point of his essay.

      If he and Stephens are right, it would be useful to show support for their claims. Absent that, both his and Stephens’ common wisdom lack wisdom.

      • John Calia Reply

        Your bias is so leftward that you don’t see a leftward bias. Having just completed a 9 month tenure on the editorial board of our local Gannett owned newpaper, I can assure the editor and most of the board share your bias and blindness to it. Examples: How about Dan Rather’s 2004 CBS News report on George W. Bush’s military service during the Vietnam War? Or, the 2008 front page NY Times article about the alleged affair between John McCain and a lobbyist? Both turned out to be untrue and both resulted in retractions (Dan Rather lost his job over it). But that doesn’t change the fact that the choice made by those mainstream media organizations to pursue those stories reflects their bias. Then there was the 2016 Newsweek story about American interrogators in Afghanistan desecrating the Koran. It was later retracted but not before the Muslim attacks on government organizations and NGO’s which resulted in the death of 15 people. And, don’t get me started on the Rolling Stone rape story.

      • John Calia Reply

        I offer an op-ed from liberal NY Times columnist which includes links to various studies that may satisfy your “science-y” curiousity about liberal intolerance on campus: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/08/opinion/sunday/a-confession-of-liberal-intolerance.html

      • John Calia Reply

        From this study: http://yoelinbar.net/papers/political_diversity.pdf

        comes this abstract: A lack of political diversity in psychology is said to lead to a number of pernicious outcomes, including biased research
        and active discrimination against conservatives. The authors of this study surveyed a large number (combined N = 800) of
        social and personality psychologists and discovered several interesting facts. First, although only 6% described themselves
        as conservative “overall,” there was more diversity of political opinion on economic issues and foreign policy. Second,
        respondents significantly underestimated the proportion of conservatives among their colleagues. Third, conservatives fear
        negative consequences of revealing their political beliefs to their colleagues. Finally, they are right to do so: In decisions
        ranging from paper reviews to hiring, many social and personality psychologists said that they would discriminate against
        openly conservative colleagues. The more liberal respondents were, the more they said they would discriminate.

      • John Calia Reply

        Baylor Univ. Press has published a book on this topic: http://www.baylorpress.com/Book/20/235/Compromising_Scholarship.html

        Here is the overview: Conservative and liberal commentators alike have long argued that social bias exists in American higher education. Yet those arguments have largely lacked much supporting evidence. In this first systematic attempt to substantiate social bias in higher education, George Yancey embarks on a quantitative and qualitative analysis of the social biases and attitudes of faculties in American universities—surveying professors in disciplines from political science to experimental biology and then examining the blogs of 42 sociology professors. In so doing, Yancey finds 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.