Campus Censorship and the New American Echo Chamber

When I was told that Inside Higher Ed had edited down an e-mail interview they conducted with me about my book, Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, by, like, a thousand words, I was a little nervous. Reading it today, though, I can barely tell what was cut out.

In the interview, I get to make several important thematic points about my book, including this one:

Compelling data show that the country as a whole has physically shifted into enclaves, neighborhoods, and cities of the like-minded. My point about higher education’s role is not so much that higher education is solely responsible for creating polarization, but more that it’s our one institution that could be helping us step outside our Internet and broadcast media echo chambers by teaching the difficult but useful intellectual habit of not only hearing the other side, but actually seeking out the intelligent person you disagree with as sort of a check on our own certainty.

Thanks to Allie Grassgreen for the thoughtful questions and the great editing. Okay, now off to my honeymoon. I really mean it this time. Leaving tomorrow!

  1. Mollie Hemingway
    C

    Have a great honeymoon!

    For what it’s worth, my experience in university served me in exactly the way you say it could/should. I was a strong classical liberal at a notoriously liberal school. I had some good professors who challenged me. I learned nothing but “the other side.”

    Of course, I also had some helpful professors who, because I thought I’d go on to teach myself, encouraged me to keep quiet about some of my views until I had tenure.

    Still, at least I benefited from receiving checks on my arguments, even if liberal students were unlikely to experience the same.

  2. The New Clear Option

    I’m curious what compelling data you have that may indicate that we’ve ever not been a nation of ‘enclaves, neighborhoods, and cities of the like-minded.” My point is, how old are places like “Chinatown,” “Koreatown,” “Little Italy,”  and Harlem (back a few decades before Bill Clinton contributed his own bit of gentrification there), just to name a few ethnic examples?

    In fact, isn’t it the story of human civilization that we have always gathered into tribes (i.e. ‘like-minded’ associations of customs & racial characteristics)?

    The rise of communications technologies and photography certainly played and still play significant roles in both nationalism, particularly around the turn of the 19th/20th Centuries and the notion that this shift you cite is something new. I don’t think it is at all.

    With respect to the U.S. in particular, our churches actually were the institution where we were most likely to pierce the walls of our ‘echo chambers.’ They still are and can be to some extent, but the more the higher ed institutions that churches & other religious institutions gave birth to ‘dishonor’ their ‘fathers and mothers,’ their ability to operate as such declines.

  3. The New Clear Option

    All that’s not to suggest that there hasn’t been some intensification of our natural tendencies toward tribalism in the recent past. I’m just not convinced it’s as pronounced a shift, so much as it is a pronounced awareness of the problems facing us in light of a much stronger focus on multiculturalism and diversity, whereas even as late as the mid-1960s it was still not uncommon to hear talk of ‘the melting pot.’

  4. Howellis

    I went to college in the late 60s and early 70s, and although I started out as a progressive (in today’s terminology) so many of my professors and fellow students were so extreme in their progressivism that I started to question the progressive mindset.  

    I was an eye-witness to student riots and vandalism of university buildings, the cancellation of final exams to protest the Cambodian bombing, the stopping of city traffic to protest the war, the movement to do away with grades, the takeover of the ROTC building, the segregation of blacks into “black dorms,” and various other ideas and activities that struck me as fascism in the sheep’s clothing of progressive ideology.  My arguments with fellow progressives at the time were intense. It was a lonely feeling.

    That universities are still such hotbeds of progressivism at this late date cannot be a positive development for the education of our youth.

  5. Greg Lukianoff
    C
    The New Clear Option: I’m curious what compelling data you have that may indicate that we’ve ever not been a nation of ‘enclaves, neighborhoods, and cities of the like-minded.” · 1 hour ago

    Three major sources for this are the data in the book the Big Sort (a book I refer to a lot in my book), with Murray’s Coming Apart helping with it as well, and a good dose from Diana Muntz’s Hearing the Other Side. All very much worth a read and persuasive to me that our echo chambers have become thicker. 

  6. L.T. Rahe

    One of the striking things I have encountered in discussing politics with progressives is how little they understand of the debates that take place within conservative circles (libertarianism vs. traditionalism vs. neoconservatism, etc.).  This itself is evidence that they many progressives live in a kind of intellectual enclave.  Whether, as TNCO asks above, this is new or not, is anybody’s guess.

  7. John Fitzgerald

    I encourage everyone who is interested and committed to the free exchange of ideas on American campuses to read Greg’s book.  

    I am in-between semesters in law school, and I bought the Kindle version.  

    It is an amazing book that highlights the devastating impact that speech codes and political correctness have had on open discourse at American universities, and the acceptance of viewpoint discrimination by students leaving the university as they pursue their future employment.  

    As a public school teacher by day-I can see the downriver effect of students’ self-censorship on issues related to race, religion, gender and sexuality.  This is tragic since students only feel comfortable sharing the teacher’s views on these issues or those that are reflected within the text book, which deprives students of evaluating their own ideas, while being exposed to divergent viewpoints.

    Greg is intellectually honest about his own views as a pro-choice liberal, and how viewpoint discrimination is usually utilized to target socially conservative views.  

    Ultimately, the self-censorship and lack of intellectual diversity damages citizens’ ability to think for themselves, and learn that passionate debate strengthens our own views, and the country.

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