from the world's big
Free speech on campus holds the cure to America's growing polarization
Outrage culture is causing provocative issues to be pushed out of public discourse and important artworks to be literally white-washed. Teaching civil discourse at universities is key to sustaining the American experiment.
- In July 2019, a California school board voted unanimously to paint over an 83-year-old, 1,600-square-foot mural chronicling the life of George Washington – in part depicting dead Native Americans and laboring slaves – over concerns that the painting presented traumatic content.
- The mural, by Stanford University art professor Victor Arnautoff, was created as a pointed critique of Washington, a slave owner, and a society built on land that belonged to Native Americans.
- The reaction to Arnautoff's deliberately disturbing artwork is characteristic of America's growing outrage culture, which removes the opportunity for people to practice the skills they require to have difficult conversations.
In early July, a California school board voted unanimously to paint over an 83-year-old, 1,600-square-foot mural chronicling the life of George Washington that hangs over a staircase in George Washington High School in San Francisco. The reason: Concerns the images of minorities, including white colonists stepping over a dead Native-American and slaves laboring at Washington's Mount Vernon estate, will traumatize students.
In his historic painting, Russian-American artist and self-described communist Victor Arnautoff, a Stanford University art professor who specialized in social realism, was pointedly critiquing Washington, a slave owner, and a society built on land that belonged to Native Americans. Eliciting reactions from students is the point. It's an invitation to learn about this history that is often swept under the rug, and it makes a pointed assertion about the importance of countering the prejudice it reveals. Censorship often harms the very people it's intended to protect – in this case, it would strip students of an important opportunity to grapple with racism in our past and deprive them of an opportunity to discuss solutions to the problems that history has created in the present.
The vote to destroy a "significant monument of anti-racism," reads an open letter signed by more than 500 academics across the country, "is a gross violation of logic and sense." It is. But that's not all. The school board's reaction to Arnautoff's deliberately disturbing artwork is characteristic of broader cultural trends.
"[W]e're seeing the symptoms of growing outrage culture—an environment in which controversial or offensive ideas aren't met with challenge but calls to push them out of public discourse altogether."
With social media facilitating our tribal instincts to gang up on the 'other,' universities grappling with pressure to remove faculty who work on provocative issues, and iconic works of art being literally whitewashed, we're seeing the symptoms of growing outrage culture—an environment in which controversial or offensive ideas aren't met with challenge but calls to push them out of public discourse altogether.
Research confirms the trend too. A new Pew study found that nearly 60 percent of Americans are "not confident that others can hold civil conversations with people who have different views." Even more alarming, a recent academic paper found many people in each political party don't only disagree with the other, they believe members of the opposing party are "downright evil." And the latest Gallup/Knight campus expression study found that students today (61 percent) are more likely than they were in 2016 (54 percent) to think the climate on their campus prevents people from speaking their mind because others might take offense.
The student findings are notable when viewed as one symptom of this trend. They point to the fact that challenges facing campus speech aren't unique to the academy. This is a cultural problem, and we're seeing its reverberations across sectors of society – including higher education.
If it's a cultural issue and not a sector-specific one, it changes how we approach the solution. In fact, by zooming out, universities come into focus as uniquely positioned to help America address our growing divisiveness. Consider the environment that campuses traditionally provide for conversation and deliberation. They invite students to understand diverse views in their intellectual complexity while practicing the skills for having these important and difficult conversations.
"These academic entrepreneurs are asking tough questions, conceiving new classes, and promoting a culture in which generally enlightening, often-discomfiting, ideologically-impartial programs are seen for what they truly are – an opportunity to learn."
Policy change can play a role in aiding that ideal. Though the past few years have seen a number of gross overreaches from state houses – bills to dictate what classes can be taught, establish partisan litmus tests for staff hires, and mandate minimum punishments for students – there's a role for principled, targeted policies in shoring up legal protections for free expression on college campuses. In a recent essay Greg Lukianoff, president and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), pointed out that the percentage of colleges that maintain severely restrictive speech policies declined from 74.2 percent in 2009 to 28.5 percent in 2018, while at the same time a number of problematic Department of Education regulations have been repealed or revised. That is, in part, attributable to policies tailored to addressing those barriers.
While legal protections of free expression alone don't foster an open environment, they help clear the way for civil discourse, open inquiry, and peaceful pluralism in general. And in that space, we're seeing a largely untold story unfolding through the efforts of innovative, path-breaking scholars who are expanding opportunities to come together in productive and scientific exploration. Courageous crusaders like those at Interfaith Youth Core who are gathering students, faculty, and staff from different cultures and backgrounds to build the will, skill, and knowledge to respectfully engage deep difference. Leaders at the newly growing HBCU Debate League who are giving students a platform to grapple with myriad ideas. And countless others tailoring opportunities to their own campuses at schools across the country.
These academic entrepreneurs are asking tough questions, conceiving new classes, and promoting a culture in which generally enlightening, often-discomfiting, ideologically-impartial programs are seen for what they truly are – an opportunity to learn.
These projects stand to equip individuals to overcome the challenges of the present moment. And we have reason for hope. The American experiment – distinct from every country before it – is built not just on tolerance of difference but the invitation of it. Our diverse, dynamic society, with its rich mix of religious, cultural, ideological, and other differences, is made possible by civil liberties and a culture that values them. And higher education is at its best a microcosm of that.
Understanding what tolerance means in a highly polarized America
This course collection can get you trained and ready for a six-figure career in this field.
- The Premium 2020 Project & Quality Management Certification Bundle explores the most popular project management methodologies.
- Coursework covers Agile, Agile Scrum, PMI-PMBOK and Six Sigma approaches.
- Valued at $2,699, the course package is on sale for just $45.99.
An experiment in Botswana suggests a non-lethal deterrent for predatory lions.
- Lions help maintain balance in their ecosystems, but they kill cattle.
- The big cats are ambush predators who depend on the element of surprise.
- In an experiment, eyes painted on cow backsides appear to deter lions from attacking.
For cattle-owning subsistence farmers in Botswana, lions pose a threat to the livestock on which they depend. Attempts to keep cattle safe often result in the shooting or poisoning of the big cats. Aside from the obvious moral discussion of what makes the life of one animal more worthy of preservation than another, large predators play a vital role in preventing "trophic cascades" in which the loss of one species throws an entire ecosystem dangerously out of balance. The African lion is population is in decline, with the estimated number of adults ranging from 23,000 to 39,000, as opposed to more than 100,000 lions in the 1990s.
As part of the search for a non-lethal remedy to the farmers' problem, a collaboration between the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust (BPCT) in Africa and the Centre for Ecosystem Science at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and the Taronga Conservation Society, both in Australia, recently completed a program they called the "i-cow project." Its tongue in cheek [pun intended] moniker might reasonably just as easily be spelled "eye-cow," since what it involved was painting large eyes on cows' hind quarters to see if they might deter lion attacks. They did.
Image source: Bobby-Jo Photography/The Conversation
Lions are ambush predators who sneak up on their quarry. Ambush predators are common in nature, on land and sea and in the air. They come in all sizes, from the praying mantis to the orca, and what they have in common is a sit (or swim)-wait-pounce strategy.
The element of surprise is a critical part of an ambush predator's method, and previous research on lion and leopard behavior in Africa's Okavango Delta suggested that an attack may be called off when an ambush predator believes it's lost the element of surprise.
Conservation biologist Neil Jordan of UNSW's Centre for Ecosystem Science has seen this in action. He tells UNSW Newsroom about how he got the idea for i-cows as he was watching a lion about to attack an impala near a village in Botswana where he was staying. "Lions are ambush hunters, so they creep up on their prey, get close and jump on them unseen. But in this case, the impala noticed the lion. And when the lion realized it had been spotted, it gave up on the hunt."
There's also support for this deterrent effect in nature, where having markings that look like eyes staring back at a predator appears to provide a distinct evolutionary survival advantage for a range of species, including butterflies, moths, reptiles, fish, and birds.
No mammals, however, have eyespots, and the i-cow team believes this is the first time that humans have investigated the effect of adding eye markings to them.
Eyes, crosses, and bare backsides
Prepping a cow
Image source: Bobby-Jo Photography/The Conversation
For the i-cows research, Jordan and his colleagues painted markings on cattle from 14 herds. 683 cows had eyes painted on their rumps, a cross was painted on the posteriors of 543 cows to learn if a natural eye shape was required to deter predators, and 835 cows were left unpainted.
Most lion attacks occur during that day — cattle are more likely to be securely penned at night — so the test cattle were painted in the morning and released to forage as usual. There were 49 painting sessions with each lasting for 24 days.
While 15 of the unpainted cows were ultimately taken by lions, not a single eye-painted cow was killed. Unexpectedly, a painted cross seemed to help a bit, if not as much as an eye painting — only 4 cross-painted cattle were attacked.
A few caveats
The researchers point out a couple of potential issues with their research.
First, the presence of completely unmarked cows in their experiments may have provided a more obvious target for lions in that they had no potentially off-putting, or even confusing in the case of the crosses, markings.
Second, animals learn. It may be that the area's lions would eventually habituate to or figure out the humans' subterfuge. The researchers note in an article for The Conversation noting that this tends to be a problem with non-lethal anti-predator remedies in general.
The virus is unlike anything many people have ever experienced.
- The public Facebook group, Survivor Corps, is a place where long haulers and survivors congregate.
- Months after recovering from COVID-19, some are suffering from joint pain, hair loss, and cognitive issues.
- These cautionary tales are important in a county where many remain skeptical over the dangers of this virus.
Coronavirus - The Latest: The Covid-19 'long-haulers'<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="73d1813a9b48841241c01857476e48b4"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/kUyKpu-djdc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>I've been out of the hospital</strong> from COVID-19 for four weeks now and started having severe pain in my big toe, almost like I stepped on a piece of glass or have a severely ingrown toenail—I don't and there's no cut or intrusion. Now my toe is really swollen and red. It hurts to walk or put any pressure on it. Is this what's called COVID toe, and what's the protocol?</p><p><strong>I am on 18 days in bed</strong> with COVID. Luckily, I've been able to manage this horrible beast from home (so far). I actually thought I was feeling better yesterday, and then today I'm going in another direction. I'm having terrible pain when I breathe (right side), and I'm exhausted. I just finished Augmentin, and a week prior, a Z-Pak. I have an inhaler. Today, my doctor wants me to start a Medrol Dosepak (steroids). Has anyone else tried this and has it helped? I'm desperate to try anything right now as long as I can get better. Please give me your thoughts on the steroids; I'm seeing mixed reviews in here.</p><p> <strong>I've been sick with COVID symptoms</strong> for 22 weeks. I'm not getting better. My original symptoms haven't gone away, and I just develop new ones every few weeks. I read an article on three immune responses to this virus. 1) Overactive immune response 2) Normal immune response 3) little or no immune response.</p><p>I am having little or no immune response to this virus.</p><p>It's taking over my body slowly. My primary doctor can't help me. My family and husband don't believe my symptoms and I have nowhere to turn. </p><p>I am so frightened.</p><p><strong>How many of you are experiencing hair loss</strong>, especially hair loss after 5 months? I'm shedding like a dog. </p><p><strong>I had COVID in June</strong>. At least 15 straight days in bed. No smell, no taste except certain spices. I've been diagnosed with two eye conditions now. Fatigue won't go away. Simple things like unloading the dishwasher or taking a shower exhaust me; I need to sit down. Has anyone recovered from these symptoms? If so, how long did it take?</p><p><strong>Has anyone experienced increased joint pain</strong>, specifically in your hands, after COVID? I've had some joint pain in the past, but never this much. It's been four months since I had the virus and the pain seems to have increased since then. [<em>147 comments on this, nearly every one verifying joint pain, especially in hands, ankles, and elbows</em>.]</p>
Medics wait to transport a woman with possible Covid-19 symptoms to the hospital on August 07, 2020 in Austin, Texas.
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images<p><strong>I had COVID symptoms for 2.5 weeks</strong> in March (could not get tested). I was a lot better for two months and then started the whole ordeal again 70 days ago (and am still sick). I have been to the ER twice and told that they think I have COVID. My clinic nurse said the same thing, as did my friend, who is an Urgent Care doctor.</p><p>I have had weeks where my fever went away and other symptoms decreased. But several times now, it comes back full force with a vengeance. The roller coaster is depressing. </p><p><strong>I was fortunate enough to be accepted </strong>into the Mt. Sinai post-COVID treatment program and was really happy to have some experts keep an eye on my long-term effects. Four months after COVID, my EKG came back normal, my antibodies high, and my bloodwork normal. My next tests were a lung function test and CT scan to see if there's long-term damage from the pneumonia. I just got a letter from my health insurance company, Oxford, rejecting the cost of the CT scan. I'm so disappointed. Is anyone else having their COVID treatments rejected by health insurance?</p><p><strong>I'm new here and it looks I'm one of the youngins</strong> in the group (19 btw). I got COVID about a month ago, and I got out of quarantine about a week-and-a-half ago, and I still have yet to see any of my friends. I wouldn't say I'm super popular but I do have a lot of friends, so I thought most of them would want to see me. I was super wrong. The stigma around COVID, especially with the younger demographic, was a joke before I got it in my friend group. Every single one of my friends didn't take it seriously and thought it would never appear in anyone they knew. When I got the virus it sent them all into shock and a couple of them hated me saying it was all my fault telling me that I shouldn't leave my house for a couple months and to not talk to them until next year. Now that I'm fully recovered I thought some friends would want to see me, but actually nobody does. </p><p><strong>Rapid heart rate when standing</strong> (160s-170s). Advice on how to deal with it? Twenty-three days from a positive test. Fever is pretty much gone but I'm trying to get back on my feet, literally. I'm kind of at a loss—whether this is temporary or I should ask my doctor for certain tests. My heart rate is elevated even when lying down (and is tolerable) but even more elevated when sitting. Seems like this isn't just "fatigue."</p><p><strong>My husband recovered from COVID</strong> last month but has been in a lot of pain. Weak and tired all the time. He gets tingly fingers and hands and feet and his ankles feel weak, like his bones are brittle. Has anyone else had this? He's rolled his ankles two or three times since and this has never happened before. His body just feels worn out and exhausted all the time, like he's a 70-year-old man, and he's only 34.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.