Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Big Idea: Affirmative Action for Conservatives
So I've gotten several emails asking what I think about the idea talked up by the devoted Democratic professor Jonathan Zimmerman in the semi-iconoclastic Christian Science Monitor: affirmative action for conservatives in hiring college and university professors.
Now conservatives can claim to be an oppressed and marginalized professorial minority on our campuses. The evidence cited by Zimmerman seems unassailable: A very small percentage of professors at our elite institutions (always under and usually well under 10%) think of themselves as Republicans and supported Romney. That's nowhere close, of course, to the percentage of Republicans and Romney voters in the population as a whole. There's got to be some discrimination going on here—either intentional or structural.
Young conservative professors I know exhibit the behavior characteristic of other stigmatized groups. They're often deeply "in the closet" in their places of employment, hoping that maybe they can get louder and prouder once they get tenure. They cleanse their resumes of anything that would reveal their true identities. They're careful not to tell their "colleagues" what they really think, and they pull their punches in the classroom.
Now at this point the typically conservative professor or BIG THINK reader has smugly figured out the flaw in my logic. Blacks, women, and gays are stuck being who they are. They can't change.
Being a conservative, however, is a matter of opinion. Conservatives can change, and they should, if they want to be smart and informed enough to be professors. Surely an institution of higher learning should do nothing to privilege stupidity and ignorance. Conservatism, from this view, is the opposite of enlightenment.
Well, liberals admit, conservatives aren't always stupid. Sometimes, as in the case of Romney, they're just unjust. And the university should always be on the side of social justice against oligarchic oppression.
Besides, there's plenty of irony in conservatives whining for affirmative action. They're usually against it. They want people to be treated as individuals, and not as members of groups or classes. Who would want to be hired because he or she is a conservative? What conservative would be for compromising the standards of merit specific to a discipline? Conservatives—or many of them—have opposed the paternalism of tokenism.
But what about diversity as an intellectual good, as an indispensable stimulus to thought in the classroom? Zimmerman reminds us that the argument the Supreme Court gives for affirmative action in higher education has nothing to do with remedying the injustices of the past. It has to do with making sure students are exposed—in the service of the intellectual development—to the opinions of all the significant minorities in our society as expressed by members of those minorities themselves. Affirmative action isn't supposed to benefit the marginalized or stigmatized in particular, but all the students.
Conservative opinion in its various forms is undeniably a powerful force in our moral and political life. How can students really understand it if they don't have it articulated for them by those who really hold it? Surely it's possible that the typical liberal expression of conservative opinion is a distortion or caricature.
Here's one example: Liberal professors too often think that religious conservatism is always or almost always crude and repressive fundamentalism. That's usually because they haven't been open to—or even exposed to—the best thinkers in orthodox or traditional theology. In the name of the truth that might emerge through the clash of diverse perspectives, you'd think that self-proclaimed freethinkers would be all about hiring an erudite orthodox or traditional believer once in a while, especially one who is fervently pro-life and for traditional marriage.
There really are smart and deeply educated conservatives. These smart conservatives even think that their liberal colleagues are often herd animals thoughtlessly immersed in the fashionable conformism of the dominant currents of our intellectual life. Being "liberal"—or automatically voting Democratic—is part of the homogeneous culture of our intellectual class. In the name of intellectual freedom—or genuinely free thought—shouldn't that class intentionally open itself to diverse forms of countercultural challenge, to the best available conservative critics? It should, but it typically won't.
I think, of course, genuinely open-minded or countercultural intellectuals are pretty darn rare. And professors in our bourgeois-bohemian society are become more careerist than ever, not to mention more subjected to fairly moronic standards of measurable productivity. Things are not only getting worse for conservative professors, but for all those genuinely devoted to liberal education. It's the latter category I really care about. I wouldn't want to hire stupid conservatives either, and there are lots of them. I actually don't judge scholars and teachers (or artists or poets or philosophers) on whom they vote for. Well, I don't judge them all that much.
So here's my advice to conservative professors: It's tough out there, you have to stop whining and just be better than everyone else, and you have to have a fallback plan for earning a living. You're not getting and you shouldn't want affirmative action.
A man's skeleton, found facedown with his hands bound, was unearthed near an ancient ceremonial circle during a high speed rail excavation project.
- A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during an excavation outside of London.
- The discovery was made during a high speed rail project that has been a bonanza for archaeology, as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route.
- An ornate grave of a high status individual from the Roman period and an ancient ceremonial circle were also discovered during the excavations.
Foul play?<p>A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during a high speed rail excavation.</p><p>The positioning of the remains have led archaeologists to suspect that the man may have been a victim of an ancient murder or execution. Though any bindings have since decomposed, his hands were positioned together and pinned under his pelvis. There was also no sign of a grave or coffin. </p><p>"He seems to have had his hands tied, and he was face-down in the bottom of the ditch," <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">said archaeologist Rachel Wood</a>, who led the excavation. "There are not many ways that you end up that way."</p><p>Currently, archaeologists are examining the skeleton to uncover more information about the circumstances of the man's death. Fragments of pottery found in the ditch may offer some clues as to exactly when the man died. </p><p>"If he was struck across the head with a heavy object, you could find a mark of that on the back of the skull," Wood said to <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">Live Science</a>. "If he was stabbed, you could find blade marks on the ribs. So we're hoping to find something like that, to tell us how he died."</p>
Other discoveries at Wellwick Farm<p>The grim discovery was made at Wellwick Farm near Wendover. That is about 15 miles north-west of the outskirts of London, where <a href="https://www.hs2.org.uk/building-hs2/hs2-green-corridor/" target="_blank">a tunnel</a> is going to be built as part of a HS2 high-speed rail project due to open between London and several northern cities sometime after 2028. The infrastructure project has been something of a bonanza for archaeology as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route that are now being excavated before construction begins. </p><p>The farm sits less than a mile away from the ancient highway <a href="http://web.stanford.edu/group/texttechnologies/cgi-bin/stanfordnottingham/places/?icknield" target="_blank">Icknield Way</a> that runs along the tops of the Chiltern Hills. The route (now mostly trails) has been used since prehistoric times. Evidence at Wellwick Farm indicates that from the Neolithic to the Medieval eras, humans have occupied the region for more than 4,000 years, making it a rich area for archaeological finds. </p><p>Wood and her colleagues found some evidence of an ancient village occupied from the late Bronze Age (more than 3,000 years ago) until the Roman Empire's invasion of southern England about 2,000 years ago. At the site were the remains of animal pens, pits for disposing food, and a roundhouse — a standard British dwelling during the Bronze Age constructed with a circular plan made of stone or wood topped with a conical thatched roof.</p>
Ceremonial burial site<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDgwNTIyMX0.I49n1-j8WVhKjIZS_wVWZissnk3W1583yYXB7qaGtN8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C82%2C0%2C83&height=700" id="44da7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="46cfc8ca1c64fc404b32014542221275" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="top down view of coffin" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
A high status burial in a lead-lined coffin dating back to Roman times.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>While these ancient people moved away from Wellwick Farm before the Romans invaded, a large portion of the area was still used for ritual burials for high-status members of society, Wood told Live Science. The ceremonial burial site included a circular ditch (about 60 feet across) at the center, and was a bit of a distance away from the ditch where the (suspected) murder victim was uncovered. Additionally, archaeologists found an ornately detailed grave near the sacred burial site that dates back to the Roman period, hundreds of years later when the original Bronze Age burial site would have been overgrown.</p><p>The newer grave from the Roman period encapsulated an adult skeleton contained in a lead-lined coffin. It's likely that the outer coffin had been made of wood that rotted away. Since it was clearly an ornate burial, the occupant of the grave was probably a person of high status who could afford such a lavish burial. However, according to Wood, no treasures or tokens had been discovered. </p>
Sacred timber circle<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDAwOTQ4Mn0.eVJAUcD0uBUkVMFuMOPSgH8EssGkfLf_MjwUv0zGCI8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C149%2C0%2C149&height=700" id="9de6a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ee66520d470b26f5c055eaef0b95ec06" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="An aerial view of the sacred circular monument." data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
An aerial view of the sacred circular monument.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>One of the most compelling archaeological discoveries at Wellwick Farm are the indications of a huge ceremonial circle once circumscribed by timber posts lying south of the Bronze Age burial site. Though the wooden posts have rotted away, signs of the post holes remain. It's thought to date from the Neolithic period to 5,000 years ago, according to Wood.</p><p>This circle would have had a diameter stretching 210 feet across and consisted of two rings of hundreds of posts. There would have been an entry gap to the south-west. Five posts in the very center of the circle aligned with that same gap, which, according to Wood, appeared to have been in the direction of the rising sun on the day of the midwinter solstice. </p><p>Similar Neolithic timber circles have been discovered around Great Britain, such as one near <a href="https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/stonehenge-sarsens" target="_blank">Stonehenge</a> that is considered to date back to around the same time. </p>
Research reveals a new evolutionary feature that separates humans from other primates.
- Researchers find a new feature of human evolution.
- Humans have evolved to use less water per day than other primates.
- The nose is one of the factors that allows humans to be water efficient.
A model of water turnover for humans and chimpanzees who have similar fat free mass and body water pools.
Credit: Current Biology
Being skeptical isn't just about being contrarian. It's about asking the right questions of ourselves and others to gain understanding.
- It's not always easy to tell the difference between objective truth and what we believe to be true. Separating facts from opinions, according to skeptic Michael Shermer, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, and others, requires research, self-reflection, and time.
- Recognizing your own biases and those of others, avoiding echo chambers, actively seeking out opposing voices, and asking smart, testable questions are a few of the ways that skepticism can be a useful tool for learning and growth.
- As Derren Brown points out, being "skeptical of skepticism" can also lead to interesting revelations and teach us new things about ourselves and our psychology.