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  1. I thought this blog post by a lawyer at the University of Chicago was interesting: The main threats to academic freedom in the natural sciences in the capitalist democracies come from powerful business interests that disfavor, for profit-seeking reasons, certain discoveries: for example, concerning the human contribution to climate change, to take the most important example in the present, but also findings about the inefficacy of particular pharmaceuticals and medical treatments. Businesses have a strong interest in the correct natural scientific understanding of the causal order of nature, to be sure, since the extraction of profit from nature requires it. At the same time, businesses also have strong interests in concealing certain scientific results that might impede popular acceptance of their business practices and consumption of their products. Academic freedom is a crucial bulwark in favor of discovering truths about the natural world even in the relatively free capitalist societies. In the human sciences, the issues are usually different: it is, shall we say, rare for international corporations to get exercised about the latest developments in the history of early modern Europe or philosophy of the social sciences. The threats to academic freedom in the human sciences come less from the business sector, and more often from political and religious interest groups whose normative commitments are threatened by the findings of the human sciences. In the United States, for example, external pressure is frequently brought upon universities who try to employ critics of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians. But the pressure to violate academic freedom comes from within the universities too. Indeed, some humanists have concocted a whole new metaphysics of “silencing” and “marginalizing” and “violence” to describe the expression of ideas that are offensive and insulting to certain minority groups. For these academic insiders, Marcusian “indiscriminate” toleration in academic discourse is not acceptable, since the expression of ideas that might be hurtful to individuals based on group membership—in particular, membership in groups that have been victims of historical practices of subordination (e.g., African-Americans in the United States, though more recently, transgender individuals)—is alleged to “silence” members of that group and do “violence” to them. Marcuse himself wanted to suppress speech advocating for actual violence against and silencing of human beings: murdering their political leaders, dropping chemical bombs on their country, destroying their society and livelihood through military violence. But neoliberalism—the idea that the preferences of the consumers of products, including education, determine the value of what is offered—now rules in the capitalist universities too, with the result that some self-styled “progressive” faculty and students--even in institutions of higher education that protect expressive rights quite resolutely--believe that denigrating and offensive ideas “silence,” “marginalize” and “do violence” to them. (Ironically, one need only watch videos, easily available on-line, of minority students challenging and ridiculing the pathetic NeoNazi Richard Spencer on various campuses to realize that no one was “silenced” and no one suffered actual “violence.”) In both research and teaching in the human sciences, such metaphysical flights of fancy deserve no consideration at any university committed to academic freedom. The dismissal of this melodrama is, of course, compatible with full commitment to laws, common in most Western democracies these days, prohibiting racial, gender, or sexual orientation discrimination. There's a lot to chew within it. I think he is underplaying the very powerful social forces from religion which reject natural sciences - fundamentalist religious objections to our understanding of biological and cosmological sciences because they do not align with a tenet of religious faith. There is also a strong dynamic within the natural sciences created by anti-capitalists who reject business also rejecting the natural sciences behind those businesses - genetic modification, vaccine science etc; plus the woo a similar set embrace such as homeopathy and products which tend to use key words about "natural remedies" and "whole, pure or natural" foods which are just as capitalistic in their practices, and in my view far more rejecting of evidence than say pharmaceuticals which due to government regulation are under far greater oversight of their claims (that oversight is of course failure prone). Within the humanities I am intrigued by the current obsession with intersectionality, micro-aggressions and how holding an opinion on someone does violence to them by creating a hostile environment. I don't see this as being a product of neo-liberalism and find his third paragraph quite strange: Neoliberalism rules in capitalist universities therefore progressives can shut down ideas they deem to "silence", "marginalize" or "do violence" to people they define as an oppressed minority. That logic makes little sense to me. It is a shame LDV no longer posts here, I would have liked to hear his opinion on this. I enjoy thinking about these big big social issues. Why certain communities (cultural daos) reject or accept science, and also accept or reject other cultural daos, all within a larger dao of how society communicates. The web is, I think, something which complicates this and has some very detrimental elements - it creates echo chambers, allows crank views to reinforce themselves by providing a community they can think is substantial in numbers while in fact being a tiny tiny minority of society, and it also encourages winner takes all controversialism as click bait is rewarded by algorithms which reinforce populist views by putting them at the top of the rankings and hence they become what is most likely to be clicked. The result is the shouty, I'm not listening to you world we have.
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