Monday, October 25, 2004

There's Nothing Quite Like Living Or Working in An Echo Chamber

I work in the West Los Angeles office of a large law firm where I am known as the resident political conservative. I get along very well with my partners and other colleagues but am continually amused by the comfortable uniformity of views among them. I regularly walk into an office lunch meeting where politics are being discussed and hear everyone present agreeing on deeply controversial subjects. Examples:

  • Bush is not very bright.
  • Bush is arrogant.
  • There is no "moderate" position on abortion, you either support a woman's right to choose or you don't.
  • Gore really won the 200 election.

And so forth. When I cheerfully pipe up with a dissenting comment or question, the older lawyers who know me smile, laugh, and engage me in friendly debate. Others, who might be less well-acquainted with me, are simply shocked - shocked! - and either stare at their lunch plates or change the subject. They seem a little embarrassed for me. (How could an educated partner at a fine firm hold such beliefs? I thought we were safe here from such views.) One long-time partner simply refuses to discuss politics with me because she finds it too upsetting. I get a big kick out of all this, of course. These are all well-educated, smart people.

I thought about those experiences when I read Harvard professor Ruth Wisse's op-ed piece in today's Opinion Journal. You can read it here. Professor Wisse writes of the repressive political atmosphere in academia and specifically at Harvard. She first reminds us of the overwhelming uniformity of opinion in elite academia:

The Sacramento Bee reported that the University of California system gave more
to the Kerry campaign than any other single employee group, and that Harvard was
second, with only 15,000 employees to UC's 160,000. Campus bloggers computed the percentages of Kerry contributions over Bush: Cornell 93%, Dartmouth 97%, Yale 93%, Brown 89%.

This is all evidence, Wisse notes, of "the 'herd of independent minds'--the image is Harold Rosenberg's--charging through the American academy."

Read the whole thing. Among the many interesting and refreshing observations Wisse makes, you'll enjoy this one:

Students making the transition from liberal to conservative are often
wounded by their first exposure to the contempt that greets their support for
the war in Iraq or opposition to abortion or whatever else separates them from
the liberal campus. I suggest to them that, as opposed to living in constant
terror of offending some received idea, they relish their freedom of expression.
The self-acknowledged conservative never experiences intellectual constraint.


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