Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Conversation and conservatism

I have just been to two academic conferences. I enjoyed them both and got on well enough with the people. In general I like academics. I share their tastes and outlook. I do not share their politics, though.

The strangest thing about being a conservative among academics is that everyone automatically assumes you are a liberal. What is worse, liberalism so dominates the outlook of most academics that for them, liberal ideas are not ideological but just common sense. Liberal politics are synonymous with intelligence and good will.

This comes out most in conversations about the US. Remarks that, if made about another country, would be clearly seen as insults, are casually made about the US in the spirit of observations about the weather, commonplaces that can be made without fear of contradiction. Remarks that can be made so without fear of contradiction that they can serve as conversational openers, propositions of such wide agreement that they can be used to break the ice by providing a common ground of shared agreement.

For example, one very nice biologist who had come here from Canada casually remarked how Americans are so ignorant of foreign countries and that the news here is so focused on the US. I was supposed to say, "Oh yes, I know what you mean, isn't it terrible." When I instead said, "Well, people may watch the news to get information about the things that effect their lives," she was somewhat taken aback.

She said that if Americans knew more about the world they would be more generous. America lags far behind other countries in the amount that it gives to developing nations. Then I truly cut the last ties that I had with common humanity and said, "Well, I am not so sure. Actually, when you factor in private giving, America goes back up near the top of the list. Also, a lot of what America does is not captured by the percentage of GNP figures one hears. So, during the Tsunami the only way that most people could get supplies was by means of US military."

And she is looking at me like I am arguing for the age of consent to be lowered to single digits. She actually shivered and looked around, as if to confirm for herself that there were normal people around to come to the rescue.

If you have a disagreement with a store clerk or a shoe salesman about politics there is hardly ever a sense that it becomes personal. But with academics anything outside of a narrow range is evidence of moral depravity. The strongest advocates for formal tolerance are often the most assiduous practitioners of informal intolerance.

What is missing from this picture?

Interesting article about a young woman that was killed by her own family. The amazing thing is that they manage to tell the entire story without ever mentioning that the family was Muslim. Well, of course, it is cultural, and all cultures have honor killings from time to time, and nothing in Islam requires honor killings and.....

Still, if the family were in the paper for winning a Nobel Prize or something positive one suspects the fact that they were Muslim might have worked its way into the story.