Vi får emellanåt höra hur vi bara underhåller nyliberala,
manshatandekvinnohatande, SD-vänliga åsikter. Jag tänkte erbjuda lite balans genom att lyfta fram en vänsterintellektuell feminist som har en hel del vettigt att säga: neuropsykologen Stephen Pinker. Här talar han om vikten av yttrandefrihet på Wellseley College.
Själva talet är ca 23 minuter. Vill ni vara tidseffektiva, så hoppa över introduktionen (5 minuter) och se själva talet fram till 28:20, men frågestunden är också väldigt intressant. Jag försöker nedan visa lite utdrag ur det mycket innehållsrika föredraget. Slutklämmen är:
And if you object to these arguments, if you want to expose a flaw in my logic or a lapse in my accuracy, it’s the right of Free Speech that allows you to do so.
Reason 1: The debate about Free Speech presupposes Free Speech (ca 8 min)
The first reason is that the very thing we’re doing when we ask whether Free Speech is fundamental, namely evaluating and exchanging ideas, presupposes that we have the right to evaluate and exchange ideas. In talking about Free Speech, or anything else, we’re talking; we’re not settling our disagreements by arm-wrestling, or a beauty contest, or a pistol duel. Unless you are willing to discredit yourself by declaring, in the sarcastic words of Nat Hentoff, Free Speech for me, but not for thee then, as soon as you show up to a debate to argue against Free Speech, you’ve lost it!
Reason 2: Free Speech is the only way to acquire knowledge about the world (9:10)
Perhaps the greatest discovery in human history, one that is logically prior to any other discovery, is that all of our traditional sources of belief are in fact generators of error, and should be dismissed as sources of knowledge. These include faith, revelation, dogma, authority, charisma, augury, prophecy, intuition, clairvoyance, conventional wisdom and that warm, envigorating glow of subjective certainty.
How then can we know? Other than proving mathematical and logical theorems, which are not about the material world, the answer is what Karl Popper called Conjecture and Refutation: We come up with ideas about the nature of reality, … and then we test those ideas against that reality, allowing the world to falsify the mistaken ones.
The Conjecture part of this formula, of course presupposes the exercise Free Speech. We offer conjectures without any prior assurance that they are correct. It’s only by brooding ideas and seeing which ones withstand attempts to refute them that we acquire knowledge.
Reason 3: Free Speech is central to Democracy and a bulwark against tyrrany
The most pressing historical question of the 20th century is how monstrous totalitarian regimes, particularly those of Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Imperial Japan came into existence. There are a number of popular conjectures, such as the libertarian hypothesis that societies with extensive social welfare systems and copious government regulation are likely to slide down the slippery slope into totalitarianism. It’s an interesting hypothesis with a major flaw, namely: nothing of the sort has ever happened! Instead, fascist and communist regimes came into power through violent intimidation. In every case, groups of armed fanatics used violence to silence and intimidate their critics and adversaries. Even the apparently democratic election of the Nazis in 1933 was preceded by years of intimidation, murder and violent mayhem. And once in power, totalitarians criminalize any criticism of the regime.
Common Knowledge (ca 15 min)
There’s a systematic reason why dictators brook no dissent. The emisserated subjects of a tyrannical regime are not deluded that they are happy. And if tens of millions of disaffected citizens act together, no regime has the brute force to resist them. The reason that citizens don’t resist their overlords en masse, is that they lack what logicians call Common Knowledge – the knowledge that everyone else shares their knowledge. Not just that I know something and you know something, but I know that you know it, and I know that you know that I know that you know it, you know that I know that you know it, and so on.
In the case of civil resistance, people will expose themselves to the risk of reprisal by a despotic regime, only if they know that others are exposing themselves to that risk at the same time, and that the others know that they know.
Indeed, in computer simulations of artificial societies, the sociologist Michael Macy has shown that open channels of communication are essential in preventing unpopular beliefs – those that no one believs, but no one dares deny – from becoming entrenched. If true believers can punish skeptics in these computer simulations, then a minority view can take over, but if skeptics can sample the beliefs of their compatriots, then collective delusions will tend to unravel.
Resten av talet är ingalunda ointressant, men jag ville främst sammanfatta de tre centrala punkterna i hans resonemang. Han går sedan in på hur universitet bör ägna sig åt att träna elever i omvärldskunskap och rationellt tänkande, snarare än att försöka ”forma deras själar”.
The Left Pole (ca 29 min)
Pinker svarar på en fråga om intoleransen inom akademin, och noterar att just inom akademin tenderar denna intolerans att ha vänsterstämpel.
I think it’s a disappointing and sad commentary that free speech has gotten the brand of a right-wing issue. Now, why should that be? By definition, it’s just free speech, whether it’s from the right or from the left. But people who defend and extoll free speech tend to be branded as right-wingers because of what I think you correctly identify as an ironic intolerance.
I sometimes refer to the mythical place called The Left Pole. Just as when you’re at the North Pole, all directions are south, The Left Pole is a mythical spot from which all directions are right, so any opinion that does not conform to this orthodoxy is branded a right-wing … including people who are by no stretch of the imagination ideologues of any sort, including right-wing ideologues. Say, I know you had recently Christina Hoff Sommers speaking in this same forum, and she’s often branded as someone on the right, even though there is nothing particularly right-wing about her, other than the fact that she disagrees with a particular kind of orthodoxy.
Jag hoppar mestadels över hans utläggning (som svar på en fråga) om varför han förordar en ”carbon tax”, bortsett från att konstatera att jag anser att han för okritiskt accepterat utgångspunkten att koldioxidutsläppen är något som vi måste göra något åt. Trots detta landar han i en ganska balanserad ståndpunkt, men missar (enligt min mening) att hans idé om att vi borde statligt finansiera denna sorts forskning eftersom privata intressen inte vill betala för den, riskerar att leda till just den sorts manipulation av ‘konsensus’ som han senare talar om (och som han tidigare menade tycks ha smittat akademin, som ju var statligt finansierad inte minst för att värna tankefriheten), och i detta fall tycks ha fallit lite för. Dvs klimatforskning är numera en mångmiljardindustri, och åtskillig energi läggs på att frysa ut och misstänkliggöra de minoriteter som vill utmana vissa antaganden.
Det som kraftigt mildrar has ståndpunkt är förstås att hela hans föredrag gick ut på att kunskap nås genom att man i öppna forum testar sina hypoteser, och att vi alla bör utgå ifrån att vi är fördomsfulla och i flera avseenden felinformerade. Han gör alltså inte anspråk på att sitta inne med Svaret, utan redogör bara ödmjuk för sin egen åsikt i klimatfrågan.
We are ”intuitive lawyers” (ca 36 min)
There is a well-documented natural tendency to moralize your own beliefs and stigmatize those of the people you disagree with. We all believe that we ourselves, each one of us is honest, attentive to facts, rational, and the people we disagree with are insensitive to facts, unreasonable, emotional, ideological. Now, we can’t all be right, at least not all at the same time on the same issue. That means that you have to look … to try to transcend your own convictions and say: well, what would be the kind of forum in which each of us, flawed as we are, could collectively arrive at corrected defensible beliefs, given that each one of us individually is just going to push for our own pet idea. As one psychologist put it: ”we are not intuitive scientists, we are intuitive lawyers. We defend a position, we allocate all of our intellectual energy to proving that our client – namely our beliefs – are right, we try to discount contrary evidence. That doesn’t necessarily do must follow you’re into superstition [??], if you set the right ground rules, the first of which is free speech. Everyone – most people on any give issue are going to be biased, deluded, dogmatic, ideological, but at least if you get all of the dogmas out there, you might find that one of the dogmas actually is true.
False common knowledge (ca 38:15)
The intersection between where psychology leaves off and sociology begins: namely when does one opinion become a stifling consensus, often beliefs that very few individuals hold but they mistakenly believe that everyone else holds. This is kind of the opposite side of common knowledge – a kind of false common knowledge. As in the well-documented phenomenon of fraternity binge drinking, where if you interview every member of a fraternity and everyone says: ”well, I think that drinking until you puke and pass out is really stupid and disgusting, but all of my fraternity brothers think it’s really cool”. Then you interview everyone of them, and no one actually believes that it’s cool, but everyone believes that everyone else believes that it’s cool!
And there’s some reason to think … I briefly mentioned the sociologist Michael Macy, a mathematical sociologist running little computer simulations of societies. He’s also done experiments on how you get this kind of false consensus [möjlig källa], where people mistakenly believe that everyone thinks something, when no one does, and there are certain conditions of punishing minority views that can lead to ideas becoming entrenched when very few, if anyone, actually believes them. So that’s kind of … it’s social science where individual beliefs, when we interact, do or do not become stifling conventional wisdom.
Trigger warnings and micro-aggressions (ca 44 min)
A lot of this was outgrowths of movements that initially were completely legitimate. […] but often movements reached their decadent phase, where having achieved the majority of their goals, having picked the low-hanging fruit, they don’t go out of business, but they need to find increasingly obscure grievances and causes to retain their moral franchise. And I suspect that’s what happened to what we now call Political Correctness, many aspects of which, in their original moderate form were completely reasonable.
Hela frågestunden är högintressant, så jag rekommenderar att ni lyssnar igenom till slutet. Bland annat följer en diskussion om gränsdragningen mellan yttrandefrihet och den rimliga förväntningen om konfidentialitet i olika diskussioner, samt behovet av att moderera vissa diskussioner utan att för den skull kväva olika åsikter.
Jag tycker att mycket av det Pinker berör är högst relevant även för jämställdhetsdebatten – inte minst så känns det som att vi skulle kunna tala om The Feminist Pole (hmm…) utifrån vilken alla riktningar går mot kvinnohat.
Kanske jag ändå skall låta Pinker få sista ordet [1:02:45]:
It is hard work to advance intellectually defensible ideas. I see that as one of the reasons to favor Free Speech, namely: it’s easy to fall back on comfortable groupthink, if you can wall off uncongenial opinions, and I see this in myself: it’s really enjoyable to read something that agrees with you, and it’s really annoying to read something/someone who disagrees with you, especially if they have a good argument!
So the challenge is – and again I think this is part of the mission of higher education, to get people used to the idea that some unpleasant things are very, very good, including hearing the opinions of people you disagree with!