After Nixon crushed McGovern in the 1972 election, the film critic Pauline Kael made a remark that has become a touchstone among conservatives. “I don’t know how Richard Nixon could have won,” she marveled. “I don’t know anybody who voted for him.” While the second sentence indicates the sheltered habitat of the Manhattan intellectual, the first signifies what social scientists call the False Consensus Effect. That effect occurs when people think that the collective opinion of their own group matches that of the larger population. If the members of a group reach a consensus and rarely encounter those who dispute it, they tend to believe that everybody thinks the same way.
The problem is that the simple trappings of deliberation make academics think that they’ve reached an opinion through reasoned debate — instead of, in part, through an irrational social dynamic. The opinion takes on the status of a norm. Extreme views appear to be logical extensions of principles that everyone more or less shares, and extremists gain a larger influence than their numbers merit. If participants left the enclave, their beliefs would moderate, and they would be more open to the beliefs of others. But with the conferences, quarterlies, and committee meetings suffused with extreme positions, they’re stuck with abiding by the convictions of their most passionate brethren. —Mark Bauerlein —Liberal Groupthink Is Anti-Intellectual (Chronicle of Higher Education)
This article is in a subdirectory marked “temp,” so I don’t know if it’s permanent.
I think this aspect of academic culture that leads to the impression that academics live in the ivory tower, isolated from the outside world. Baurelein mentions what he calls the “Common Assumption,” which is the unspoken expectation that “all the strangers in the room at professional gatherings are liberals.”
I was consciously aware of a variation of this phenomenon when I was studying in Canada. Polite cocktail party conversation and small-talk at graduate social events typically included anti-American sentiments that were not offered for debate, but were instead intended to solicit silent nodding and sighs of assent. For instance, I recall one student, puzzled by a fellow Canadian’s use of a particularly vulgar racist phrase, speculating that since there was a U.S. military base near where this vulgar Canadian grew up, that must have been the source of this Canadian’s vulgarity. When nobody in the room laughed at the outright silliness of this display of “logic,” I had to speak up.
In my role as a journalism teacher, I am increasingly aware of the effect that my own biases may have in the classroom.
A colleague of mine posted a printout of the “States with Higher IQ Vote Democrat” meme, but according to The American Assembler, which published it as a humor item, it appears to be a hoax.