Imagine never being confused

I’ve written

It occurs to me that Leftists may have a very different personal experience with morality than Christians.  While Christians all to some extent fail to follow our own moral code, and are thus confronted with our own personal weakness and viciousness, Leftist morality, being a matter of attitudes, can be quite easy.  It’s not hard to avoid having negative thoughts about blacks, especially if your only exposure to them is The Cosby Show. Nor am I impressed with so-called “liberal guilt” which always seems to mean condemnation of one’s ancestors for failing to meet one’s own standards.  The fact that this is what passes for guilt with them just illustrates how different are their moral experiences.  For us, morality usually means confronting ourselves; for them, it mostly means confronting evil others.  What if many on the social justice warrior Left have never, or almost never, felt personal guilt or shame?  Wouldn’t their personalities be very different from those of ordinary mortals?

Continuing my meditations on our oh-so-righteous undergraduates, it occurs to me that they may also have a very different intellectual experience than ordinary mortals.  Just as they have not had to confront their moral weakness, perhaps they have not had to confront their intellectual weakness.  They don’t know how ignorant they are.  Faculty are right to protect students from embarrassment or discouragement–to, for example, make sure no one is afraid to a ask a “stupid” question.  To be frank, we try to treat our students like equals because we imagine our own superiority is so manifest that the only danger is that we might intimidate them.  But perhaps their epistemic inferiority is not obvious to them at all.  Professors are also right to make material as clear as possible.  We don’t want the difficulty of the material to intimidate them.  But they need to know when we are simplifying.  And they need to have the experience of confusion, of things not making sense until the end of a long struggle when everything finally “clicks”.  They must get the experience of accepting a plausible model, working with it, and then finding that they must abandon it.  Incorrect assumptions must become a live possibility for them, not just for the stupid ancients.

Our students are above average in intelligence but have been fed a diet of very simple ideas.  The simplicity is artificial–it relies on language and social taboos sweeping lots of assumptions and ambiguities under the rug–but it feels utterly natural.  If a life without guilt seems foreign to us ordinary people, how unfathomable is a life without confusion.

3 Responses

  1. You could break “guilt or shame” into two distinct non-expereinces, since we’ve removed both the moral code that could produce guilt and the social censure that could produce shame in its strict sense. I’m sure that children still taunt and tease, but the ideology of non-judgementalism is strong. It’s hard to “burn with shame” if almost all behavior is accepted, and the few things that are not accepted are swiftly forgiven.

    Guilt, shame and conscious ignorance can crush an individual, but they can also powerfully motivate a person. I find these experiences painful, and have spent most of my life doing what I can to move out of this zone of pain.

    I suppose complacency is what one gets when guilt, shame and conscious ignorance are removed. Complacency with one’s self, that is. Critical faculties are turned outward, against the world, when they discover structural racism, heteronormativity, or homophobia.

  2. >Faculty are right to protect students from embarrassment or discouragement–to, for example, make sure no one is afraid to a ask a “stupid” question.

    I think this is a case of something similar to the Phillips Curve in macroeconomics. For any fixed level of academic standards, it really is valuable to make students, or at a minimum the better students, feel as disinhibited as possible about what they don’t know. If they keep asking questions until they are 100% sure they get it, they have a very good chance of getting it – especially if they are encouraged to take any remaining uncertainty as a sign that they don’t get it. (Besides, getting a lucid grasp of what the students do/don’t know is very useful for the professor, assuming it’s not *too* demoralizing.)

    But over the long term, the more open they are about how little they know (and especially when the best students are open about it, since this sends a signal to their classmates) the more expectations crumble and the lower the standards. So then you need to make the incoming cohorts *even more disinhibited* to try to troubleshoot and bootstrap them closer to the old academic standards, and the decline accelerates.

    (This is probably just one example of a much more general dilemma, namely the difficulty of getting people to divulge shameful behavior so they can be corrected appropriately. Maybe campuses need to institute auricular confession?)

  3. I wonder if the guiltless model of leftists actually holds true. For nonwhite leftists and older white leftists sure, but my impression is that many younger whites are plagued by unshakable guilt over their “white privilege”. Unlike older leftists they have actually been taught this crap from birth and therefore are less likely to be able to assure themselves that they’re one of the good whites.

    This would perhaps explain the fanaticism of many millennial SJWs. They could be pushed to more and more extreme forms of virtue-signaling by a desire to prove to themselves that they are good, whereas their elders only virtue-signal to prove this to everyone else.

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