On January 8, 2018, Jakub Ferencik published an article, The Controversy of Bret Weinstein Explained – The Evergreen Scandal, on what is being called a “the Leftist attack” on the evolutionary biologist, Bret Weinstein.
The attack on Weinstein was organized by the students of Evergreen State University, where he taught as a biology professor. The event that ignited the student’s ire followed a unique school tradition: Students of color were encouraged to stay home as a way to outline their significant contributions in society. However, “A year ago,” as Ferenick explains, “they flipped the logic. Rather than telling people of colour to stay away for the day, they told white people that they are not welcome on campus for a day. Absence wasn’t compulsory, but highly recommended.”
Weinstein supported the first iteration, but not the second.
Weinstein believed that the core message was being distorted by this shift. He vocalized that “this wasn’t quite the same ethical and political message as the former option,” but it was that perspective that outraged the leftist Evergreen State University students, who accused Weinstein and his wife, Heather Heying (who also taught at the university), of one of the most condemning words in America: “racists.” It was under this accusation from the student body that both Weinstein and Heying were dismissed from their positions as professors and released from employment by the university.
America’s reaction to the publicized events surprised Ferenick:
“… America seems divided. This is the result of the ever-increasing polarization in the Western world, especially in the States.”
Ferencik’s article usesWeinstein attack outline to note a growing in America – a lack of even discourse in modern American society. This lack of even discourse among those with radically differing ideas and opinions has existed for some time – likely since the beginning of human communication – but we are now seeing it splinter groups that were previously united towards similar goals.
The line between what is felt and what is fact has become blurred.
No longer is objective fact held as the guide for discussion; we have turned to subjective ideas and beliefs instead. That is to say, more ideas based on personal opinions of how our bodies work and the natural order of the world are being presented as fact because they seem like a better fit.
Humanity is fallible.
As a species, Humans thrive when utilizing trial and error to establish a base of knowledge that can be used as a launching point for further discovery.
This is represented best by the Scientific Method:
Emotion does not care much for the logic of the Scientific Method. We pose a question, create a hypothesis, and then craft experiments to prove or disprove our hypothesis in the most unbiased manner. The results of this experiment can then be tested by other scientists. This process of peer review helps to establish the reliability of the information as provable and reliable. We are then able to use the data as a foundation to make assessments of the world and of ourselves. While certain emotions are very helpful in the practice of the Scientific Method, it must be kept from influencing the factual nature of the work being performed.
Ilona Stengel recently published a TED Talk, The role of human emotions in science and research, on this very subject.
Stengel provides a helpful summary of the usefulness of emotion in a scientific setting. However, emotion driven, opinion-based evidence advocating for social change cannot hold the same ground as provable fact.
The rocky ground on which emotionally charged thinking stands is summarized well in a 2014 study:
Published in Frontiers in Psychology, 1 this study was conducted by scientists with Justus Liebig University in Giessen, Germany. They identified that individuals with altered moods (positive or negative) exhibited less logic reasoning and problem-solving skills than those in a neutral state. While it may seem almost common knowledge that emotionally charged individuals would perform worse in areas of logic, it is the formal process of the Scientific Method that provides a more concrete understanding of the cognitive and environmental variables that influence our minds.
What captured my attention in Ferencik’s article was his open advocation for listening to different perspectives before coming to a conclusion. Disclosing his proclivity to “lean left BIG TIME,” Ferencik goes on to highlight the dangers of polarization. And he’s right. To outline this point, I shared two different articles recently on the matter of gun ownership in the United States.
The goal was to encourage the reader to objectively read both articles and try to place themselves in the position of either of the writers. Why? Because reading in this manner and making the effort to understand why each position is held can provide a unique insight to the topic, and regardless of personal thoughts, open up the reader to the idea of changing positions.
Changing positions on such a volatile topic is a bit unlikely, I know, but if you are open to the idea and make the attempt to understand the other perspective, your chances of compromise may be a bit higher. You are able to give your emotion a moment to balance closer to neutral before engaging the topic discussion.
See, we all don’t have to be on one side.
As I’ve written before, our differences make us who we are, and there is no need to wash that away. There are many valid reasons for an individual to live differently than another, but we must remember that we still have to coexist. There has developed an idea that no one should have their feelings hurt and that every opinion should be regarded as fact. As a society, we have overcorrected from a place of oppression, racism, and unbalanced power into one of social bubble wrap.
There is no need to revert back to the days of old. It serves no productive purpose to lash out at those who may have a hard time accepting the vast differences that social media and 24/7 news have brought to their front door.
“Make America Great Again” is not a goal, it is a manipulation of people who feel their way of life has changed to the point of ostracism.
The terms Liberal and Conservative have turned into armies facing off against each other. Should you suggest that the separation of church and state be a fundamental pillar of the United States, you are treated as a religious oppressor. By the same token, if you suggest that whites should not be demonized for the actions of their ancestors, you are labeled as a racist. We are being pitted against each other with our emotions used to motivate the fight. We do not need to continue this behavior. We can get to a place of fair and even discussion without tribalism or defamatory language.
It is with this understanding, that emotion can distort our logical reasoning ability, that I propose a challenge. This challenge is not sexy. This challenge is not driven with the fire of a revolution. This challenge is not one of overnight success. I propose that each and every one of us, take a moment to acknowledge our emotion when approaching discussion with our fellow Humans. Relying purely on our intuition, opinion, or emotional response to contribute to a conversation can turn the comment section of a cat video into a dumpster fire of insults and racism. The individual being dismissed as “liberal scum” or a “close minded conservative dirt bag” has a unique history that shaped their point of view. A history that is just as valid as the person on the other side of the keyboard thinking of new ways to insult them.
While we can be passionate and fiery in our stance, an emotional response does not denote objective fact. I refuse to believe that we have lost the ability to foster even discourse between each other. A bruised ego, subjective life choice, unfortunate circumstance, or evening of the playing field does not justify a revolt. This is increasingly more important to remember as we adapt to the culture of social media and instant communication.
Listen with the intent to hear what other people are saying, and together we will change the world.