Controversy and Social Progress

4 minute read

Originally from a Twitter thread that helped me put a few thoughts together, concisely.

Thoughts on Social Progress

After seeking to hear out a champion of the right, I noticed my Youtube Recommendations were leaning rather Right.

Because the aforementioned Twitter thread would become too long-winded and ephimeral, I thought the stream-of-consciousness would be better elaborated on here.

You see, I didn’t think this was a batch of Right-leaning media, initially. However, I am more cautious - now more than ever - of bodies that call themselves lauded titles such as “University” since I learned about PragerU’s agenda of soundbytes.

So I did a brief Google search, to find that the Hoover Institution auto-completes to “conservative”:


Intrigued, I dug into the site. Actually following the second suggested auto-completion, I found a conservative-friendly op-ed.

What kept me reading was the continual “talking past each other”. In one “top comment”, there was a call-out of “having missed the point”.

  • It was amazing to see that what has been occurring in my own life was actually happening at one of the most prestige universities in the world, along the exact same lines. It’s as if the ideological wars are indeed penetrating our places of learning

Upon reviewing the cited original articale, I got the pronounced feeling of “nobody’s listening”.

  • The argument, briefly:

Any institution at Stanford must stand with the common goal of pursuing knowledge (and truth), regardless of where this pursuit takes us. Hoover’s mission statement frames its pursuits with a Constitutionalist lens, which is antithetical to the outlined pursuit of knowledge. It is as heinous as saying the 18th century was the indisputable “most important” century for all of human history. Also, a Hoover fellow requested student debaters do background research on their debate opponents. This research - encouraged with somewhat religious dictum - into “grinding down” debate opponents is threatening and plotting against students and cannot be tolerated. Given these points, Stanford should consider no longer allowing Hoover to be a part of Stanford

My response:

  • Pursue knowledge wholheartedly? Yes. Is the willingness to discard your foundational principles prerequisite for that pursuit? For some. For others, then entire point is to stay within some structure (see: Deist scientists). More on this a little later.
  • The framing analogy feels strawman-ish. Pursuing intellectual progress with the framing that the U.S. Constitution was a well written document (concession: written by hypocrites) doesn’t seem on the same order of magnitude as exhalting the 1700’s as the best there ever was. A refrain: it’s not as harmful and shouldn’t be condemned as such.
  • Doing background research on your opponents as the human beings they are seems like both (1) good battle tactics, and (2) a main avenue for empathy. If you intend to persuade someone to your point of view, it tends to take patience and an understanding of another’s person. If you’ve done no legwork on this front, you’re hamstringing yourself to having a more personal interaction. On the other hand, if this was strictly for ad hominem attacks, the burden of proof is on the university professors who signed the statement against Hoover
  • Does this mean that Hoover’s permanence at Stanford should be questioned? If not for the composition fallacy, the answer would be an easy, resounding “Yes”. Given those darn fallacies, a further investigation or repeat offense(s) will convince me and prevail over my ows potential logical error

Stated differently, I think no one is hearing each other because many parties are convinced of a false binary when - in fact - solutions are more subtle than that.

A top commentor of the original statement tears into the “whatabout-ism” that devolves these discussions. To summarize,

If one acts outside the code of conduct, in the name of their Institution, should the Actor or the Institution (along with the actor) be thrown out?

I lean towards the former, because I like a diversity of opinions, of having my way of thinking challenged, and letting people that disagree with me also have room to explore those ideas. My hope in the human spirit - to overcome the shorcomings of a given stance - allow me to see past the time in between, where foolish poeples stay ignorant of durations indeterminate.

Here’s the thought experiment:

If everyone at the table thinks something (idea or entity) is bad, is that a settled issue or should we have someone at the table that thinks said matter is okay?

  • In the latter case, progress cane be stalled. You can go around and around in circles, rehashing the same, tired arguments, never reaching resolution. But you’re inclusive.
  • In the former case, we stop questioning assumptions. If we didn’t question assumptions, there would be ground for a flat earth to stand on. Questioning assumptions has lead to breakthrough after breakthrough: Richard Feynman, Marie Curie, Ben Carson, or Ian Goodfellow. Breakthroughs change the name of the game of incremental progress.

So which is better?