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I tend to think this is a major problem on college campuses, but suspect it is a more general problem. Briefly, if you think about how progressively liberal a college campus is, and the human tendency to want to be accepted, it should not be a shock that you do not often see lots of vociferous non-progressive voices. But that is not the point I want to make. For a long time I have suspected that a lot of the newsworthy (and cringeworthy) stuff that you see on campuses is actually driven by a very small number of students. More on that in a bit. But think of what this may in fact reveal.

In my view, I do not think “good, moral” people want to be seen as not good and immoral. Thus, on a college campus, it is imperative that students, many of whom are already lacking severely in various aspects of self-confidence, do not alienate themselves from “the group.” What this means is that in an effort to not be seen or misinterpreted as a racist, or lacking sufficient progressive credentials, those folks who are interested in exploring topics of race, inequality, gender, progressivism, or even “worse” who have some doubts about various ideas in these areas, are going to seriously or entirely censor their opinions on these matters – particularly when speaking and appearing in public, but even privately.

I am not suggesting here that there is a policy solution or that something needs to be done about this, not at all. I just think it is good to keep in mind when you get hysterical about what is happening in the world and on campus, whether on one side of the “arguments” or the “other.”  Really, no matter what issue we are talking about and no matter what the setting, my sense is that there are very strong social pressures to conform, even if they are simply in our own imaginations, and if this is the case then people are going to be basing their levels of support for policies and ideas not on the actual merits or logic in any of those positions, but rather on what others are saying and doing about it, which itself may in fact be a function of what everyone else thinks everyone else thinks they should be saying and thinking about it.

The result is a sort of an ideas trap, where all kinds of ideas become very much embedded in the institutional culture you are a part of, and perhaps of societal culture at large – but it is hard to tell from this information alone if in fact these ideas and feelings are truly felt.  I think this is yet another reason for all of us to simply be more humble. Of course, I may only be saying that because I want to be “liked” by my readers and my readers’ friends.

One Response to “Self Censorship and Endogenous Beliefs”

  1. Scott says:

    For me this is most relevant on gun control. I find that if I were to ever discuss my true, real opinion on gun control in public, yes, I would lose friends, but perhaps worse, i could ruin career opportunities, invite government surveillance, or, worst of all, lose a hot date. I think there’s something about this is John Stuart mills “on liberty,” something about social oppression being another form of tyranny, equally as evil as all forms of tyranny, but I never really read the book I just listened to the lecture because I am a very lazy person so I probably shouldn’t pretend to know what I’m talking about.
    But anyways on gun control, the point of the 2nd amendment, the right to defend oneself against tyranny, is rarely discussed, yet terms unknown to the men that started the revolution that changed the world forever, terms such as “public health,” – something that doesn’t actually exist – are often used by the very smartest of us all as they lecture us through cable television. Of course, gun rights are quite a sully thing to fight for at this point, as the ability to defend oneself against the government is so futile and minuscule, and the results so tragic and horrific, as best to be considered an infeasible option anytime after 1865, therefore deeming the spirit of the 2nd amendment to be dead. Im not a lawyer or a legal expert, which is why I can’t understand why no one ever talks about the very big missing thing in today’s world that is a pretty important part of the sentence or two that so the 2nd amendment: miltia. Able bodied men not affiliated with the government training as a well organized entity? Haven’t seen that in awhile. I’m not even saying we should have militias, or that we shouldn’t, I’m just saying, how is the concept of militia so consistently excluded from the conversation?

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