Monday, November 03, 2008

Love the Light: More on Political Prejudice


I recently posted about political prejudice. The first post was more focused on prejudice towards individuals or groups due to the political ideas they hold or their affiliation with various political parties. This time I wanted to reflect on prejudice towards certain ideas because of the individuals or groups who happen to hold those ideas. The New York Times today has a piece about research regarding the influence (or lack thereof) of the liberalism of professors on the political views of students. It's quite interesting and ties in nicely with what I want to discuss:

"A study of nearly 7,000 students at 38 institutions published in the current PS: Political Science and Politics, the journal of the American Political Science Association, as well as a second study that has been accepted by the journal to run in April 2009, both reach similar conclusions.

“There is no evidence that an instructor’s views instigate political change among students,” Matthew Woessner and April Kelly-Woessner, a husband-and-wife team of political scientists who have frequently conducted research on politics in higher education, write in that second study.

Their work is often cited by people on both sides of the debate, not least because Mr. Woessner describes himself as politically conservative.

No one disputes that American academia is decidedly more liberal than the rest of the population, or that there is a detectable shift to the left among students during their college years. Still, both studies in the peer-reviewed PS, for example, found that changes in political ideology could not be attributed to proselytizing professors but rather to general trends among that age group. As Mack D. Mariani at Xavier University and Gordon J. Hewitt at Hamilton College write in the current issue, “Student political orientation does not change for a majority of students while in college, and for those that do change there is evidence that other factors have an effect on that change, such as gender and socioeconomic status.”

That may be, said Daniel Klein, an economist at George Mason, but those results don’t necessarily mean there isn’t a problem. Mr. Klein, whose research has shown that registered Democrats vastly outnumber Republicans among faculty in the humanities and social sciences at American colleges and universities, maintains that the focus on the liberal-conservative split is misdirected. Such terms are vague and can be used to describe everything from attitudes about religion and family to the arts and lifestyles, he said.

The real issue, said Mr. Klein, who calls himself a libertarian, is that social democratic ideas dominate universities — ideas that play down the importance of the individual and promote government intervention." (Read the whole thing here)

Baha'i scripture emphasizes that one of the root causes of the disorder and destruction in the world is prejudice and that the antidote to prejudice is the independent investigation of the truth. Part of this "independent" investigation involves independence from prejudice towards ideas simply because of the source of those ideas:

"...it is imperative that we should renounce our own particular prejudices and superstitions if we earnestly desire to seek the truth. Unless we make a distinction in our minds between dogma, superstition and prejudice on the one hand, and truth on the other, we cannot succeed. When we are in earnest in our search for anything we look for it everywhere. This principle we must carry out in our search for truth...Light is good in whatsoever lamp it is burning! A rose is beautiful in whatsoever garden it may bloom! A star has the same radiance if it shines from the East or from the West. Be free from prejudice, so will you love the Sun of Truth from whatsoever point in the horizon it may arise!"
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 136)

And further:

"Likewise, when you meet those whose opinions differ from your own, do not turn away your face from them. All are seeking truth, and there are many roads leading thereto. Truth has many aspects, but it remains always and forever one. Do not allow difference of opinion, or diversity of thought to separate you from your fellow-men, or to be the cause of dispute, hatred and strife in your hearts. Rather, search diligently for the truth and make all men your friends. " (Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 53)

My understanding is that in Baha'i thought there is no such thing as a "liberal truth" or a "conservative truth", a "Republican truth" or a "Democrat truth" there is simply "truth". Truth can be discovered anywhere and everywhere if we have eyes to see and eyes to hear. However, if we get hung up on the lamp, we may miss the light and without light we are all in the dark regardless of what party we belong to or our political views.