as the “cage of norms.” That book is among those stacked to be reviewed. Maybe this year?
There’s a lot going on in those two paragraphs. In that “How would you feel” is the basis for the first rule of interaction in the three Faiths of the Book. There’s an important corollary, as well: the precocious child might ask Mom or Dad “How would you like being put in time-out?” Kids don’t like being put in time-out, and the wise parent will note something to the effect that the grown-up version of time-out lasts for days, not minutes, in a place called “jail”. The concept of reciprocity, though, is a straightforward elaboration of the
The second paragraph appeals to the Framing of the Declaration of Independence. The “endowed by their Creator” passage vesting rights in individuals is a rebuttal to the divine right of kings: it was not the Hand of God that made the
Stuart Tudor Hanover Battenberg
Windsor family Defenders of the Faith, Emperors of India, and sovereigns over British North America. People consented to their rule, and people had the right to withdraw their consent. Note, dear reader, how the Holy Spirit has been more catholic in identifying popes, a position of power that up to 1978 seemed to be reserved to Italian cardinals. Ideally, a rough egalitarianism ought to hold in education as well. Yale Law do not hold the franchise on staffing the High Bench, nor is the Southeastern Conference endowed with the right to dominate football.
The issue to which Dean Dad speaks manifests itself in that concluding sentence, “nobody deserves abuse.” The complications develop in the next two paragraphs.
Reciprocity isn’t a perfect ideal, of course. It can fail through a lack of self-awareness; if my prediction of how I would feel if someone did that to me is wildly wrong, I could draw the wrong lessons. It can also blind people to genuinely different preferences in others. Encountering someone grounded in a religion or culture that isn’t my own, or with a very different personality, may lead to a mismatch between what I would have expected them to want and what they actually want. Reciprocity can also become transactional, or a mechanism with which to attempt control. Without the requisite humility and curiosity, it can become a form of narcissism.
Granting its flaws, though, it has always struck me as a good default position for how to treat others. When in doubt, it’s usually safe to go with “treat others as you’d want to be treated.” Sometimes it’s possible to do better than that, as when you have deep knowledge of the other person. But for daily interactions with strangers, it’s a pretty good starting point. What we call “manners” in the broad sense are how we enact basic respect for other people.
Yes, culture shock is a thing. A Tom Clancy villain went to the Middle East to learn terrorism from the jihadis, and he discovered that inshallah
without the urgency. That’s unkind: and yet, there’s reason to investigate different adaptations
to time among different peoples in different locations, to understand why in the tropics, the sense of urgency isn’t the same as it is in the temperate zones, and what evolutionary advantage each adaptation
For instance, if you’ve scheduled a clinic appointment for ten a.m., and at 10.30 you’re still flipping through that old issue of Time
in the waiting room, they’d better have a good reason for the delay. Or if you’ve agreed to pick your date up at six, five or ten additional minutes of primping might be fine, but if the getting ready runs into half an hour or more, she’s high-maintenance, no matter what might transpire with the lights off. Since this post is ultimately about higher education, note also the urban legend about having to wait five minutes for a graduate assistant, but up to fifteen or twenty minutes for a senior professor: it is an oral tradition of long standing, but there’s no evidence of it ever being a policy. Or consider the behavior of people who show up five or ten minutes late for meetings, ultimately leading to all meetings beginning late, or the enabling behavior of the moderator who will recapitulate all the introductory items for the benefit of latecomers. I fail to see the evolutionary advantage
of those practices.
More relevant to the evolution of his column, as well as to higher education, is the notion of “transactional” reciprocity. The Faiths of the Book might teach “do unto others as you would have them do unto you;” and Jesus might advise the faithful to love their enemies
and offer the other cheek
; and yet, when you’ve run out of cheeks to offer, what do you do?
There was a Tragic Version of the golden rule popular among middle schoolers, it took out the “as you would have” part, resulting in “Do unto others as they do unto you.” Mannerly elicits mannerly
, while unkindness elicits unkindness. If that sounds a little like the tit-for-tat strategy
of game theory, or the Grim Strategy when cooperation breaks down
, it should. And the running out of cheeks to turn manifests itself in an observation
Auric Goldfinger brought from Chicago. “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.”
It’s with the breakdown of cooperation that we have to turn. Of late, Inside Higher Ed writers have been sounding the alarm, perhaps with reason, over the changes Florida governor Ron DeSantis has been attempting at the state-financed colleges and universities. Dean Dad would have you believe that the breakdown of reciprocity is the governor’s fault.
In politics, reciprocity tends to restrain arbitrary power. If my party is in charge right now, I might be tempted to look the other way when it decides to break some eggs in the name of making the proverbial omelet. But if I know that my party could lose power soon, and the other party might step in and see me as an egg that needs breaking, then suddenly constraints on arbitrary authority start to make sense. Basic ground rules that limit what people in power can do to people who aren’t in power at any given time make it possible for a group to accept defeat when it happens. We’ll get ’em next time. If we accept that we’re all just people, none really better than any others, then basing some ground rules on basic reciprocity makes sense.
All of this is by way of explaining just how deeply disturbing the movement behind Governor DeSantis’s recent proposals is.
I’m not sure which “movement” he’s speaking to. Governor DeSantis is a predictable response
to years of higher education’s leaders disrespecting the people who fund them, and mistreating more than a few students.
For instance, it is inclusive, in the proper sense of the word, to note that there are ways of describing music that don’t involve five-line staffs, and treble, tenor, and bass clefs, and that there are compositional traditions
that don’t involve Vienna, Warsaw, or Florence. Dress that up as “decolonizing?” That might be happenstance. Or it might be a way to manipulate people so as to grab control of the canon. Fortunately, I am not aware of anyone calling out the director of the jazz ensemble for “cultural appropriation” when the performance includes a berimbau.
If a Governor DeSantis didn’t push back, somebody else would.
The avalanche is the point. And the catalyst of the avalanche is a fundamental rejection of reciprocity.
The animating idea behind all of these attacks is that some people are just better than others. The better ones, in this story, are tired of tolerating the annoying habits of their inferiors, so it’s time to restore order and take the inferiors down a notch or two. In this story, “better” is not a result of behavior; it’s an innate status. The betters are licensed to engage in behavior that would be considered contemptible if the roles were reversed. That’s because they reject the idea that the roles could be reversed.
No. If anything, the poobahs of higher education have been using untested culture-studies theories
of social interaction in a way incompatible
with the continued fulfillment of the academic mission, or the proper education of the young, and they’ve dressed it up in wordnoise
calculated to make Normals feel inferior
or to take Normals down that notch or two
, and the Normals have recognized the enemy action for what it is, and found a champion. What Dean Dad writes about the overreach of Florida’s governor could equally well describe the overreach of higher education
over the past forty years or so.
In looking at the various abuses of power already enacted and others proposed, I’m struck not only by how awful each one is, but by the apparent confidence that it will never be the other side’s turn again. That’s how deep the rejection of reciprocity goes. Over time, of course, hubris doesn’t usually turn out well. But until it collapses, it can do catastrophic damage.
The poobahs of higher education could have met Allan Bloom or Charlie Sykes halfway
, thirty or forty years ago, and I would have been able to write more about things that run on rails. But they did not, and I had their follies to document
. Volokh Conspiracist Keith Whittington might see a Strange Loop in Florida
. “In the name of prohibiting political litmus tests for faculty, the reform will wind up imposing political litmus tests for faculty.” The hubris of the post-everythingists
begat the hubris of the populists.