Hedgehogs, Ideologues, and the ‘Woke’

Lance Morrow, writing at The Wall Street Journal, referenced a line by the ancient Greek poet Archilochus:  “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”  In a 1953 book, philosopher Isaiah Berlin suggested that the world is divided between hedgehogs and foxes—between those who believe in One Big Thing (one all-sufficient super-explanation), and those who are content with a more modest, irrational and even incoherent idea of history’s unfolding.

Morrow asserts that “The world’s hedgehog population tends to expand in times of stress and change. Lately it has exploded in the U.S. Hedgehogs are thick on the ground, all of them advancing One Big Thing or another—each peering through the lens of a particular obsession. At the moment, the biggest One Big Thing is race—the key, it seems, to all of America, to the innermost meanings of the country and its history.”  He asserts that Biden has gone full hedgehog: “President Biden, who spent almost 40 years following the ways of an amiable political fox in the Senate—exchanging pleasantries and now and then doing legislative business with Confederate mossbacks like Strom Thurmond and James Eastland —has, in his old age, signed on with the monomaniacs of the left.”  Apologies to the actual foxes for lumping them in with Joe Biden, even Biden of the past, but the point is a good one.

A letter in today’s WSJ suggests that “perhaps more should be said about where the creature (the hedgehog) has made his lair: the social-science and humanities departments of academia.”  The writer continues:  “As a student, I was a hedgehog. If you are curious about revolutions, all you need to do is read my 1966 master’s thesis: “Asceticism as a Form of Revolutionary Behavior.”  But I had to leave the campus and earn a living. I had to abandon the heady “truth” for the crazy quilt of unrelated, changing and sometimes contradictory truths. I became a fox.”

Hedgehog>>>fox is, a think, a common pattern of human development with age and experience.  Biden’s movement in the other direction is an exception.

The original article and the letter reminded me of a few things:

–Writer Andre Maurois asserted that those who are intelligent, but not in any way creative, tend to be eager adopters of intellectual systems created by others and to apply those systems more vigorously (rigorously?) than the creators of those systems would have.  Reasonably intelligent but not creative is, I think, a fair description of many denizens of academia–probably inevitably so, given the vast expansion of the university archipelago over recent decades.

–C S Lewis, in The Abolition of Man, describes a schoolbook whose authors, while representing their book as an English literature text, actually use it to propagate what seems to be a 1940s version of deconstruction.  Lewis notes that “literary criticism is difficult, and what (these authors) actually do is very much easier.”  It’s a valuable insight, I think.  Hedgehog theories spare one a whole lot of work in dealing with the specifics of a subject.  Becoming an acolyte of some all-encompassing theory can spare you from the effort of learning about anything else.

For example: if everything is about (let’s say) power relationships–all literature, all history, all science, even all mathematics–you don’t need to actually learn much about medieval poetry, or about the Second Law of Thermodynamics, or about isolationism in the 1930s. You can look smugly down on those poor drudges who do study such things, while enjoying “that intellectual sweep of comprehension known only to adolescents, psychopaths and college professors” (the phrase is from Andrew Klavan’s unusual novel True Crime.)  And at the K-12 level, teaching ‘woke’ math to 10th graders is surely easier than teaching them actual algebra, and similarly for other subjects. Laziness–intellectual laziness and just plain laziness–likely plays a significant role here.

–Arthur Koestler, himself a former Communist, described the nature of intellectually closed systems:

A closed system has three peculiarities. Firstly, it claims to represent a truth of universal validity, capable of explaining all phenomena, and to have a cure for all that ails man. In the second place, it is a system which cannot be refuted by evidence, because all potentially damaging data are automatically processed and reinterpreted to make them fit the expected pattern. The processing is done by sophisticated methods of casuistry, centered on axioms of great emotive power, and indifferent to the rules of common logic; it is a kind of Wonderland croquet, played with mobile hoops. In the third place, it is a system which invalidates criticism by shifting the argument to the subjective motivation of the critic, and deducing his motivation from the axioms of the system itself. The orthodox Freudian school in its early stages approximated a closed system; if you argued that for such and such reasons you doubted the existence of the so-called castration complex, the Freudian’s prompt answer was that your argument betrayed an unconscious resistance indicating that you ourself have a castration complex; you were caught in a vicious circle. Similarly, if you argued with a Stalinist that to make a pact with Hitler was not a nice thing to do he would explain that your bourgeois class-consciousness made you unable to understand the dialectics of history…In short, the closed system excludes the possibility of objective argument by two related proceedings: (a) facts are deprived of their value as evidence by scholastic processing; (b) objections are invalidated by shifting the argument to the personal motive behind the objection. This procedure is legitimate according to the closed system’s rules of the game which, however absurd they seem to the outsider, have a great coherence and inner consistency.

The atmosphere inside the closed system is highly charged; it is an emotional hothouse…The trained, “closed-minded” theologian, psychoanalyst, or Marxist can at any time make mincemeat of his “open-minded” adversary and thus prove the superiority of his system to the world and to himself.

Hedgehog tend to live in a mental world which is intellectually closed; information that may challenge the axioms on which the hedgehog centers his worldview are an emotional threat, and must be disregarded or ‘proved’ to be invalid.  Hence the ’emotional hothouse’ characteristic, which seems to apply very well to aggregations of the ‘Woke’.

Your thoughts?


Where Do We Go From Here?

This is what a lot of us on the conservative – independent – libertarian-inclined, and otherwise classic old-style liberal have been wondering over the last six months or so. Where do we go from here, seeing that elections largely can’t be trusted, especially in blue-dominated states with a long, long, long history of election corruption and assorted ballot shenanigans?

Where do we go, and what can we do about a national news media which has become so nakedly, proudly partisan, basically the stenographer and mouthpiece for the Biden Administration? Besides patronizing those independent bloggers, reporters and aggregators, foreign newspapers like the UK’s Daily Mail, and that handful of mainstream reporters who actually appear to recall the original mission of ‘afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted’ and report the plain old who-where-what? While it does seem that formerly competent and respected outlets are shedding viewers like the Titanic shed lifeboats after the encounter with the iceberg, at least half the country does believe what they see on CNN and read in the New York Times, and those of similar devotion to perpetuating the Big Lie(s). What to do, especially when loved ones and co-workers swallow the lies whole?

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Report Those With Unapproved Ideas to the Proper Authorities!

In China:

In April the party launched a telephone hot line and online platform for reporting “historical nihilists,” who fail to comply with the official party line. 

In the United States:

In a national survey, 85 percent of college students who identify as “liberal” say they’d report a professor who made an “offensive” comment. Sixty-five percent of “independent/apolitical” students and 41 percent of “conservatives” also would report a professor to the university.

Students were almost as eager to report their classmates: 76 percent of liberals, 57 percent of independents and 31 percent of conservatives say that a student who says something that offends other students should be reported.

We have fallen a long way from the ideals expressed in Norman Rockwell’s classic painting, and the downward path is continuing.


Courageous, Eloquent, Disturbing

A teacher’s letter of resignation.

Of course, not all students are true believers. Many pretend to agree because of pressure to conform. I’ve heard from students who want to ask a question but stop for fear of offending someone. I have heard from students who don’t participate in discussions for fear of being ostracized. One student did not want to develop her personal essay — about an experience she had in another country — for fear that it might mean that she was, without even realizing it, racist. In her fear, she actually stopped herself from thinking. This is the very definition of self-censorship. 

Read the whole thing.

Kids who develop under an environment such as the one described will tend to become either cowards or bullies.  (Of course, they may also become both cowards and bullies)

What happens to a business or other organization that employs a high % of people who came of age in such an environment?  What happens to an entire society when many of its citizens–especially citizens in leadership organizations–grew up in atmospheres of conformity and bullying?

See also the comments of a Virginia woman who grew up in Maoist China and sees very disturbing parallels with what is going on at her son’s former high school in Virginia.


It’s a special kind of poison, the sudden primacy and popularity of CRT – critical race theory – now hanging in the air like a particularly malignant smog in our workplaces, schools, and universities. It wouldn’t be so malignant, damaging, and counter-productive if it was truly the anti-racism awareness training that it pretends to be, or if it were completely even-handed in being critical of racism across all the spectrum of human colors and backgrounds. But it’s not: as CRT is practiced currently and apparently profitably by race-hustlers of all colors on the rest of us has one focus and one focus only – to blame those whose’ ancestors originated in Northern Europe for the woes and considerable shortcomings of everyone else, without the barest hint of acknowledgement that many of those woes and shortcomings in the African-American communities are self-inflicted. (It would be nice if this would be acknowledged by the CRT warriors, but there will be hundreds of pigs flying in tight combat-box formation overhead before that ever happens.)

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