Here’s the content of the About page, as of day one of this blog (June 23, 2012):
I’m a Republican, Atheist, Professor, which is where the acronym RAP sheet comes from. (I rejected the title Conservative, Republican, Atheist, Professor after a few moments’ consideration.)
The motivation for this blog is that I often feel like I am a member of the world’s smallest demographic. Certainly, there are no shortage of atheists in the Academy, but the combination of atheist and professor almost guarantees a liberal – or even leftist – political outlook.
So in addition to needing this blog as an outlet for opinions (the Academy is no place for the free and open exchange of political ideas – let that fact sink in), I am also using it to illustrate a question that drives me nuts: why are intellectuals and atheists so monolithic in their political philosophy? The question intrigues me because I take political conservatism as axiomatic given my atheism and given my academic knowledge in the fields of neuroscience and psychology.
While I may choose a more appropriate image later, I have chosen Saruman’s tower from The Lord Of The Rings for the header picture. For some reason, when I think of the phrase “Ivory Tower”, Saruman’s gleaming tower often pops to mind. Obviously, the analogy is hyperbolic – I don’t really think of Academia as the source of all evil, sending forth legions of newly-minted orcs to savage the countryside and lay waste to all that is good and holy. On the other hand, if you read books like Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism or Thomas Sowell’s Intellectuals and Society, you just might wonder how strained that analogy is after all.
But I may change the cover picture just the same, because one of the guiding principles of this blog will be to refrain from name-calling and hyperbolic fear mongering. There’s enough of that in blog land, sufficiently enough that I’m still uncertain if I really want to be out here in it. In fact my plan is to use the site, at least initially, as an online sounding board for myself alone. At some point, when I get my feet wet, I may solicit some followers. My interest is less in joining up with a choir of like-minded cheerleaders than it would be to find others out there with the same questions I have, and hopefully ones with an open mind. If I do get comments on my posts one day that go off topic, or call names, or cheer-lead, I hope that I will not feel any hesitation in deleting them.
In this respect I have been inspired by Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind and his website CivilPolitics.org. I know enough about myself that I may not always be able to remain civil and focused on political philosophy over political personalities – but I intend to try. I am also hopeful that I will find and follow some similarly open-minded and civil political blogs.
Without a doubt, the over-riding mission of this blog rests on reconciling the first word (Republican) with the second two words (Atheist and Professor). But there will also be time to consider each word individually:
- I certainly do hold some positions that are at odds with positions held by most Republicans. Currently my main sources of disagreement seem to be on immigration policy and gay marriage. I have voted for Democrats in the past, but as that party continues to move Leftward I believe I will be less able to do so in the future – even if Republican choices may be disappointing to me personally.
- My atheism is absolutely central to my world view. While I tend to be a “religious sympathizer” and critical of my fellow atheists who misunderstand the so-called “separation” of church and state and who waste their time on trivial issues such as whether “under God” belongs in the Pledge of Allegiance, I can’t deny that my complete inability to believe in God is occasionally a source of estrangement from many of my political allies. I also can’t deny that my philosophy of individual rights (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) is vulnerable due to a failure to believe that these were granted by a Creator.
- My professorship is an interesting issue on its own. Facts about psychology, neuroscience, biology, and history absolutely drive my political philosophy, and these facts will sometimes deserve special comment. My livelihood also rests on the survival of the Academy – and yet politically I have become critical of the way colleges operate and the way colleges are viewed by society.
With any luck, writing about these topics will give me some insight into myself, but also insight into my colleagues and their thought processes. I’m not so naive as to imagine that something I write here will convert anybody. On the other hand, maybe it will at least demonstrate that, despite the stereotypes encouraged by academics and the media, Republicans hold the positions that they do because they think about those positions deeply. Sure, some Republicans are not particularly deep, but my conversion to the Right was thoroughly an “intellectual odyssey” (as it has been for many late converts to the Right; I borrow the term intellectual odyssey from the subtitle of David Horowitz’s reader Left Illusions). Of course, as Michael Shermer points out in Why People Believe Weird Things, even the most intellectual among us can sometimes go down the wrong path, but I hope this blog will lay bare the thinking behind my own political positions. And I hope that the people who disagree with my facts and logic will respond with their own facts and logic.
These are some of the goals of The RAP Sheet blog. Now let’s see how short of the goals we fall…