Culture warriors, like, always commit hasty generalization

Robert Stacy McCain’s post at the American Spectator is an exercise in hasty generalization.  McCain reports on the egregious behavior of one Hugo Schwyzer of Pasadena City College.  Schwyzer loves sleeping with the undergrads.  By his own reckoning, by 1998, he’d slept with at least 24 of his students.  He also passed himself off as a scholar of feminism, sexuality, and gender justice.  So he teaches classes about pornography and then sends out pics of himself masturbating.  Dude sounds like a straight-up weirdo, no doubt.  Trouble is, McCain takes Schwyzer to be representative of what the professorate is like generally.

Actually, there was a lot odd about Schwyzer’s career, but he may have seemed fairly normal among the lunatic perverts employed by sex-crazed academia nowadays….

But he is certainly not alone in his madness, which is merely symptomatic of how American academia has lost its collective mind.

So, how does McCain base this thought that Schwyzwer’s behavior is representative of academic culture?  By invoking Bill Ayers, Herbert Marcuse, some women’s studies professors who are ‘queer theorists’ and advocate lesbianism to their students, a Columbia prof who had a sexual relationship with his own daughter, and Freud.

Here’s the deal.  It’s too easy to take the worst actors (or who may seem the worst) in a group as representative of the group.  Say, for example: Republican Senators against gay rights but who nevertheless proposition men in bathrooms.  Or preachers who preach clean living yet take advantage of their position of power to coerce women to have sex with them.  See? Easy.  But they aren’t necessarily representative.  What happens is that these folks and their behaviors are so egregious, they stick with us and become easy ways to characterize the groups.  This is the error of what’s called an ‘availability cascade,’ and it screws up the way we make reliable inductive inferences. And so we see one here – egregious behavior by professor causes right-wing pundit to generalize that behavior to all profs.

About Scott Aikin

Scott Aikin is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University.
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One Response to Culture warriors, like, always commit hasty generalization

  1. Pingback: Culture warriors, like, always commit hasty generalization | Symposium Magazine

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