FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2022
Something Shapin said this past week: At one point, Todd Gitlin was head of SDS, back during the early Vietnam street-fighting days.
He went on to become a widely respected, influential professor and author. When Professor Gitlin died last weekend, Michelle Goldberg offered this well-composed memorial essay in the New York Times.
Also in the New York Times, Katharine Seelye authored this detailed obituary of Gitlin. At one point, she linked to a profile of Gitlin from early 1989.
In that earlier profile, Professor Gitlin made an interesting statement about the 1960s "New Left." First, though, consider the things Professor Shapin said to The Atlantic's Yair Rosenberg just in the past few days.
"For decades, Steven Shapin has taught the history of science at Harvard University," Rosenberg says early on. "We sat down to discuss why some people trust podcasters over professors, how Joe Rogan and other iconoclasts tap into the myth of Galileo, and why 'following the science' [about the pandemic] is a lot harder than it sounds."
Why do so many people refuse to trust the usual experts? To our ear, Rosenberg's interview with Shapin seems a bit murky early on. But near the end, the analysis by the Harvard professor seems to pick up steam.
Professor Shapin has spent his academic career studying the question of why people believe the things they believe and trust the people they trust. This may seem maddening, he seemed to say, but we possibly need to get over ourselves and we might try behaving like humans.
Long story short! Professor Shapin seems to feel that we probably shouldn't be calling The Others names:
SHAPIN (2/10/22): I think it’s really wrong that people believe Joe Rogan and Trump, but I understand, and I think we should all understand, why they do this, and how we might hope to move them. It’s going to take a lot of work; it’s going to take a lot of time. But we need the right science in this, and that involves the science of credibility and the science of people—their beliefs, their perceptions, their emotions, and the science of how people come to know science.
It needs a face, it needs PowerPoints, it needs metaphors, it needs analogies. It needs a face of sympathy, and a face that says, “I am caring about you and we are all in this together.” Because America is so divided, it’s very difficult to talk about that. But if you want to ask people to believe something, and to do something based on that belief, you’ve got to show that you care. And you’ve got to show that we’re all doing our bit. It’s following the science of credibility as well as the science of viruses. But it bloody well is complicated.
Professor Shapin is quite a squish—but so, perhaps, was Professor Gitlin. He led the SDS back in the fabled street-fighting days—but a few decades later, when he'd become a Berkeley professor, he said these things to Katherine Bishop of the New York Times:
BISHOP (1/8/89): Even on the Berkeley campus where it happened, it can be difficult to separate the F.S.M. from the mythology surrounding it. ''The Free Speech Movement has something of a halo around it,'' Dr. Gitlin said. ''My sense of it is that there's a vacuous pride, a feeling that whatever it was, it was good for us. It's our glory. But the attitude is disconnected from knowledge.
''There's a temptation to say that our crowd was better than you—that we were more moral,'' Dr. Gitlin added. ''It's not true. I try to convey that nobody was walking on water.''
Professor Gitlin was there at the start. In his view, it just isn't true that Our Own Exalted Crowd was better, more moral, than They Were.
We offer these observations for entertainment purposes only. There is zero chance that our self-impressed tribe will ever drop the various poses by which we express our superiority and alienate many Others.
We love to scold them for "banning books." We're fairly sure they're Nazis.
We believe they hail from East Bumfuck, or perhaps from some place worse. We don't mind saying so.
We invent crazy statements they didn't make, and then we insist that they made them. This is part of our tribal DNA in a way which isn't going to change. We've been signaling these deep beliefs for a very large number of years.
Today, truckers are blocking a bridge to Detroit. This may be the early face of our coming "civil war." Much more of this may be on the way. This may be just the start.
To many residing within our own tribe, this is simply the way our lessers behave. Within our tribe, we're fairly sure of such facts.