Recently, several “intellectuals” convened to deal with a problem so serious it could not be tackled by just one college professor. The question was this: How can professors stop an epidemic of students missing their examinations without jeopardizing student grades by resorting to point deductions?
The problem was so serious that the handful of intellectuals who first noticed the problem – and noticed others noticing the problem – sent out a mass email inviting others to attend a “brown bag” luncheon to brainstorm. They were searching for “solutions”, which would stop short of actually punishing students for missing their examinations.
I certainly have no problem with professors getting together to find “solutions” to difficult “problems.” But I do have a “problem” with the way these professors were characterizing their “problem.”
A better description of their “problem” – one that better reflects its magnitude – would sound something like this: How can we retain the secular/ progressive view of human nature, which is needed to justify secular/ progressive policies, in light of a wealth of evidence to the contrary?
The thoughts of the professors responding to the mass email were enlightening. One complained that she wanted to give her students the benefit of the doubt, but they constantly pushed and tested her. The more she withheld punishment, the more prevalent the undesirable behavior.
Another observed that the more often she does nice things for students, the more often they take advantage of her. She seemed perplexed by the fact that rewarding a missed exam with another administration, thus giving the student more time to prepare, led to more missed exams.
The dilemma of the perplexed professors highlights the fundamental difference between the conservative and the progressive views of human motivation. The former suggests that you can sometimes threaten to do bad things to people and expect good things in return. The latter suggests that you can promise to do good things for people and expect good things in return.
In the 1960s, our government began to put the progressive view of human nature to the test. We launched a War on Poverty in an effort to build a Great Society. Soon, we began to see mountains of data refuting the secular/ progressive view of human nature.
By the end of the first decade of our efforts to build a Great Society, crime in America had skyrocketed to unprecedented levels. The 1960s saw record increases in crime rates, which have yet to be broken.
Progressives thought that giving people welfare, food stamps, and huge increases in the minimum wage would all be nice favors, which would be returned in the form of greater citizen conformity. The fact that it didn’t work has done little to shake the foundations of progressive faith in human decency.
Since the failed effort to build a Great Society there have been repeated calls to build more prisons in order to clean up the mess progressives have created. But, for years, progressives have fought tooth and nail to prevent or slow the expansion of prisons.
The result, of course, has been an increase in homicides and gang-rapes in prison due to prison overcrowding. In short, the progressive view of human nature has produced more violence among both free and captive populations. More people are dying everywhere but the progressive vision of human decency is immortal. It cannot be slain by any wealth of empirical evidence.
More recently, we have seen the effects of progressive gun control policies. Like prisons, guns are reminders of human depravity, which the progressive cannot accept. And so the progressive seeks to ban guns. Nonetheless, in 2008, the Supreme Court lifted a ban on handguns in Washington D.C., which resulted in a 25% decrease in homicides the next year.
The D.C. homicide data speak volumes about human nature. The presence of guns is a threat, which helps many depraved individuals conform to the dictates of the law. Nonetheless, progressives still fight the very reforms that have helped preserve innocent lives. They do so because it is more important that they preserve their vision of human decency.
It isn’t surprising that progressives who cannot manage a classroom cannot also manage “society.” It would be better if the progressive would confine her decision to accommodate, rather than punish, irresponsibility to the classroom. But intellectuals rarely keep their ideas to themselves. They are obliged to impose them on “society.”
Replacing the Judeo-Christian view of human nature with the progressive view of human nature has proven to be a bad idea. And bad ideas have bad consequences for fallen human beings. But progressive hope for the secular transformation of human nature springs eternal.