The best argument against liberalism is that it doesn’t work. That should be obvious to any teacher who has to deal with student cheating. Even some sociology teachers are beginning to learn this although they are not aware that they are learning it. Like rats in a Skinner box, their behavior is being modified by reality even when they lack the intellectual capacity to recognize it. It warms my heart to see old liberals changing their ways, even if mindlessly. So I have written a column about it, which I am hoping will someday be reprinted by the New York Times.
Liberals are reticent to address the issue of student cheating because it reminds them of the fallen nature of man. Utopia requires cooperation and evidence that people tend to cheat undermines the view that they are inclined to cooperate. So liberals would prefer to ignore evidence of cheating in order to preserve a vision of what “society” ought to be and could be if only they were given the means (read: more of our money) to re-engineer it.
But evidence of student cheating has become too widespread to ignore. So the liberals in my department have started circulating articles on the subject coming from reputable sources like the New York Times (sarcasm = off). Some of these articles and some of the faculty reactions to them have focused on what they describe as “a culture of cheating.” Accordingly, some liberal faculty members have started talking about what needs to be done about it. Others have started acting on it. This should be causing cognitive dissonance for several reasons:
1. Merit is irrelevant. Sociology students are frequently fed the liberal line that people do not succeed in America on the basis of their own merits. The old “it isn’t what you know, it’s who you know” maxim is more than just a cultural adage. It seeps into the college curriculum in sociology classes that focus on Marxian conflict theories. Students are routinely taught that wealth, power, and privilege are the keys to success. This tends to denigrate the importance of knowledge. It should go without saying that people are less inclined to rely on their own achievements if their efforts are thus devalued. The connection of such notions to acceptance of cheating is fairly obvious. If we teach people that they cannot succeed through legitimate efforts we will soon see them pursue success through illegitimate means. As always, liberals fail to understand that ideas have consequences. And bad ideas can have very bad consequences.
2. Ethnocentrism is unacceptable. Sociologists like to teach others that it is wrong to judge other cultures by the standards of one’s own culture. Such judgments are called “ethnocentric.” This concept has slowly crept into mainstream liberal thinking. That is unfortunate because promoting anti-ethnocentrism is problematic for at least two reasons: 1. it tends to undermine the idea that one’s actions (including cheating) can be considered objectively wrong. 2. It renders efforts to condemn a “culture of cheating” hypocritical. Remember that we aren’t supposed to judge other cultures!
3. Punishment is ineffective. Sociologists routinely teach the liberal idea that punishment is ineffective and the corresponding idea that “society” has an obligation to rehabilitate criminals. Then, in their own syllabi, they warn students that cheating will be punished. Claiming to be shocked when their threats are ignored, they send students through the campus penal system, not through rehabilitation. And the liberal campus penal system can be quite punitive and dismissive of due process. No attorneys, no tape recorders, no note taking, no soup … oops! I mean, no due process for you!
In a nutshell, sociology, like modern liberalism, teaches that we can’t get by on our own merits, we should not judge other cultures, and that punishment does not work. When students cheat, however, the sociologist urges advancement through one’s own merits, condemnation of the culture of cheating, and punishment of the transgressor.
It is little wonder that many students are intellectually lost and morally confused. They make the mistake of taking their sociology professors seriously, which means buying into contradictory liberal ideas. So my advice is two-fold: First, don’t cheat in college because it is objectively wrong to do so. Second, don’t cheat yourself by choosing a major populated by hypocrites who cannot abide by the consequences of their own ideas.