Alan Davison-Being passionate about a problem doesn’t mean your solution is right

Alan Davison
From the pitfalls of virtue signaling to the essence of true leadership, Dr. Alan Davison delivers a compelling narrative that questions modern orthodoxy. Are you ready to challenge your beliefs? Hosted by Jeffery Wang

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About Professor Alan Davison

Alan heads up Heterodox Academy in Australia, promoting viewpoint diversity in our academic communities. He has published both scholarly and popular articles on trends in social sciences and humanities research.


Alan launched the “Permission to Think” speaker series alongside well-known media figure Josh Szeps in 2021, which invites prominent scholars to openly discuss complex issues during this age of outrage. Examining the role of intellectuals and institutions in public debates, especially those in the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS) faculties. To date, guests in the series have included the likes of Jonathan Haidt and Alice Dreger.


Alan had an unusual educational background, being largely home-schooled and entering university via special admissions. He studied piano privately through his teens before initially undertaking a Bachelor of Music in performance, changing to musicology for his postgraduate study.
His long-running research interests cover music and visual culture, art and aesthetics, celebrity studies, and 19th-century European cultural history, but he maintains his knowledge of previous interests, especially in the philosophy of science and the scientific method.

Episode Notes

08:35 Lesson 1: Never Stop Being Curious
13:23 Lesson 2: Being passionate about a problem doesn’t mean you have a solution
20:38 Lesson 3: Try to Steelman and not Strawman.
29:30 Lesson 4: Smart people can use their IQ to rationalize terrible ideas.
36:16 Lesson 5: Be both strategic and tactical and challenging orthodox.
42:43 Lesson 6: Being anti orthodox can be as bad as being orthodox.
44:50 Lesson 7: Humans are apes.
49:56 Lesson 8: Great leaders are both intellectual and ethical.
01:03:07 Lesson 9: Be consistent but be prepared to change.
01:06:25 Lesson 10: Working for and amongst people with diverse viewpoints is fulfilling.

Professor Alan Davison – Being passionate about a problem doesn’t mean your solution is right.

[00:00:08] Jeffery Wang: Hello and welcome to 10 Lessons Learned where we discern wisdom for career, business and life. In other words, valuable insights that you can’t find in a textbook because it took us years to learn this stuff.
[00:00:19] Jeffery Wang: My name is Jeffery Wang, the founder of Professional Development Forum and your host for today.
[00:00:24] Jeffery Wang: This podcast is sponsored by the Professional Development Forum, which helps diverse young professionals find fulfillment in the modern workplace.
[00:00:32] Jeffery Wang: Today we’re joined by Professor Alan Davidson. Alan Heterodox Academy in Australia, promoting viewpoint diversity in our academic communities. He has published both scholarly and popular articles on trends in social sciences and humanities research. Alan launched the Permission to Think speaker series alongside well-known media figure Josh Zeps in 2021, which invites prominent scholars to openly discuss complex issues during this age of outrage.
[00:01:03] Jeffery Wang: Examining the roles of intellectuals and institutions in public debates, especially those in the humanities, arts and social sciences to date, guests in the series have included the likes of Jonathan Haidt and Alice Dreger.
[00:01:18] Jeffery Wang: Alan had an unusual educational background, being largely homeschooled and entering university by special admissions. He studied piano privately through his teens and before initially undertaking a Bachelor of Music in performance changing to musicology for his postgraduate study. His long running research cover music and visual culture, art and aesthetics, celebrity studies and 19th century European cultural history.
[00:01:47] Jeffery Wang: But he maintains his knowledge of his previous interests, especially in the philosophy of science and the scientific method. Welcome to the show, Alan.
[00:01:56] Alan Davison: It’s great to be here, Jeffery. Thanks for having me on.
[00:01:59] Jeffery Wang: Look, I’ve been looking forward to having this interview because of our shared passion for open inquiry and the ability to explore some ideas.
[00:02:08] Jeffery Wang: Now, before we jump into your lessons, can you tell me a little bit about what a heterodox academy is and why is it needed.
[00:02:16] Jeffery Wang:
[00:02:16] Alan Davison: Thanks for the question. Heterodox Academy was set up firstly in the United States. John Hite was one of the co-founders. It was set up a few years ago now and basically, its primary mission is to try to encourage diversity of viewpoints within particularly the academy, but within our public discourse.
[00:02:32] Alan Davison: So, it’s neither right nor left, if you will, on the political spectrum. But everybody in the academy is of the view that we need to be having better quality conversations across the political and ideological spectrums.
[00:02:43] Jeffery Wang: Okay so you also mentioned, permission to think, is there something going on here in the world that is telling us that we no longer have the permission to think Don’t we live in a free world.
[00:02:55] Alan Davison: yes, on the surface, and in fact, the reason it’s called Permission to Think, I think, reflects the idea that’s fundamental to the program, that we’re in an era where there’s a lot of shaming and mobbing and tribalism, obviously fed by social media, but perhaps other things as well, and we might get onto them, so that the reason we call it Permission to Think rather than, say, Permission to Speak, I would argue that things have got to such a stage where many people that are otherwise quite curious individuals feel they can’t even engage in the questioning within the safety of their own mind, if you will, quite apart from actually opening up a conversation or disagreement with a colleague at work or a public forum, for example.
[00:03:34] Alan Davison: So yes, I would argue that the idea of being able to think about things and not feeling bad about exploring ideas or listening to different viewpoints before you even articulate a difference of opinion is really important and arguably lost a little bit at the moment.
[00:03:49] Jeffery Wang: Which is a bit of a concern considering, when we talk about exploring ideas, it’s been 20 years since I’ve been out of university, and, I haven’t been around the tertiary education institutions for quite a while, but I hear that there has been a bit of a fundamental shift in terms of the culture there, and, and that, exploration ideas were, we used to take for granted is no longer happening.
[00:04:13] Jeffery Wang: what’s going on there and why do you think it’s happening?
[00:04:17] Alan Davison: I suppose the first question is, do we have data or information or evidence that has happened? Because a lot of it is anecdotal, obviously, so people that have been out of the academy that might remember when they were doing their bachelor’s degree 20 or 30 years ago, maybe through their children or through, younger people they know, are hearing back about what’s going on in the classroom.
[00:04:35] Alan Davison: And I remember, even in my time, I’m not that old, but I’m old enough. But you go through your university course and not even know what the politics of your lecturer was. Because the academic whose responsibility is to engage your mind in ways of not only delivering knowledge, which we use a lot, whatever that quite means, but also equipping young people with the skills and the competence. to be curious and inquiring and engage in debate. You could go through an entire degree without even knowing what the politics of your lecturer was. And the idea that there would be a really clear ideological or political expectation within your context of learning, so your fellow students or your lecturers or what you see your staff doing and how they’re active.
[00:05:23] Alan Davison: That’s changed a lot now. I think there’s much more open and clearer advocacy for many of our academic cohort, my colleagues, that in a way would be immediately discouraging for a student that might come from a different political or ideological background or simply serve to reinforce the ideological prejudices that some people might have to start with.
[00:05:44] Alan Davison: So, I think that’s definitely changed. There used to be a pride, I felt, in the academic community in doing the best you could for your students to think critically, irrespective of the politics and the ideology behind it. And I don’t think that’s the case anymore.
[00:05:57] Jeffery Wang: I personally don’t have a problem with being, true to your beliefs.
[00:06:02] Jeffery Wang: I believe that people should have the freedom to express their own beliefs. However, aren’t we supposed to be able to engage with ideas that we don’t personally believe in, but still be able to engage in such a way that’s, that’s meaningful? so for example, making devil’s advocate argument.
[00:06:21] Jeffery Wang: Is that not something that these professors are capable of doing.
[00:06:24] Alan Davison: I’m sure they’re capable of doing it.
[00:06:25] Alan Davison: So, I suppose the question is, when a professor or an academic teaching in first, second or third year or beyond supervising a PhD, for example, it’s really incumbent upon them, I think, from an ethical perspective. to provide their students and the young minds that they’re dealing with the strongest possible articulation of a viewpoint that even they might disagree with, But I see many academics now quite openly and proudly displaying their politics, but also in such a way that discourages and completely disincentivizes having a different view because it becomes an ethical and moral issue.
[00:07:03] Jeffery Wang: You mean failing students who don’t agree with them.
[00:07:06] Alan Davison: no. I wouldn’t say that academics necessarily do anything as grotesque as failing students that don’t agree with them.
[00:07:12] Alan Davison: What I’m suggesting is, are we confident that academics provide the breadth of literature and reading and say, arguments and essay topics and seminar topics, for instance, that show the best possible case, the strongest possible articulation of a variety of views they might not agree with? And that’s, I think, something that should be definitely looked at more closely.
[00:07:33] Jeffery Wang: 100%. And, you know, this is certainly a part of the, the podcast that might be edited out depending on your answer, but you think that’s motivated by a lack of ability to critically think. Or do you think it’s a lack of character to allow others the freedom to explore themselves?
[00:07:52] Alan Davison: In a way, a bit of both, but I’d academics can critically think, and we might come to this later, but academics can also get very good at articulating and reinforcing a set of perspectives that they already are very devoted to, rather than articulating and expressing a very strong argument that’s counter to what they might personally believe And I think one of the challenges we have is that it’s not as black and white as, they’re openly negative towards alternate views, but are they presenting the full gamut of alternate views, or are they framing them within a whole lot of moral and ideological framings, if you like, that limit or discourage conversation outside those narrow views

[00:08:35] Lesson 1: Never Stop Being Curious

[00:08:35] Jeffery Wang: that’s Sounds like a great segue into lesson number one, never stop being curious So is, does that mean you just never stop learning?
[00:08:44] Alan Davison: But of course, a lot of universities talk about lifelong learning or a lifetime of learning, which I think is great. But fundamentally it means read things, listen to podcasts, listen to this podcast, listen to podcasts maybe from perspectives that you don’t always understand.
[00:09:00] Alan Davison: if you keep reinforcing due to the algorithms that are out there and reiterating the views you’ve already heard by a variety of people. That’s not really learning much. That’s just reinforcing arguably the prejudices and viewpoints you already have. So, by being curious, it means being curious about where disagreement lies and what’s the best case for trying to understand the basis of that disagreement rather than moralizing and dismissing disagreement as something to do with ethical values or the right kind of political tribalism that comes with it.
[00:09:31] Jeffery Wang: but that’s Easier said than done, right? Because it, it’s uncomfortable to learn viewpoints that you personally disagree with. how do you suggest people could, open themselves up to be open to these ideas You know we’re talking about a form of open mindedness, isn’t it? isn’t it?
[00:09:48] Alan Davison: Yes, and look, curiosity is really just a shorthand for open mindedness in a way.
[00:09:53] Alan Davison: The idea of being curious means, not only just wanting to learn things that already fit, but Those worldviews that you’ve built within your own mind and your understanding of the world. But it also means, be curious about why things are different and why someone might believe or say a different thing to oneself. And do so in good faith.
[00:10:11] Jeffery Wang: are you suggesting that people change their mind if they were to learn something that goes counter to whatever they believe?
[00:10:18] Alan Davison: Well, here’s the thing about the relationship between belief and Belief isn’t neutral, in the sense that, you only have to look around you on the news and social media and in daily discourse, that beliefs tend to cluster around a set of ideologies and tribalism type matters.
[00:10:36] Alan Davison: So, you can be pretty sure if somebody says they’re in support of this or that cause, you can be pretty sure they’ll also be in support or believe a variety of other things get clustered around it. Even though often from an evidence and logical perspective, they’re totally unrelated. So that for me gives a good warning that beliefs can often be presented as tribal signalling, if you will.
[00:10:58] Alan Davison: If you believe these things, and these things are good things to believe, then that signals your membership of a particular type of ideology. And that’s very important nowadays, especially for young people, and especially with the pressures of social media.
[00:11:13] Jeffery Wang: And I think you touched on a very interesting point.
[00:11:16] Jeffery Wang: You used the word tribalism, and I feel like it’s probably one of those things that is threatening our entire way of life in terms of our existence, right? Tribalism goes counter to the entire enlightenment of the Western civilization, where we deal with ideas and issues independent of the people, and the individuals and the tribes that come with them So maybe you’ll cover this in another lesson later, but why do you believe that tribalism has made its way back into the, I suppose the dominant psyche.
[00:11:58] Alan Davison: So, an interesting way you framed that is that tribalism’s made its way back because arguably it’s always there and that might come up in one of our later discussion points.
[00:12:07] Alan Davison: I think the concerning thing is those. Intellectual tools that we used to have, typically associated with the Western Enlightenment, which is now problematized, a favourite word of those that don’t like the Western Enlightenment. Those tools that were available through the Western Enlightenment, including things like scientific method and so forth, they were the things that basically, that’s the toolkit against tribalism, and tribalism sits always just faintly beneath the surface, I believe, in most human activity.
[00:12:37] Alan Davison: We are a very tribal species, for very good reasons, of course. So, I think, if we don’t have the toolkit to constantly address our reversion to tribalism, then yes, socially, culturally, and all kinds of politically, we’re on all kinds of strife if we don’t have those tools.
[00:12:57] Jeffery Wang: 100%. The irony of it is in the fear of opening up a can of worms, we often hear the expression the science is settled, which ironically suggests that this person’s understanding of scientific method is somewhat inadequate. but unfortunately, we’ve got to move on to lesson number two.
[00:13:15] Jeffery Wang: I know this is going to be a great interview and I think I have to resist the urge to go down our little rabbit holes.

[00:13:23] Lesson 2: Being passionate about a problem doesn’t mean you have a solution.

[00:13:23] Jeffery Wang: Lesson number two. Being passionate about a problem doesn’t mean your solution is right. That’s quite a, that’s quite a concept to grapple with.
[00:13:31] Alan Davison: and it needs a bit of unpacking. So, being passionate about a problem, or let’s say passionate about a cause to address a problem might be one of the wicked social problems we could talk about and that many people would have in mind. There’s two elements to that. One of which is in the way that you’re passionate about the identification of that very problem itself.
[00:13:51] Alan Davison: Does that necessarily mean you can see your way through to the solution to that problem?
[00:13:55] Alan Davison: And I think what happens, and I’ll frame it in a more technical way, moral clarity on an issue does not mean epistemic certainty. Now, by epistemic, I mean the way that we know what we know. So, if you have absolute moral clarity around any issue, particularly a socially contentious one, that naturally leads in, I think, the very tribal mindset we have nowadays, to an absolute certainty around the problem.
[00:14:21] Alan Davison: A, the way the problem or question has been framed, which assumes a lot around it. Things are not self-evident, the way we frame them embeds assumptions. And then the second part of that, part B would be the assumption that moral clarity leads to certainty around how to address that problem. And if you look at many disagreements on really toxic social issues, often it’s not because there’s fundamental disagreement about there is a problem here that we need to look at.
[00:14:50] Alan Davison: The disagreement might be around the precise framing of that, but more often than not, the debate and the toxic debate that we often get, and the finger pointing and the mobbing, is around people who have different views about how that problem is best addressed. And they’re two different things. by all means, be passionate about something.
[00:15:08] Alan Davison: Don’t want to stop people being passionate about it. But don’t let your passion for an idea Obscure your ability to unpack it and to be rational and articulate how it can be best framed but more importantly how it can be best addressed.
[00:15:23] Jeffery Wang: Okay. Lots unpacked there. I think in my brain, I’m racing right now trying to understand what you’ve just said, for our audience So is there maybe perhaps we can illustrate it by an example. Is there an issue? But we can talk about where, the, the debate around it is deframing or as you refer to, is there an issue that that’s happened recently, that you can think of that, is, people falling victim to this, thing that you’re talking about.
[00:15:51] Alan Davison: There’s probably too many to choose. Not how many. Sure. Not sure how many we’d want to put on the podcast but look. The recent, turmoil around the voice referendum, so representation in parliament of Aboriginal peoples.
[00:16:03] Jeffery Wang: You might have to explain that for our international audience.
[00:16:06] Alan Davison: last year Australians went to the polls to vote on a landmark referendum, which was to establish, a so called voice to parliament, which would have, if you like, special access and rights to, members of parliament, but also policy makers and others, on, on the basis that would represent Aboriginal or First Peoples or First Nations interests.
[00:16:29] Jeffery Wang: the intention is to improve their lives and to address some of the challenges that they’re having, in terms of, life and
[00:16:38] Alan Davison: yeah. the side of the debate, while there were some many good faith actors in that, there were also many people saying, fear mongering on both sides, but also those who were in favour of the voice, who at times would characterize people that raised questions or concerns about it as being just, an outcome of colonial mindset or of continuing racism, etc.
[00:17:05] Alan Davison: Where, of course, and that really framed a lot of the debate and through my own, discussions with people, including some very prominent academics and people in business and industry, they’re quite, they were quite happy to say off camera, I personally have some concerns about the constitutional implications and various other things like that, more of the technical side of the argument, but a very important one in those minds.
[00:17:27] Alan Davison: They were afraid to articulate this within their own organization because their own organization had already come out in support of a yes vote Now, so that’s a slightly different matter about institutions taking on the power. a position on something like that, which is of course a separate issue to this point, which is another point which we don’t necessarily have to go into, but what I’m saying is that at the more crude side of it, anyone who articulated concern around the voice referendum as it was articulated, very important point, could be characterized as, and indeed were characterized by some of the key, stakeholders in this as being, indisputably racist.
[00:18:04] Alan Davison: Now. The challenges and subsequent research that’s come out of ANU University, Australian National University, has shown that there was widespread support for many of the ideas articulated in the voice. The vast majority of Australians of all backgrounds want to see improved conditions and the closing of the gap, as it is called, between non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australians.
[00:18:25] Alan Davison: That was beyond dispute. Many of the concerns that were articulated were much more specific around constitutional implications, the legal side of things, and what not, but there’s a good example of trying to find a space where you’d see a very well argued articulation of concerns one way or the other was very difficult, when there was this underlying slurring, if you will, because of those who had great moral clarity of this issue that even asking a question or debating or raising concerns would put you in that sort of tribal category of racist people that didn’t want it. that’s just one of many examples.
[00:19:05] Jeffery Wang: Yeah, that’s a great example actually because, know I did have some sort of strong thoughts myself around the referendum. In 1967, when they had the referendum to recognize the Aboriginal Australians to the constitution, there was widespread support.
[00:19:18] Jeffery Wang: In fact, overwhelmingly, I think it was something over 90 percent of Australians supported it. clearly, there is that goodwill towards the Indigenous community. But what could have shifted from 90 to essentially 40 percent in support of the voice? And I think that’s where, that kind of thinking really fell down because if, if that was such the case then how did you go from 90 percent to 40?
[00:19:45] Jeffery Wang: and clearly, I think this is, for want of a better word, the madness of crowds thinking that your moral clarity means that, your solution has to be the only and the right one where, had they brought people along the journey, most people actually agree with the, with your moral, with the Yes council moral position in that they want to improve their lives, but not necessarily see the solution as the right one.
[00:20:10] Jeffery Wang: Yeah, and so I think that’s a great lesson and that’s just one example of the, the madness of crowds that we see all throughout the world where I think people who are trying to do good things are absolutely stuffing up their best efforts because they’re thinking in that moral framework.
[00:20:32] Alan Davison: more examples we could go into, but that was, I think that’s a good one.
[00:20:37] Jeffery Wang: Thanks for sharing that.

[00:20:38] Lesson 3: Try to Steelman and not Strawman.

[00:20:38] Jeffery Wang: So, Lesson number three, try to steelman and not strawman. Now, can you explain what steelman is? I know what a strawman is, so for the audience that might not strawman, it’s where you take the weakest version of the argument or the most ridiculous interpretation of somebody’s argument and attack that. What is a steelman?
[00:21:01] Alan Davison: So, Steel man is basically the opposite of straw man. when you see arguments being made against a position, and sometimes those arguments can vary according to who’s making them, how well informed they are, how articulate they are.
[00:21:15] Alan Davison: You do the opposite to straw man, and you don’t pick the weakest example of that argument and say, look, this person’s clearly ill-informed because they got this wrong. Steel manning means look at the best possible articulation. From a different point of view and work on articulating that. And when you disagree or argue back, or you consider your own position, do so in light of your steel manning of an argument, not your straw manning.
[00:21:42] Alan Davison: Now it relates partly to the previous point we were just discussing, but it’s really important that when. When we hear disagreement to our own views or there’s a public debate that seems to be very polarized, look at that debate and ask yourself, are they simply strawmanning each other’s arguments? They are picking the worst or most ill-informed or ill-intentioned side of an argument, or are they actually looking at something that has a core of real robustness about that?
[00:22:07] Alan Davison: And because we see it in our political life, we see it in social media. It also fits the tribalism mindset very well, that it takes a good deal of intellectual effort to steel man a different point of view and try to find the best articulation of it. and not strawman it, particularly when you add the moral imperative over the top, because strawmanning often comes with the moral dismissal.
[00:22:31] Alan Davison: So, I think I just, it’s really critical that institutions like our universities, but also our schools, instil in our students, in our community, The ability to articulate the strongest possible argument against what they believe in, not this kind of, caricaturing that we have frequently at the moment, including regarding the arguments and motivations.
[00:22:51] Alan Davison: So strawmanning can also apply to the way that we frame a different point of view from their supposed moral viewpoint or why they’re saying that, rather than actually looking at, what are the points about their argument? Where’s the evidence for it? Is it logical? Does it make sense? Where can I find data about this?
[00:23:12] Alan Davison: Where can I see it articulated? Rather than, oh, they’re saying something that I’ve been told makes them a bad person. So, I’m not even going to listen to whatever evidence they bring to bear on this argument.
[00:23:22] Jeffery Wang: So, for the uninitiated for this process because you’re talking about A method of thinking, essentially, you’re taking the most charitable interpretation of what someone could say.
[00:23:33] Jeffery Wang: you’re not assuming, impugning bad motives on what they’re, what they’re saying. You’re assuming that if they’re a good person and they want the stuff, they’re You know, what merit could they possibly bring to this argument, right? not easy to do,
[00:23:49] Jeffery Wang: I must admit but at the same time, is there, how would you go about doing it? is there any, is there some sort of a guideline on how you would go about still steel manning an argument? Is that something that you could learn?
[00:24:01] Alan Davison: You can certainly learn it and I’d say that our natural predisposition has A lot of conscious and conscientious effort required to steel man, particularly something you don’t like. So, I think, yes, it does take effort, and it takes an ethical view that I’m going to do the best I can, not just the intellectual one as well.
[00:24:19] Alan Davison: So, the first thing needs to be curiosity and also looking for sources and evidence. So, if you see, for instance, on the news or on a documentary show or something like that, and you see a soundbite of someone saying something, and it sounds a little bit ridiculous. Be curious enough to check, I’m going to go and check what sources were they referring to?
[00:24:38] Alan Davison: What study were they referring to? Data were they referring to? Can I find it somewhere? Can I have a look? And it’s just having, it comes back to that earlier point about curiosity. Being able to steel man and argument and being generous as you can requires a fundamental fostering of that curious mindset so that you’re not dismissing different views through that straw man technique.
[00:25:02] Jeffery Wang: So, can you give us an example where you’ve practiced steel manning, and it ended up being a good outcome?
[00:25:10] Alan Davison: In my own research, I try to do it which is first thing is try to get back to sources.
[00:25:15] Alan Davison: So, you might hear a study sited or an argument made, and you might hear things like, that was disputed, or that idea was dismissed, etc. So, it might be the lab leak theory. There’s a good example. Now, one of the, one needs to be curious about why would this idea come across. Lab leak theory is a good one. There seem to be a few quite nutty people saying it as well.
[00:25:36] Alan Davison: So, let’s say, for example, you came from a position where you completely ruled out any idea of the lab leak theory regarding COVID 19.
[00:25:42] Alan Davison: And you did so because either you saw on the news it’s just a conspiracy theory, or you had someone in a white jacket with a stethoscope around their neck saying it’s a ridiculous idea.
[00:25:53] Alan Davison: and look, I think the challenge is there are conspiracy theory nutters everywhere. That is absolutely true. so, the challenge that we have for the normal curious people is how does one distinguish between an idea that’s actually a little bit nutty, a little bit conspiracy and ideas that actually aren’t.
[00:26:09] Alan Davison: And often when they’re presented to us at first bite, we really can’t tell. So, I just urge people to have that little bit of curiosity, spend 20, 30 minutes. Dare I say it, online, depending on where you go.
[00:26:22] Alan Davison: Do your own research and it’s with various other things as well, political interference in the US, so either in the Trump campaign or the Hillary campaign and others.
[00:26:31] Alan Davison: the kinds of stories that were going around about Russian interference. Now, of course, There can and will be interference by malicious actors in all kinds of things, but it’ll be interesting to look and to do a study of were conspiracy theories against, external intervention in favour of Trump more easily or more difficultly dismissed than those, say, against Hillary.
[00:26:53] Alan Davison: And depending on where you sit on the political spectrum, you can be pretty sure of what the answer was. The factual likelihood of either of those things happening remains exactly the same. It’s just the politics of the people. presenting the argument and the politics of the people happy to receive the argument.
[00:27:09] Alan Davison: So again, it’s fostering that curiosity just to do a little bit more digging and not necessarily rely on the sources that you tend to gravitate to because they reiterate what you already believe and just having a little bit of open mindedness. about it, but you know that famous saying, if you opened your mind too much, your brains will fall out.
[00:27:27] Alan Davison: That’s also the case with conspiracy theories as well, and so finding the right balance, I say, is very hard, but I think the most important thing is look for the warning signs of strawmanning. And strawmanning means a caricature of your opponent, the selection of the worst possible examples or people who agree with that view as well, because there will always be people as outliers who believe with a position, and they can be bad people.
[00:27:54] Alan Davison: but if you see those signs of people that seem to be acting in very bad faith in support of an argument, and they seem a little bit crazy Ask yourself, are they genuinely representative of the best case of that perspective.
[00:28:06] Jeffery Wang: do you suggest that we look at a particular theory and then say who’s the most credible source they believe in this theory as a starting point?
[00:28:17] Alan Davison: Yeah, strongest, not for where it’s the most, ranty, ideologically charged. So, look for people that seem to have decent credibility. They might be academically trained or medically trained, or they might be virologists, in the case of, but also look at the people who are saying absolutely not.
[00:28:33] Alan Davison: and the other thing that I think should trigger concern is when you hear allegations of racism, phobia, or any of those X, Y, Z phobic arguments, I would say they are the first warning sign that The argument or the issue that you’re looking at is being obscured by ideology rather than evidence because there’s no need to revert to name calling if it’s a very sound and well established issue.
[00:28:59] Alan Davison: But if you encounter arguments like it’s racist to say that thing and you think for a moment, hang on, that’s not really what the point is. The point is either a lab leak happened, or it didn’t. Either it’s a reasonable hypothesis or it’s not. Where does the race bit come into it? And yes, it is possible that elements of racism play in public discourse, because they have and they do, but that is logically disconnected from what the
[00:29:24] Alan Davison: fundamental claim is itself So look for those warning signs. You’ll see many of them on many issues, I believe.

[00:29:30] Lesson 4: Smart people can use their IQ to rationalize terrible ideas.

[00:29:30] Jeffery Wang: that’s actually a great, um, segue to lesson number four. And this is actually a scary thought because you say that smart people can use their IQ to rationalize terrible ideas.
[00:29:43] Jeffery Wang: Yes. You just said not to impugn their motives you know if they’re terrible ideas, but they’re smart. Why would they use their IQ to rationalize terrible ideas Are they misguided Are they wrong?
[00:29:55] Alan Davison: they’re true believers and look, religion’s a great example. if. Simply by dint of people growing up in a, say, a religious or particular cultural background, more often than not they’ll grow up and they’ll become at times articulate and passionate about the very set of beliefs they happen to be born into.
[00:30:13] Alan Davison: But if they’d been born a hundred kilometres away or a hundred years different, they would have been born into a different circumstance. Religion’s a good example of this because you have remarkably clever intellects arguing about the finest details of a sacred text where if you don’t come from that religious background you have to ask yourself why you’re even arguing about that sacred text because who says it’s sacred?
[00:30:35] Alan Davison: Who says it’s the Word of God? Why would you articulate and get into remarkably complex arguments about really fine reading of say biblical or sacred texts? When you don’t even need to believe that the text is sacred in itself. So that in itself shows that very clever people can articulate ideas that must, as a matter of fact, be wrong at some point.
[00:30:56] Alan Davison: So that shows that it’s at least logically possible, but also there’s been some excellent studies down now for at least a decade or two that shows that high IQ. does not equate to high rationality. Now, rationality means the ability to work your way through arguments in terms of steel manning versus straw manning, in terms of politics.
[00:31:17] Alan Davison: That is not correlated to high IQ at all. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. People with high IQ, and particularly if they’re ideological at the end of the spectrums, or politically, so right wing or left wing in the old binary system, which is very little use nowadays, by the way, people with high IQ But at the ends of the political spectrum, are much less generous and much more easily led by bias than those that are more moderate and possibly even with less IQ.
[00:31:46] Alan Davison: So, the relationship between being, being very rational in the broader sense of our understanding of the word rational and having, if you like, high mental computing ability like IQ is not a straightforward one.
[00:32:00] Alan Davison: So, what it tends to mean is that people who are very intelligent, can often become very articulate and convincing at arguments that they already believe because their intelligence provides them with the tools to articulate in a very convincing way something that they already believe and understand and are committed to. So, the challenge is there that our universities, which are our fundamental sense making institutions after all, that’s where all of our clever people are, we claim, our universities are filled with very clever people. Now, if you are open to the idea that being clever does not necessarily mean you’re always being rational or that you’re always necessarily right, then that’s, I think, where one of the challenges comes from.
[00:32:42] Jeffery Wang: That’s a very pertinent point, because I believe this podcast is about social wisdom. And IQ in itself does not equate wisdom.
[00:32:55] Jeffery Wang: I’ve always had this, I always wonder, people with high IQ, I assume that they would be, they would also carry a high ability to discern, and as you use the word rationalize, or reason, right?
[00:33:11] Jeffery Wang: do you think these high IQ people are aware of the shortcomings of their own arguments? Are they aware of their own biases or do they just not care? because they’re incredibly convincing as you said they’re very persuasive, they’re very, they could be very powerful people. But do they not care what the truth is?
[00:33:30] Alan Davison: That’s a really interesting question because it asks, it poses the challenge of what are the motivations, perhaps psychological or moral, amongst our
[00:33:39] Jeffery Wang: And then you just told us not to
[00:33:41] Alan Davison: Yes, so leaving that, I’ll answer that in a slightly different way. Having a high IQ and being very articulate in ways of drawing evidence and argument together to justify a position.
[00:33:55] Alan Davison: The first person you’re going to convince is yourself. So without wanting to psychoanalyse, you can see that one of the attractions would be in trying to convince others of what you believe, you’re ultimately trying to convince yourself of your position and your rightness about it And the higher the IQ, the more articulate and the better you’re going to be at convincing arguably, yourself as well as those around you but also in discouraging and putting down others who disagree with you but perhaps aren’t as articulate as you are. Now the whole point we have things like the scientific method and the, the consequences of western enlightenment etc is to basically try to blow that open.
[00:34:32] Alan Davison: Because let’s face it, it’s not like the churches were bereft of highly intelligent people. So, in the challenge to religious authority and knowledge and explaining the world, being anything from, is the earth in the centre of the solar system or not, for example, it, the whole reason that we need to step outside that ability to articulate something we already believe is to try to bring those external measures and tests in.
[00:34:59] Alan Davison: And again, that’s a mindset that needs curiosity and that needs openness, and it means steel manning. But if you’re not of that disposition, or you’re being discouraged to have that disposition, then basically you’ll use your intellectual superpowers to constantly reiterate and reinforce something you’ve committed yourself to, especially if there’s a tribal element to it and you’re being a good person in articulating these things.
[00:35:25] Jeffery Wang: But I always wondered, as you mentioned, these hierarchy people may believe that you’re doing the right thing by being, a warrior for their cause Moreso than a genuine searcher for the truth, right? sometimes I wonder how do you convince these people to do the right thing?
[00:35:43] Jeffery Wang: Because they certainly hold a lot of power because of their intellectual capacity to rationalize these terrible ideas.
[00:35:50] Jeffery Wang: But don’t they don’t they realize that if they were wrong, that there are consequences to that power that they hold.
[00:35:56] Alan Davison: I think that’s an excellent question to put to them, but I think I’m not sure if that happens a lot in our current discourse and in our universities.
[00:36:03] Jeffery Wang: And I think that goes back to your lesson number one, the fact is that they don’t have that humility to be curious about things that they know that they might not possibly or were challenging the assumptions that they hold. But this is actually a great segue.

[00:36:16] Lesson 5: Be both strategic and tactical and challenging orthodox.

[00:36:16] Jeffery Wang: lesson number five, you say to be both strategic and tactical and challenging orthodox. So, I’m guessing you’re talking about when you’re challenging those who are incredibly articulate, but I guess wrong or, does not reason well how do you go about it?
[00:36:33] Alan Davison: Look, and that’s very much something that’s come to me through feedback from younger academics and students in that oftentimes they’ll say, I’m really concerned that in my tutorial or in my lecture, this thing was said, and I didn’t quite know how to challenge it and I wanted to challenge it, but then it can also, this has career and reputational impact.
[00:36:52] Alan Davison: So, universities are, and university careers, and I’m talking about university students and staff at the moment, they’re incredibly monolithic in various discipline areas in terms of politics and ideology. So, if you’re a curious young first year student and you hear something in your first-year lecture and you really want to dispute it, but it’s already been framed that anyone who disagrees is a morally bad person or disagrees is XYZ phobic or racist or whatever.
[00:37:19] Alan Davison: The very practical advice I give to people who have that natural tendency to challenge or be curious is think carefully. Now, while ideally you should be in an environment where you can openly and in good faith and respectfully challenge a whole lot of orthodoxies that we see around us, the reality is that for many young people in academia, that is not the case.
[00:37:40] Alan Davison: And that to propose, say, a research topic, or a PhD topic or to put in a funding proposal for research which challenged the orthodoxy of those around you would be, could be incredibly damaging and certainly be very unsuccessful. And so, what we tend to have is a constant meeting around the orthodoxies, if you like, because it’s simply reinforcing the mindset that is very predominant within those discipline areas.
[00:38:10] Alan Davison: All those topic areas, if you like. And the role of a curious and questioning young academic might be to want to really challenge those, but that will have significant career implications for where you might get published, who might supervise your thesis, where you might get funding, and of course, where you might get a job.
[00:38:29] Alan Davison: And if you’re known to be that young academic who challenged and caused some moral mayhem or uncertainty around this very fraught issue, be it race, religion, gender, whatever, anything that’s fraught in a lot of today’s discourse, you will have significantly damaged your career opportunities.
[00:38:48] Jeffery Wang: So, what are you suggesting they do instead then?
[00:38:51] Alan Davison: The first thing is to be self-motivated to learn the tools and techniques of how to respectfully challenge or disagree your peers.
[00:38:58] Jeffery Wang: Okay So you’re not saying fake it. And join, join the orthodoxy until, you get to a position of power.
[00:39:07] Jeffery Wang: You’re not selling your soul to get up the ladder just so that you’re in a position to actually change things, are you?
[00:39:12] Alan Davison: you might have to, if you want to get it. Depends on how far up the greasy pole that you want to get in any field, not just academia,
[00:39:16] Jeffery Wang: The problem though is that once you sell your soul then you’re no longer in a position to challenge orthodoxy. And quite often they find themselves being you I suppose going native right?
[00:39:28] Alan Davison: Being tactical means within the limited domain of influence and that you feel comfortable. Do what you can. Put that footnote in. Have that slight challenge. Ask a question. Think about how you frame something in ways that are staying true to your genuine curiosity. And even if you’re regurgitating a lot of the orthodoxies around that, you can frame it in a way that you are clearly demonstrating you are regurgitating the orthodoxies of that thing around it and that you can keep your own view either a little bit distant from it, or you might even find ways of questioning or disagreeing that.
[00:40:04] Alan Davison: So, it needs to be a very nuanced approach. So that’s what I mean by being tactical. Strategic is long term. That’s the selling your soul piece, which you just mentioned, because after so many years of Letting things go that you didn’t want to touch because they were too radioactive. after you’ve done that for 5, 10 or 15 years, then pretty much gone down that road then, haven’t you?
[00:40:24] Alan Davison: So, I think it is a genuinely challenging situation for many of our young thinkers. And what I’d urge them to do is don’t necessarily find refuge in the extremes. of political polarization on either side, although it will typically be one side at the moment, where the only people who want to hear what you say are people that you normally wouldn’t want to mix with because you actually don’t like their politics or viewpoints on a range of things, but they happen to agree with you on that thing.
[00:40:50] Alan Davison: And that’s, it’s a very challenging environment, I think, for people that are, genuinely curious, and generally want to question the orthodoxies they see around them.
[00:40:57] Jeffery Wang: It sounds to me like you believe though by questioning orthodoxy, you have a chance of waking them up from the matrix, so to speak. Do you still believe that’s the case?
[00:41:07] Jeffery Wang: Are people pretending to sleep, or are they genuinely just misguided?
[00:41:13] Alan Davison: Look, I think there’s a good dose of both. There’s always true believers.
[00:41:16] Alan Davison: And those true believers can be very articulate and clever people, and many of them I’d say are in university. And then there’s a whole lot of people that go along with it. And there’s a very well-known phrase called preference falsification, which is basically a whole lot of people that go around that you bump into that seem to be agreeing with what you’re saying, but in actual fact, they don’t, but it’s because they think everybody else does.
[00:41:37] Alan Davison: And as soon as that bubble bursts, it’s Then you suddenly realize that a whole lot of people you go to work with, or that you travel in to work with, or that you’re on the bus with, or that you meet at the cafe, they actually agree with you, but they didn’t want to say so. So, I think the role of, more heterodox leaders like myself and others, and indeed the role of the university as its main intellectual commitment, should be to burst those bubbles of orthodoxy and preference falsification, and we’re absolutely not doing that at the moment.
[00:42:03] Jeffery Wang: I absolutely agree, and this is when you say preference falsification that just gave a term to this phenomenon I’m observing.
[00:42:13] Jeffery Wang: what I find is that when you practice radical candour, sometimes we’re really surprised at the, the actual opinions of people around you, but I’ve sort of gone on a bit of a journey myself, revealing much of what I think, I realized small talk is a waste of time. So, you started having real conversations to my surprise, 80 percent of people I talk to tend to agree with me. and it’s, it, I can’t explain the kind of relief you have and, realizing that most people are just playing along.

[00:42:43] Lesson 6: Being anti orthodox can be as bad as being orthodox.

[00:42:43] Jeffery Wang: But again, another, another, um, rabbit hole we probably shouldn’t be going down. But lesson number six, on the topic of orthodoxies, you’re saying that being anti orthodox. can be as bad as being orthodox I guess what we’re saying here is that, when you’re talking about tribalism, if you orientate yourself by the tribe being anti tribe is just as bad as being part of a tribe.
[00:43:06] Alan Davison: Indeed, and I think you end up becoming the thing that you pretend to oppose. I’m all for anti-orthodoxy, always challenge orthodoxies because by their nature, orthodoxies are things that tend to get settled and unquestioned.
[00:43:17] Alan Davison: We need to be curious and question things but if you’re always positioning yourself as that person that disagrees at the party.
[00:43:24] Alan Davison: that person that you know, whatever has happened, they’re going to disagree with you. Now, some people really love that. Some people find it stimulating. I find it quite tiresome, because again, if at the core of this is truth seeking curiosity, maybe an orthodoxy can at times be right. That’s absolutely fine.
[00:43:40] Alan Davison: Or maybe a significant number of elements within a cluster of orthodox beliefs can be right as well. So just positioning yourself default in opposition to an orthodoxy is incredibly tiresome in my view. Whatever side of politics you’re on, and while it means you get your own little supporting, clan and cheerleaders, and I think many people have done that in social media, you get a lot of alternative perspectives, and they get their own.
[00:44:05] Alan Davison: that just creates another tribe. With the sort of narrow thinking and its own preference, falsification of those things. So, my thing is, while you want the intellectual attitude of always questioning orthodoxies, don’t become that pain in the arse person that just always disagrees for the sake of it. I personally find it incredibly tiresome.
[00:44:22] Jeffery Wang: Yeah, and I think people are lured into that particular line of thinking because ultimately their orientation is to power because there is great power in being anti orthodox as well, right?
[00:44:33] Jeffery Wang: some people like an underdog and some people, I like to identify as the outsider. and, sometimes insiders have things right and I think ultimately what we need to do is become critical thinkers and call it for what it is and, and orient ourselves to truth seeking, as you said.

[00:44:50] Lesson 7: Humans are apes.

[00:44:50] Jeffery Wang: Now this is probably the lesson that’s going to get our show cancelled but lesson number seven humans are apes.
[00:44:56] Alan Davison: just to remind ourselves that, particularly where I come from, arts, humanities and social sciences, it is so rare to see anyone writing about issues that pertain to the human condition, society, being, gaps in racial outcomes, all of those things that motivate us to make the world a better place.
[00:45:16] Alan Davison: And yet, there seems to be this sort of overwhelming blank slatism that somehow, if you’ve got a theory, whether it be a Marxist theory or this or that theory, that somehow there’s an inherently obvious solution to the human condition, which ignores the fact that we’re the outcome of millions of years of evolution, and we’re an animal.
[00:45:35] Alan Davison: Now, that doesn’t mean, say, we’ve got a biological determinism, we are just merely animals. We’re obviously an exceptional type of animal, clearly. But at the end of the day, we are an animal in our current state now, with our current mental equipment, our current physiology, that evolved many tens of thousands of years ago to be optimized for that kind of environment many tens of thousands of years ago.
[00:45:58] Alan Davison: So, all of those attributes we’ve talked about before, including tribalism and all those things, they are literally what is with us as the human natural condition. And the idea that there’s some, theory of ideal existence of being human that ignores the fact that we’re animals, I just find utterly bizarre.
[00:46:16] Alan Davison: And yet, the vast majority of literature and theorizing that comes out of much of the humanities and related fields doesn’t even have the slightest nod towards, you can like, that biological element in our nature, that evolutionary element in our nature, unless it’s to dismiss it as some kind of, evil eugenics, some kind of social Darwinism, which again is strawmanning the point.
[00:46:39] Alan Davison: The fact that, there may well be ill intentioned and poor outcomes from taking a naive view that we are animals, clearly, that does not mean that the validity of the overall proposition we are apes. Look at how other apes behave, look at how other animals behave, look at how we evolved to pretty much where we are now.
[00:46:59] Alan Davison: But we’re basically, uh, if you like, a modern ape, but in a world that’s very different to what we optimally evolved into. So, the idea that you can talk about improving society, improving the human condition, or addressing any of the social ills we have in the world around us, in total ignorance, and in fact, pride of ignorance of anything related to evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, and all of the insights that come from that.
[00:47:26] Alan Davison: I find utterly staggering myself.
[00:47:30] Jeffery Wang: Okay, let me unpack that a bit because, again a lot of a lot of complex concepts here. So, the first one here is that humans behave, Behaviour or we’re conditioned by our, millions of years of evolution.
[00:47:44] Jeffery Wang: So, what we’re seeing out there in the return to tribalism, it’s actually not a return.
[00:47:49] Jeffery Wang: As you said it’s basically, we’ve always been tribal because that was a mechanism for survival. If you didn’t have a tribe, you didn’t survive. so, I understand that. And part of our instinct is to try and mimic the tribe in order to fit in. but it doesn’t. Doesn’t the proof of progress as a result of enlightenment show us that’s something our tribalistic nature is something that we need to work to suppress because we’ve actually seen the light?
[00:48:16] Alan Davison: Indeed, but I think there’ll always be a force that pulls us back and one of the challenges we have at the moment with the quality or the poor quality of public discourse and how our institutions are arguably failing us is that they’re actually facilitating the reversion back to a very tribal mindset, using the term very broadly at the moment.
[00:48:38] Alan Davison: So, all of those tools and protections against our natural state of insiders and outsiders, of throwing, casting people out who do not agree with you. These are all things that you see everywhere in the rest of the animal world and beyond. And yes, part of the great achievements of the Enlightened, don’t want to single out the Western Enlightened. There have been other periods and epicycles in human history where remarkable achievements have been generated, not just through technology, but through learning and dealing with tribalism. There have been remarkable achievements over history and through different cultures.
[00:49:14] Alan Davison: So what we’re facing now are actually Things which are not only not protecting us from that anymore, but there are things that are encouraging us to be drawn back into that, where social media, arguably, is a very important part of that, but this highly ideologically identity driven, tribalistic mindset of mobbing and of outrage on of, and of, Supposing the worst possible intentions of someone that agrees with you, that in group, out group behaviour, that is something that is absolutely being supercharged at the moment, oftentimes by the very people that should be leading the way and challenging it, i. e. our thought leaders, our politicians, our intellectuals and our policy makers.

[00:49:56] Lesson 8: Great leaders are both intellectual and ethical.

[00:49:56] Jeffery Wang: Yeah, which is great segue lesson number eight, great leadership of both intellectual and ethical and as you alluded to before which is just then, I believe leadership is what’s missing.
[00:50:06] Jeffery Wang: we have this animal nature and that’s what’s causing much of the ills of today. And leadership is about, people who can overcome that urge for, reverting to our animal, tribalistic nature. how do you how do you be a great leader in this day and age when the majority of leadership that we see is just you know missing in action.
[00:50:29] Alan Davison: Indeed, it’s worse than that. It’s not only missing in action, but when we see what is presented as leadership it’s actually feeding off the tribalism. It’s the charismatic, it’s the group forming, it’s the outcasting of those who disagree.
[00:50:42] Alan Davison: then that’s exactly the challenge we have, is that people get into power by exhibiting. qualities that are misconstrued as leadership. becoming a great leader while staying true to the idea that you do not want mob mentality, you do not want tribalism, while still inspiring people without using any of those crude animalistic tools.
[00:51:03] Alan Davison: that is the great challenge around leadership versus being in power. And I think, in my view, great leadership, including great leadership in institutions like universities, must be underpinned by that. Intellectual commitment to curiosity and engaging with a variety of perspectives. And seeing that as being the flip side of the coin, that’s the ethical perspective.
[00:51:24] Alan Davison: It’s a deeply ethical position as well, not a moral clarity position, a tribalistic one. It’s the understanding that You can have an ethical position that you want to do good things. You want to be a good person. You want to create a good team around you and all that, but it must be fed by and articulated through a very keen intellectual commitment to those qualities we’ve been talking about prior to this.
[00:51:48] Alan Davison: So genuine leadership requires the constant reiteration, reiteration of those intellectual qualities that we’ve been talking about as part of the value proposition of being a great leader And that’s very challenging because it means there are a lot of people that might not immediately get on board because they don’t see the rousing appeal to tribalism that is so common now people now.
[00:52:08] Jeffery Wang: 100%. And I think that’s the genuine challenge in that, I believe there are great leaders who are incredibly articulate. at, at inspiring others to follow the same, but the danger is that people take the easy path. It’s easy to get to power by appealing to our animal nature our tribalistic beliefs, far easier than having the character and the substance to be able to do the right thing and be really good and articulate and convincing in inspiring others to do the right thing as well.
[00:52:44] Jeffery Wang: what does it take for great leadership to rise? Because you and I both know we need them right now.
[00:52:51] Alan Davison: look, that’s the 60-million-dollar question, isn’t it? because the incentives for holding fast to those intellectual and ethical values, that actually creates all kinds of impediments for going up into positions of power, I would argue. And so how to frame one’s leadership qualities and values in a way that doesn’t appeal to those cheap tribal elements is precisely the challenge that we have.
[00:53:17] Jeffery Wang: Well, the past, we’ve seen empires fall, right? So really, without burning everything down, is there a possibility we can return to enlightenment? I know this is probably a very heavy question, to throw at you, but do you see a way out of this mess?
[00:53:34] Jeffery Wang: without kind of going through a massive calamity that everyone has to suffer through to understand that eventually we’ll run out of, we’re running on the fumes of the civilization that was built on enlightenment. but eventually we’re going to run out.
[00:53:53] Jeffery Wang: And everything’s going to collapse when merit is no longer, when this system is no longer built on merit.
[00:53:59] Jeffery Wang: do we have to go through one of those calamities before people wake up for this need to return to, to, genuine leadership?
[00:54:07] Alan Davison: I think we do need some form of calamity. It’s just how calamitous the calamity will be because lamentably, the people driving the degradation of those very qualities of Western civilization, of enlightenment, et cetera, are people that are very keen, at least they think they’re very keen, to see precisely those values fall.
[00:54:28] Alan Davison: the idea of merit. The idea of intellectual credibility, the idea of being anti tribal, the idea of questioning moral clarity, all of those things are now, they are not in alignment with many of our intellectual betters in institutions. They are actually driving ideas like, knowledge systems and approaches to life are relative.
[00:54:51] Alan Davison: Who’s to say one point of view is better than another? Who’s to say that a social system that’s been around for tens of thousands of years and practiced in certain communities is any better or worse than any other kind of thing. Now, of course, they all say that from the benefit of driving their electric cars, having modern medicine and 5G on their phone, as if the idea that The outcomes of European enlightenment are somehow no better or worse than any other knowledge system, and yet they demonstrate it to be palpably false every day of their life, because I’d like to know what the 5G system was, or the, or how we can get a spacecraft to Mars, or how we can launch the web telescope to understand the origins of the universe, is somehow no better than an origin story from a first people’s nation, but we’re in the position that even saying that, even challenging a different knowledge perspective from a different culture, is viewed to be racist.
[00:55:44] Alan Davison: Now, that is not to say there are not, there have not been multiple racist elements within dominant views, including Western Enlightenment views, but there has been a constant effort to at least correct and call them out.
[00:55:58] Alan Davison: If we’ve got to the point that not only knowledge is relative and that systems of knowledge are relative. So, you can have, say, Indigenous science. Now, many would argue, and I would, there is only science, because science is determined by its method. But if there’s Indigenous science that poses or postulates a story, or a belief about the origins of the universe, or of the world, or of a country, or of a river, but there’s also a scientific explanation of these things are we supposed to hold that both of those things are either just other sides of a different coin, they’re just different knowledge systems. And even those people that purport to that, as I’ve said on other occasions, if they get ill, they’ll still go to a doctor and they’ll still go to a hospital. They don’t go to the medicine man down the street or the shaman, although they may on some cases, or they may go to some quack medicine.
[00:56:51] Alan Davison: So, I think there’s the great challenge that we have about, do we need a calamity? We’re heading towards a calamity because our knowledge makers and thought leaders are encouraging that calamity. But from the safety of having the benefit of the very things that we’ve enjoyed over the last few hundred years. It’s an ultimate paradox.
[00:57:07] Jeffery Wang: Like it’s that sort of, hypocritical. They enjoy the fruits of the civilization, which is built upon and then question the methods in, in, in how it’s done. But it’s hard not to call into question, I know you told me to steel man, but it’s hard not to call into question of the motives there.
[00:57:28] Jeffery Wang: If they were, and, people would show their belief by what they do, not by what they say. this is a class of people that say they believe in something, but they act there’s something else altogether. these people that, believe in climate change, they’re not going to give up the life that they have.
[00:57:45] Jeffery Wang: maybe a few are, but for the majority of them, it’s that hypocrisy of the inconsistency between what they believe.
[00:57:51] Jeffery Wang: if they truly believe in climate change, they probably wouldn’t be buying a beachside property, for example. That incongruence in that leadership, is really calling into question the character and the genuineness of these people.
[00:58:06] Jeffery Wang: do they seriously believe in these things that they’re preaching, or are they just doing it because it’s just their avenue to power,
[00:58:15] Alan Davison: they’re signalling. And I think I’ve always had a soft spot for religious fundamentalists, for precisely the reason that they actually live by what they believe.
[00:58:23] Alan Davison: And there are indeed, and I know there’s people within academia who genuinely believe the things, say, that you’ve been alluded to, and they would generally try the best they can to live their lives according to those principles. They’re probably the minority. There’s many other people who would be marching along, whatever the protest theme happens to be on that day. while enjoying all the benefits of living.
[00:58:42] Jeffery Wang: But are we led by that little minority or are we led by the signalling?
[00:58:46] Alan Davison: We’re led by the signalling, I would say. And I think my soft spot for religious fundamentalists, as I said, is they actually do and believe what they say. and I’ve used the example before that when you see acknowledgements of land that haven’t been with first people, so we acknowledge the land of the traditional owners that we’re on, that happens in Canada and America.
[00:59:06] Alan Davison: I once made the snide comment that, how do you know if someone’s genuine or not? It’s because they use every opportunity to acknowledge the traditional land that they’re on, but they’re also worried about negative gearing on their property portfolio. So, they might even throw in the line that, this land has never been ceded.
[00:59:22] Alan Davison: We are on stolen land. And you want to put up your hand and say, tell me about the 10 properties you own throughout Sydney. So, I think the kind of hypocrisy that you speak of, I find absolutely infuriating myself. And there’s a lot of those people around. If you believe we’re on stolen land, then why do you have a property portfolio?
[00:59:38] Alan Davison: But also, of course, why are you enjoying the benefits of native gearing on those properties when you’re talking about social justice? So, I think, yes, that’s true. But again, that neither makes what they believe or not believe true or not. It just makes it harder to swallow when they get up and signal.
[00:59:54] Alan Davison: But I think the critical thing is it’s that tribal signalling. You are indicating when you say and do these things, even if you don’t entirely believe them, that you are one of the large tribes of good people that say and do these things. You are a good person. And so, any sort of hashtag theme. It could be Black Lives Matter; it could be trans women or women it could be any of those things.
[01:00:15] Alan Davison: You, you often see those badges together and whether the person may or may not believe whatever the actual truth of that thing is, for instance with Black Lives Matter. What is the evidence that white police officers shoot black offenders at a higher rate than white offenders? Now that’s an evidentiary matter.
[01:00:32] Alan Davison: so, there’s an example of do they actually go to the trouble of looking at the data of police shootings in the United States? Now, if Black Lives Matter means talking about or signalling your commitment to closing the gap, with First Nations people in Australia, that’s a slightly different proposition.
[01:00:46] Alan Davison: But the hashtag BlackLivesMatter, for example, signals a whole lot of things about you, even if you know nothing about the statistics around police shootings. Now, as an intellectually curious person, you’d want to know about those other things before you put the badge on.
[01:01:00] Jeffery Wang: That’s right. Yeah.
[01:01:01] Jeffery Wang: And like you, I’m infuriated by the same behaviours and the absolute sort of lack of curiosity when it comes to, actually finding out the thing behind those causes But I tend to take a view that, The reason why people feel the need to virtue signal, as you say, that they’re a good person is because they no longer have a compass to which to orientate themselves by. when you believe in a higher power and that’s always watching, and you know that you’re doing the right thing according to whatever the high-power dictates.
[01:01:33] Jeffery Wang: Then you don’t need to prove to anybody else other than that I was always watching anyway that you’re a good person. And I often joke, my parents, in fact, most, a lot of our parents have the immigrant experience who sacrifice their entire lives for the good of their children They don’t have the need to virtue signal because deep down inside they know they’re good people who have sacrificed themselves. I think the epidemic of virtue signalling is caused by the fact that most of us today deep down inside, believe that we are not good people. And that’s why it’s causing this need to have this tribal signal. and in fact, the more they signal the more it’s telling me that there are character flaws that they’re deeply aware of.
[01:02:23] Alan Davison: I think that’s probably a very good insight, but probably outside my specialization, but I’d agree that there is a lot fuelling this signalling at the moment and it could well be the concurrence of multiple things. But I think that idea of we have, there is a, at the level of society, those north stars of what it is to be a good person, a moral person, which could be entirely exhibited through your own personal values, individual private commitment.
[01:02:48] Alan Davison: Those things no longer seem to be the case. Again, social media is an element, that constant signalling that you are a good person, thinking these things and saying these things if you’re a really good person, there’s probably no need to put it on your Twitter feed or Xfeed or sub, whatever.
[01:03:04] Alan Davison: So, I think, yep, it’s definitely, there’s something going on.

[01:03:07] Lesson 9: Be consistent but be prepared to change.

[01:03:07] Jeffery Wang: Certainly. So, lesson number nine, be consistent, but be prepared to change.
[01:03:12] Alan Davison: we’re talking about leadership here. It’s really important that as a leader, you show a consistent application of your values, your intellectual values or ethical values. But of course, you can change and develop, and your beliefs might change, your understanding of an organization, or the leadership that’s required in an organization might change.
[01:03:30] Alan Davison: it’s not that you get a reputation for being inconsistent. You have a reputation for applying a consistent set of values and intellectual propositions that may lead to your leadership. Evolving as you go. That’s really important for authentic leadership because otherwise people see leaders changing what they say and do according to the power element.
[01:03:53] Alan Davison: In other words, they see leadership chasing after roles, opportunities, and causes according to how it helps transport or transpose them into more powerful positions. It may be a social cause, maybe a social justice cause, maybe a whatever cause, and if you’re applying a very consistent intellectual approach to these things, you need to navigate your way through those things that are career enhancing in a very real but facile way, versus are you going to stay consistent with your regularly articulated values and outlook on the world.
[01:04:27] Alan Davison: So, it is complex because there will be sacrifices and missed opportunities, but I see a lot of people in leadership roles that are clearly going into those roles because they’re saying and doing the things that are needed and that are the things of the day or that are the orthodoxies. And you have to ask yourself, but I know they’re quite clever people, surely, they’re questioning that when they’re going out and championing a particular intervention, a cause, or a whole of organization initiative.
[01:04:56] Alan Davison: You know from your own conversations or insights into them, surely, they’ve got doubts about the validity of that or whatever it happens to be. But they’re nonetheless chasing those things. So, I think long term, for me, it’s important that you see a consistency of application and messaging from your leaders.
[01:05:12] Alan Davison: And that they’re not seen to be chasing where the opportunities and the power that comes with the opportunities comes from.
[01:05:18] Jeffery Wang: So are you saying that You’re advocating for an absolute moral compass. when you talk about your values, you know there’s an absolute north star and that you sort of orientate towards what’s right, essentially, or what you believe them to be. When you say be prepared to change, obviously you change because the evidence change. The facts change. So, you change your mind, but it doesn’t change the underlying values that you’re trying to
[01:05:43] Alan Davison: yeah
[01:05:44] Jeffery Wang: Gotcha Yeah, and that’s what good leadership should be.
[01:05:48] Alan Davison: But it’s, it can be hard to get ahead, particularly in an environment or an organization or a, a conglomerate of organizations like universities or educational environments. Where there is such an utter orthodoxy around what is to be presented as truth, or presented as good, or presented as insightful to students nowadays.
[01:06:11] Alan Davison: And I often fear that for those people who want to challenge those things, what damage it might do to their leadership. opportunities in the future if they find themselves drawn to or attracted to the idea of the privilege of being in the leadership role.

[01:06:25] Lesson 10: Working for and amongst people with diverse viewpoints is fulfilling.

[01:06:25] Jeffery Wang: lesson number 10, working for and amongst people with diverse viewpoints is fulfilling.
[01:06:31] Alan Davison: it would be, and I wish at a university I was able to do it, but I’m not sure if that’s always the case.
[01:06:35] Alan Davison: But I think the point is there that Seek out people around you to lead or to work with as other leaders who are not necessarily always in agreement with you. It’s obviously a quality of a leadership team that you have a diversity of perspectives and insights on that leadership team. And when I mean diversity, I mean real diversity.
[01:06:55] Alan Davison: I don’t mean superficial diversity. So superficial diversity can mean people with apparently different social backgrounds. But they all come from a very select private school or elite school system.
[01:07:06] Alan Davison: They all, they were all driven by mummy or daddy in the SUV to the same sports events, to the ballet, to the music lessons, to the orchestra, to the extra tutoring.
[01:07:15] Alan Davison: And those people can have a variety of different appearances, but they’ve all come from a very similar background in other ways. It’s the diminution of the importance of class that’s behind a lot of this. diversity, I’m always quite sceptical of because I want to ask, what actually do you mean by diversity?
[01:07:31] Alan Davison: Diversity might mean an African American person that’s on the conservative side of politics.
[01:07:36] Alan Davison: That’s diversity. So, diversity should be viewed in terms of viewpoint diversity, life experience, and a range of different approaches. And the best thing you can do as a leader is leverage and feed off that diversity of perspectives.
[01:07:48] Alan Davison: The worst thing you can do is surround yourself with people that have superficial diversity, but in actual fact they’re all in agreement with a whole lot of views that are held. Because all that will do is reiterate an orthodoxy. around those views and values and leadership qualities that are already there.
[01:08:05] Alan Davison: So, it’s really important to have a diversity of views, but to work in a way as a leader that encourages and respects that, but also makes it an encouraged state, that constant state of diverse opinions. As a leader, you still need to come out with a view and a series of actions. So that’s for sure, but that’s the leader’s responsibility.
[01:08:26] Alan Davison: But at least you can surround yourself with people that have different perspectives and who can challenge you.
[01:08:31] Jeffery Wang: Oh, absolutely. And I think you’ve just described a lot of the senior leadership in incorporated Australia today, when you, where you have essentially what looks like diversity and yet it’s very much, people from the same mode, same socioeconomic class, same sort of thinking.
[01:08:48] Jeffery Wang: I think this is this sort of tick box diversity is probably worse than not having any diversity initiatives at all. and I think a lot of people from diverse cultural backgrounds can certainly, see that happening in real time.
[01:09:01] Jeffery Wang: And in fact, a lot of the people from different, minority cultural backgrounds are seeing, this sort of fake or faux diversity, as a bit of a challenge, because all it does is further push the dominant culture and shoving it in their faces. So, I, I’ve become a bit of a sceptic of the diversity movement of late, because of all this.
[01:09:25] Jeffery Wang: And unfortunately, I think it’s going to take a whole rethinking, and what I what I, say, what I call diversity 2. 0 before we’ll, Get actual genuine viewpoint diversity. So, thanks for that.
[01:09:38] Jeffery Wang: Now, as we all, we do with all our guests, we’d love to throw them a curve ball at the end of 10 lessons.
[01:09:44] Jeffery Wang: And that is, we’re going to ask you, what have you unlearned? So, something you held to be ironclad truth, know early in your career in your twenties that you thought, this is it.
[01:09:53] Jeffery Wang: And then later on throughout your life, you’ll learn that you know that’s just not the case.
[01:09:57] Alan Davison: That’s an excellent question. I think the thing that comes to mind is that I was naive enough to think when I was younger that having compelling logic and evidence would be enough to convince people of a way forward or of the truth of the matter.
[01:10:11] Alan Davison: And it’s probably taken me 20 plus more years to realize that’s that utterly not the case. It’s one of the most demonstrably most naive things that one can believe for all the reasons that we’ve been discussing. So, I used to have the view that When I heard an idea or something that I thought, but that’s just crazy.
[01:10:27] Alan Davison: That’s just nuts. So, I’ll use the tools of logic and reason and evidence to argue back. things have actually got worse over the last 20 or 30 years since I was first doing my study. And the ideas that some of the crazy ideas I saw as an undergraduate and postgraduate in the 90s and early 2000s, they have now come to fruition and they’re now dominant, but they’re always ridiculous ideas.
[01:10:49] Alan Davison: So, I, and many other sorts of sceptical, people of the sceptical bent. have probably spent a lot of time arguing and spilling a lot of ink explaining in clear logical terms why these are bad ideas to zero effect. So, I think I’ve woken up in the last few years to the idea that logic and reason have no impact on a deeply irrational and tribalistic mindset that has been thoroughly weaponized by the people that are pushing these dogmas and orthodoxies at the moment.
[01:11:16] Alan Davison: Knowingly or unknowingly, it just happens to work. So, I think that’s been the greatest, revision of a belief I would have had, that is that overconfidence that being logical and sensible and evidence based would eventually find your way, or your institution, through to a position of better understanding of the world. That north star of truth seeking is palpably false.
[01:11:37] Jeffery Wang: Yeah, unfortunately I think I had exactly the same beliefs when I started out as well. I think roughly maybe 6 7 percent of the population would be of the bent where, they will look at an argument logically and be able to rationalize, to look at it rationally and just make that, but I think as I’ve aged and as you discover people make decisions on emotion. and unfortunately knowing the truth is not enough. Knowing the logic to that truth is not enough. It’s about making that argument persuasive.so one of my life lessons, as I’ve actually had a, an episode of myself is, is to seek the truth and make it persuasive I think it’s incumbent upon us as critical thinkers and truth seekers to genuinely seek that truth, but also to articulate and hence why we’re having this conversation today.
[01:12:27] Jeffery Wang: Well, it’s been an absolute pleasure, Alan. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our conversation and going down all the rabbit holes and, we’ve probably gone for another hour if, if time permits, but we’ll have to finish on that note. You’ve been listening to 10 Lessons Learned, a podcast that makes the world a little wiser, lesson by lesson.
[01:12:46] Jeffery Wang: Today we’re joined by our special guest, Dr. Alan Davison. This episode is produced by Robert Hossary and sponsored by the Professional Development Forum. Don’t forget to leave us a review or comment You can even email us at podcast@10lessonslearned.com Go ahead and hit that subscribe button so you don’t miss an episode of the only podcast that makes the world a little wiser lesson by lesson. Thanks for tuning in and stay safe, everyone.

 This episode is produced by Robert Hossary. Sponsored as always by Professional Development Forum. You can find the www.professionaldevelopmentforum.org you’ve heard from us we’d like to hear from you. Email us it’s podcast@10lessonslearned.com. Remember, this is the podcast the only podcast. That’s makes the world wiser lesson by lesson.

Alan Davison

Alan Davison-Being passionate about a problem doesn’t mean your solution is right

From the pitfalls of virtue signaling to the essence of true leadership, Dr. Alan Davison delivers a compelling narrative that questions modern orthodoxy. Are you ready to challenge your beliefs? Hosted by Jeffery Wang

About Professor Alan Davison

Alan heads up Heterodox Academy in Australia, promoting viewpoint diversity in our academic communities. He has published both scholarly and popular articles on trends in social sciences and humanities research.


Alan launched the “Permission to Think” speaker series alongside well-known media figure Josh Szeps in 2021, which invites prominent scholars to openly discuss complex issues during this age of outrage. Examining the role of intellectuals and institutions in public debates, especially those in the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS) faculties. To date, guests in the series have included the likes of Jonathan Haidt and Alice Dreger.


Alan had an unusual educational background, being largely home-schooled and entering university via special admissions. He studied piano privately through his teens before initially undertaking a Bachelor of Music in performance, changing to musicology for his postgraduate study.
His long-running research interests cover music and visual culture, art and aesthetics, celebrity studies, and 19th-century European cultural history, but he maintains his knowledge of previous interests, especially in the philosophy of science and the scientific method.

Episode Notes

08:35 Lesson 1: Never Stop Being Curious
13:23 Lesson 2: Being passionate about a problem doesn’t mean you have a solution
20:38 Lesson 3: Try to Steelman and not Strawman.
29:30 Lesson 4: Smart people can use their IQ to rationalize terrible ideas.
36:16 Lesson 5: Be both strategic and tactical and challenging orthodox.
42:43 Lesson 6: Being anti orthodox can be as bad as being orthodox.
44:50 Lesson 7: Humans are apes.
49:56 Lesson 8: Great leaders are both intellectual and ethical.
01:03:07 Lesson 9: Be consistent but be prepared to change.
01:06:25 Lesson 10: Working for and amongst people with diverse viewpoints is fulfilling.

Professor Alan Davison – Being passionate about a problem doesn’t mean your solution is right.

[00:00:08] Jeffery Wang: Hello and welcome to 10 Lessons Learned where we discern wisdom for career, business and life. In other words, valuable insights that you can’t find in a textbook because it took us years to learn this stuff.
[00:00:19] Jeffery Wang: My name is Jeffery Wang, the founder of Professional Development Forum and your host for today.
[00:00:24] Jeffery Wang: This podcast is sponsored by the Professional Development Forum, which helps diverse young professionals find fulfillment in the modern workplace.
[00:00:32] Jeffery Wang: Today we’re joined by Professor Alan Davidson. Alan Heterodox Academy in Australia, promoting viewpoint diversity in our academic communities. He has published both scholarly and popular articles on trends in social sciences and humanities research. Alan launched the Permission to Think speaker series alongside well-known media figure Josh Zeps in 2021, which invites prominent scholars to openly discuss complex issues during this age of outrage.
[00:01:03] Jeffery Wang: Examining the roles of intellectuals and institutions in public debates, especially those in the humanities, arts and social sciences to date, guests in the series have included the likes of Jonathan Haidt and Alice Dreger.
[00:01:18] Jeffery Wang: Alan had an unusual educational background, being largely homeschooled and entering university by special admissions. He studied piano privately through his teens and before initially undertaking a Bachelor of Music in performance changing to musicology for his postgraduate study. His long running research cover music and visual culture, art and aesthetics, celebrity studies and 19th century European cultural history.
[00:01:47] Jeffery Wang: But he maintains his knowledge of his previous interests, especially in the philosophy of science and the scientific method. Welcome to the show, Alan.
[00:01:56] Alan Davison: It’s great to be here, Jeffery. Thanks for having me on.
[00:01:59] Jeffery Wang: Look, I’ve been looking forward to having this interview because of our shared passion for open inquiry and the ability to explore some ideas.
[00:02:08] Jeffery Wang: Now, before we jump into your lessons, can you tell me a little bit about what a heterodox academy is and why is it needed.
[00:02:16] Jeffery Wang:
[00:02:16] Alan Davison: Thanks for the question. Heterodox Academy was set up firstly in the United States. John Hite was one of the co-founders. It was set up a few years ago now and basically, its primary mission is to try to encourage diversity of viewpoints within particularly the academy, but within our public discourse.
[00:02:32] Alan Davison: So, it’s neither right nor left, if you will, on the political spectrum. But everybody in the academy is of the view that we need to be having better quality conversations across the political and ideological spectrums.
[00:02:43] Jeffery Wang: Okay so you also mentioned, permission to think, is there something going on here in the world that is telling us that we no longer have the permission to think Don’t we live in a free world.
[00:02:55] Alan Davison: yes, on the surface, and in fact, the reason it’s called Permission to Think, I think, reflects the idea that’s fundamental to the program, that we’re in an era where there’s a lot of shaming and mobbing and tribalism, obviously fed by social media, but perhaps other things as well, and we might get onto them, so that the reason we call it Permission to Think rather than, say, Permission to Speak, I would argue that things have got to such a stage where many people that are otherwise quite curious individuals feel they can’t even engage in the questioning within the safety of their own mind, if you will, quite apart from actually opening up a conversation or disagreement with a colleague at work or a public forum, for example.
[00:03:34] Alan Davison: So yes, I would argue that the idea of being able to think about things and not feeling bad about exploring ideas or listening to different viewpoints before you even articulate a difference of opinion is really important and arguably lost a little bit at the moment.
[00:03:49] Jeffery Wang: Which is a bit of a concern considering, when we talk about exploring ideas, it’s been 20 years since I’ve been out of university, and, I haven’t been around the tertiary education institutions for quite a while, but I hear that there has been a bit of a fundamental shift in terms of the culture there, and, and that, exploration ideas were, we used to take for granted is no longer happening.
[00:04:13] Jeffery Wang: what’s going on there and why do you think it’s happening?
[00:04:17] Alan Davison: I suppose the first question is, do we have data or information or evidence that has happened? Because a lot of it is anecdotal, obviously, so people that have been out of the academy that might remember when they were doing their bachelor’s degree 20 or 30 years ago, maybe through their children or through, younger people they know, are hearing back about what’s going on in the classroom.
[00:04:35] Alan Davison: And I remember, even in my time, I’m not that old, but I’m old enough. But you go through your university course and not even know what the politics of your lecturer was. Because the academic whose responsibility is to engage your mind in ways of not only delivering knowledge, which we use a lot, whatever that quite means, but also equipping young people with the skills and the competence. to be curious and inquiring and engage in debate. You could go through an entire degree without even knowing what the politics of your lecturer was. And the idea that there would be a really clear ideological or political expectation within your context of learning, so your fellow students or your lecturers or what you see your staff doing and how they’re active.
[00:05:23] Alan Davison: That’s changed a lot now. I think there’s much more open and clearer advocacy for many of our academic cohort, my colleagues, that in a way would be immediately discouraging for a student that might come from a different political or ideological background or simply serve to reinforce the ideological prejudices that some people might have to start with.
[00:05:44] Alan Davison: So, I think that’s definitely changed. There used to be a pride, I felt, in the academic community in doing the best you could for your students to think critically, irrespective of the politics and the ideology behind it. And I don’t think that’s the case anymore.
[00:05:57] Jeffery Wang: I personally don’t have a problem with being, true to your beliefs.
[00:06:02] Jeffery Wang: I believe that people should have the freedom to express their own beliefs. However, aren’t we supposed to be able to engage with ideas that we don’t personally believe in, but still be able to engage in such a way that’s, that’s meaningful? so for example, making devil’s advocate argument.
[00:06:21] Jeffery Wang: Is that not something that these professors are capable of doing.
[00:06:24] Alan Davison: I’m sure they’re capable of doing it.
[00:06:25] Alan Davison: So, I suppose the question is, when a professor or an academic teaching in first, second or third year or beyond supervising a PhD, for example, it’s really incumbent upon them, I think, from an ethical perspective. to provide their students and the young minds that they’re dealing with the strongest possible articulation of a viewpoint that even they might disagree with, But I see many academics now quite openly and proudly displaying their politics, but also in such a way that discourages and completely disincentivizes having a different view because it becomes an ethical and moral issue.
[00:07:03] Jeffery Wang: You mean failing students who don’t agree with them.
[00:07:06] Alan Davison: no. I wouldn’t say that academics necessarily do anything as grotesque as failing students that don’t agree with them.
[00:07:12] Alan Davison: What I’m suggesting is, are we confident that academics provide the breadth of literature and reading and say, arguments and essay topics and seminar topics, for instance, that show the best possible case, the strongest possible articulation of a variety of views they might not agree with? And that’s, I think, something that should be definitely looked at more closely.
[00:07:33] Jeffery Wang: 100%. And, you know, this is certainly a part of the, the podcast that might be edited out depending on your answer, but you think that’s motivated by a lack of ability to critically think. Or do you think it’s a lack of character to allow others the freedom to explore themselves?
[00:07:52] Alan Davison: In a way, a bit of both, but I’d academics can critically think, and we might come to this later, but academics can also get very good at articulating and reinforcing a set of perspectives that they already are very devoted to, rather than articulating and expressing a very strong argument that’s counter to what they might personally believe And I think one of the challenges we have is that it’s not as black and white as, they’re openly negative towards alternate views, but are they presenting the full gamut of alternate views, or are they framing them within a whole lot of moral and ideological framings, if you like, that limit or discourage conversation outside those narrow views

[00:08:35] Lesson 1: Never Stop Being Curious

[00:08:35] Jeffery Wang: that’s Sounds like a great segue into lesson number one, never stop being curious So is, does that mean you just never stop learning?
[00:08:44] Alan Davison: But of course, a lot of universities talk about lifelong learning or a lifetime of learning, which I think is great. But fundamentally it means read things, listen to podcasts, listen to this podcast, listen to podcasts maybe from perspectives that you don’t always understand.
[00:09:00] Alan Davison: if you keep reinforcing due to the algorithms that are out there and reiterating the views you’ve already heard by a variety of people. That’s not really learning much. That’s just reinforcing arguably the prejudices and viewpoints you already have. So, by being curious, it means being curious about where disagreement lies and what’s the best case for trying to understand the basis of that disagreement rather than moralizing and dismissing disagreement as something to do with ethical values or the right kind of political tribalism that comes with it.
[00:09:31] Jeffery Wang: but that’s Easier said than done, right? Because it, it’s uncomfortable to learn viewpoints that you personally disagree with. how do you suggest people could, open themselves up to be open to these ideas You know we’re talking about a form of open mindedness, isn’t it? isn’t it?
[00:09:48] Alan Davison: Yes, and look, curiosity is really just a shorthand for open mindedness in a way.
[00:09:53] Alan Davison: The idea of being curious means, not only just wanting to learn things that already fit, but Those worldviews that you’ve built within your own mind and your understanding of the world. But it also means, be curious about why things are different and why someone might believe or say a different thing to oneself. And do so in good faith.
[00:10:11] Jeffery Wang: are you suggesting that people change their mind if they were to learn something that goes counter to whatever they believe?
[00:10:18] Alan Davison: Well, here’s the thing about the relationship between belief and Belief isn’t neutral, in the sense that, you only have to look around you on the news and social media and in daily discourse, that beliefs tend to cluster around a set of ideologies and tribalism type matters.
[00:10:36] Alan Davison: So, you can be pretty sure if somebody says they’re in support of this or that cause, you can be pretty sure they’ll also be in support or believe a variety of other things get clustered around it. Even though often from an evidence and logical perspective, they’re totally unrelated. So that for me gives a good warning that beliefs can often be presented as tribal signalling, if you will.
[00:10:58] Alan Davison: If you believe these things, and these things are good things to believe, then that signals your membership of a particular type of ideology. And that’s very important nowadays, especially for young people, and especially with the pressures of social media.
[00:11:13] Jeffery Wang: And I think you touched on a very interesting point.
[00:11:16] Jeffery Wang: You used the word tribalism, and I feel like it’s probably one of those things that is threatening our entire way of life in terms of our existence, right? Tribalism goes counter to the entire enlightenment of the Western civilization, where we deal with ideas and issues independent of the people, and the individuals and the tribes that come with them So maybe you’ll cover this in another lesson later, but why do you believe that tribalism has made its way back into the, I suppose the dominant psyche.
[00:11:58] Alan Davison: So, an interesting way you framed that is that tribalism’s made its way back because arguably it’s always there and that might come up in one of our later discussion points.
[00:12:07] Alan Davison: I think the concerning thing is those. Intellectual tools that we used to have, typically associated with the Western Enlightenment, which is now problematized, a favourite word of those that don’t like the Western Enlightenment. Those tools that were available through the Western Enlightenment, including things like scientific method and so forth, they were the things that basically, that’s the toolkit against tribalism, and tribalism sits always just faintly beneath the surface, I believe, in most human activity.
[00:12:37] Alan Davison: We are a very tribal species, for very good reasons, of course. So, I think, if we don’t have the toolkit to constantly address our reversion to tribalism, then yes, socially, culturally, and all kinds of politically, we’re on all kinds of strife if we don’t have those tools.
[00:12:57] Jeffery Wang: 100%. The irony of it is in the fear of opening up a can of worms, we often hear the expression the science is settled, which ironically suggests that this person’s understanding of scientific method is somewhat inadequate. but unfortunately, we’ve got to move on to lesson number two.
[00:13:15] Jeffery Wang: I know this is going to be a great interview and I think I have to resist the urge to go down our little rabbit holes.

[00:13:23] Lesson 2: Being passionate about a problem doesn’t mean you have a solution.

[00:13:23] Jeffery Wang: Lesson number two. Being passionate about a problem doesn’t mean your solution is right. That’s quite a, that’s quite a concept to grapple with.
[00:13:31] Alan Davison: and it needs a bit of unpacking. So, being passionate about a problem, or let’s say passionate about a cause to address a problem might be one of the wicked social problems we could talk about and that many people would have in mind. There’s two elements to that. One of which is in the way that you’re passionate about the identification of that very problem itself.
[00:13:51] Alan Davison: Does that necessarily mean you can see your way through to the solution to that problem?
[00:13:55] Alan Davison: And I think what happens, and I’ll frame it in a more technical way, moral clarity on an issue does not mean epistemic certainty. Now, by epistemic, I mean the way that we know what we know. So, if you have absolute moral clarity around any issue, particularly a socially contentious one, that naturally leads in, I think, the very tribal mindset we have nowadays, to an absolute certainty around the problem.
[00:14:21] Alan Davison: A, the way the problem or question has been framed, which assumes a lot around it. Things are not self-evident, the way we frame them embeds assumptions. And then the second part of that, part B would be the assumption that moral clarity leads to certainty around how to address that problem. And if you look at many disagreements on really toxic social issues, often it’s not because there’s fundamental disagreement about there is a problem here that we need to look at.
[00:14:50] Alan Davison: The disagreement might be around the precise framing of that, but more often than not, the debate and the toxic debate that we often get, and the finger pointing and the mobbing, is around people who have different views about how that problem is best addressed. And they’re two different things. by all means, be passionate about something.
[00:15:08] Alan Davison: Don’t want to stop people being passionate about it. But don’t let your passion for an idea Obscure your ability to unpack it and to be rational and articulate how it can be best framed but more importantly how it can be best addressed.
[00:15:23] Jeffery Wang: Okay. Lots unpacked there. I think in my brain, I’m racing right now trying to understand what you’ve just said, for our audience So is there maybe perhaps we can illustrate it by an example. Is there an issue? But we can talk about where, the, the debate around it is deframing or as you refer to, is there an issue that that’s happened recently, that you can think of that, is, people falling victim to this, thing that you’re talking about.
[00:15:51] Alan Davison: There’s probably too many to choose. Not how many. Sure. Not sure how many we’d want to put on the podcast but look. The recent, turmoil around the voice referendum, so representation in parliament of Aboriginal peoples.
[00:16:03] Jeffery Wang: You might have to explain that for our international audience.
[00:16:06] Alan Davison: last year Australians went to the polls to vote on a landmark referendum, which was to establish, a so called voice to parliament, which would have, if you like, special access and rights to, members of parliament, but also policy makers and others, on, on the basis that would represent Aboriginal or First Peoples or First Nations interests.
[00:16:29] Jeffery Wang: the intention is to improve their lives and to address some of the challenges that they’re having, in terms of, life and
[00:16:38] Alan Davison: yeah. the side of the debate, while there were some many good faith actors in that, there were also many people saying, fear mongering on both sides, but also those who were in favour of the voice, who at times would characterize people that raised questions or concerns about it as being just, an outcome of colonial mindset or of continuing racism, etc.
[00:17:05] Alan Davison: Where, of course, and that really framed a lot of the debate and through my own, discussions with people, including some very prominent academics and people in business and industry, they’re quite, they were quite happy to say off camera, I personally have some concerns about the constitutional implications and various other things like that, more of the technical side of the argument, but a very important one in those minds.
[00:17:27] Alan Davison: They were afraid to articulate this within their own organization because their own organization had already come out in support of a yes vote Now, so that’s a slightly different matter about institutions taking on the power. a position on something like that, which is of course a separate issue to this point, which is another point which we don’t necessarily have to go into, but what I’m saying is that at the more crude side of it, anyone who articulated concern around the voice referendum as it was articulated, very important point, could be characterized as, and indeed were characterized by some of the key, stakeholders in this as being, indisputably racist.
[00:18:04] Alan Davison: Now. The challenges and subsequent research that’s come out of ANU University, Australian National University, has shown that there was widespread support for many of the ideas articulated in the voice. The vast majority of Australians of all backgrounds want to see improved conditions and the closing of the gap, as it is called, between non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australians.
[00:18:25] Alan Davison: That was beyond dispute. Many of the concerns that were articulated were much more specific around constitutional implications, the legal side of things, and what not, but there’s a good example of trying to find a space where you’d see a very well argued articulation of concerns one way or the other was very difficult, when there was this underlying slurring, if you will, because of those who had great moral clarity of this issue that even asking a question or debating or raising concerns would put you in that sort of tribal category of racist people that didn’t want it. that’s just one of many examples.
[00:19:05] Jeffery Wang: Yeah, that’s a great example actually because, know I did have some sort of strong thoughts myself around the referendum. In 1967, when they had the referendum to recognize the Aboriginal Australians to the constitution, there was widespread support.
[00:19:18] Jeffery Wang: In fact, overwhelmingly, I think it was something over 90 percent of Australians supported it. clearly, there is that goodwill towards the Indigenous community. But what could have shifted from 90 to essentially 40 percent in support of the voice? And I think that’s where, that kind of thinking really fell down because if, if that was such the case then how did you go from 90 percent to 40?
[00:19:45] Jeffery Wang: and clearly, I think this is, for want of a better word, the madness of crowds thinking that your moral clarity means that, your solution has to be the only and the right one where, had they brought people along the journey, most people actually agree with the, with your moral, with the Yes council moral position in that they want to improve their lives, but not necessarily see the solution as the right one.
[00:20:10] Jeffery Wang: Yeah, and so I think that’s a great lesson and that’s just one example of the, the madness of crowds that we see all throughout the world where I think people who are trying to do good things are absolutely stuffing up their best efforts because they’re thinking in that moral framework.
[00:20:32] Alan Davison: more examples we could go into, but that was, I think that’s a good one.
[00:20:37] Jeffery Wang: Thanks for sharing that.

[00:20:38] Lesson 3: Try to Steelman and not Strawman.

[00:20:38] Jeffery Wang: So, Lesson number three, try to steelman and not strawman. Now, can you explain what steelman is? I know what a strawman is, so for the audience that might not strawman, it’s where you take the weakest version of the argument or the most ridiculous interpretation of somebody’s argument and attack that. What is a steelman?
[00:21:01] Alan Davison: So, Steel man is basically the opposite of straw man. when you see arguments being made against a position, and sometimes those arguments can vary according to who’s making them, how well informed they are, how articulate they are.
[00:21:15] Alan Davison: You do the opposite to straw man, and you don’t pick the weakest example of that argument and say, look, this person’s clearly ill-informed because they got this wrong. Steel manning means look at the best possible articulation. From a different point of view and work on articulating that. And when you disagree or argue back, or you consider your own position, do so in light of your steel manning of an argument, not your straw manning.
[00:21:42] Alan Davison: Now it relates partly to the previous point we were just discussing, but it’s really important that when. When we hear disagreement to our own views or there’s a public debate that seems to be very polarized, look at that debate and ask yourself, are they simply strawmanning each other’s arguments? They are picking the worst or most ill-informed or ill-intentioned side of an argument, or are they actually looking at something that has a core of real robustness about that?
[00:22:07] Alan Davison: And because we see it in our political life, we see it in social media. It also fits the tribalism mindset very well, that it takes a good deal of intellectual effort to steel man a different point of view and try to find the best articulation of it. and not strawman it, particularly when you add the moral imperative over the top, because strawmanning often comes with the moral dismissal.
[00:22:31] Alan Davison: So, I think I just, it’s really critical that institutions like our universities, but also our schools, instil in our students, in our community, The ability to articulate the strongest possible argument against what they believe in, not this kind of, caricaturing that we have frequently at the moment, including regarding the arguments and motivations.
[00:22:51] Alan Davison: So strawmanning can also apply to the way that we frame a different point of view from their supposed moral viewpoint or why they’re saying that, rather than actually looking at, what are the points about their argument? Where’s the evidence for it? Is it logical? Does it make sense? Where can I find data about this?
[00:23:12] Alan Davison: Where can I see it articulated? Rather than, oh, they’re saying something that I’ve been told makes them a bad person. So, I’m not even going to listen to whatever evidence they bring to bear on this argument.
[00:23:22] Jeffery Wang: So, for the uninitiated for this process because you’re talking about A method of thinking, essentially, you’re taking the most charitable interpretation of what someone could say.
[00:23:33] Jeffery Wang: you’re not assuming, impugning bad motives on what they’re, what they’re saying. You’re assuming that if they’re a good person and they want the stuff, they’re You know, what merit could they possibly bring to this argument, right? not easy to do,
[00:23:49] Jeffery Wang: I must admit but at the same time, is there, how would you go about doing it? is there any, is there some sort of a guideline on how you would go about still steel manning an argument? Is that something that you could learn?
[00:24:01] Alan Davison: You can certainly learn it and I’d say that our natural predisposition has A lot of conscious and conscientious effort required to steel man, particularly something you don’t like. So, I think, yes, it does take effort, and it takes an ethical view that I’m going to do the best I can, not just the intellectual one as well.
[00:24:19] Alan Davison: So, the first thing needs to be curiosity and also looking for sources and evidence. So, if you see, for instance, on the news or on a documentary show or something like that, and you see a soundbite of someone saying something, and it sounds a little bit ridiculous. Be curious enough to check, I’m going to go and check what sources were they referring to?
[00:24:38] Alan Davison: What study were they referring to? Data were they referring to? Can I find it somewhere? Can I have a look? And it’s just having, it comes back to that earlier point about curiosity. Being able to steel man and argument and being generous as you can requires a fundamental fostering of that curious mindset so that you’re not dismissing different views through that straw man technique.
[00:25:02] Jeffery Wang: So, can you give us an example where you’ve practiced steel manning, and it ended up being a good outcome?
[00:25:10] Alan Davison: In my own research, I try to do it which is first thing is try to get back to sources.
[00:25:15] Alan Davison: So, you might hear a study sited or an argument made, and you might hear things like, that was disputed, or that idea was dismissed, etc. So, it might be the lab leak theory. There’s a good example. Now, one of the, one needs to be curious about why would this idea come across. Lab leak theory is a good one. There seem to be a few quite nutty people saying it as well.
[00:25:36] Alan Davison: So, let’s say, for example, you came from a position where you completely ruled out any idea of the lab leak theory regarding COVID 19.
[00:25:42] Alan Davison: And you did so because either you saw on the news it’s just a conspiracy theory, or you had someone in a white jacket with a stethoscope around their neck saying it’s a ridiculous idea.
[00:25:53] Alan Davison: and look, I think the challenge is there are conspiracy theory nutters everywhere. That is absolutely true. so, the challenge that we have for the normal curious people is how does one distinguish between an idea that’s actually a little bit nutty, a little bit conspiracy and ideas that actually aren’t.
[00:26:09] Alan Davison: And often when they’re presented to us at first bite, we really can’t tell. So, I just urge people to have that little bit of curiosity, spend 20, 30 minutes. Dare I say it, online, depending on where you go.
[00:26:22] Alan Davison: Do your own research and it’s with various other things as well, political interference in the US, so either in the Trump campaign or the Hillary campaign and others.
[00:26:31] Alan Davison: the kinds of stories that were going around about Russian interference. Now, of course, There can and will be interference by malicious actors in all kinds of things, but it’ll be interesting to look and to do a study of were conspiracy theories against, external intervention in favour of Trump more easily or more difficultly dismissed than those, say, against Hillary.
[00:26:53] Alan Davison: And depending on where you sit on the political spectrum, you can be pretty sure of what the answer was. The factual likelihood of either of those things happening remains exactly the same. It’s just the politics of the people. presenting the argument and the politics of the people happy to receive the argument.
[00:27:09] Alan Davison: So again, it’s fostering that curiosity just to do a little bit more digging and not necessarily rely on the sources that you tend to gravitate to because they reiterate what you already believe and just having a little bit of open mindedness. about it, but you know that famous saying, if you opened your mind too much, your brains will fall out.
[00:27:27] Alan Davison: That’s also the case with conspiracy theories as well, and so finding the right balance, I say, is very hard, but I think the most important thing is look for the warning signs of strawmanning. And strawmanning means a caricature of your opponent, the selection of the worst possible examples or people who agree with that view as well, because there will always be people as outliers who believe with a position, and they can be bad people.
[00:27:54] Alan Davison: but if you see those signs of people that seem to be acting in very bad faith in support of an argument, and they seem a little bit crazy Ask yourself, are they genuinely representative of the best case of that perspective.
[00:28:06] Jeffery Wang: do you suggest that we look at a particular theory and then say who’s the most credible source they believe in this theory as a starting point?
[00:28:17] Alan Davison: Yeah, strongest, not for where it’s the most, ranty, ideologically charged. So, look for people that seem to have decent credibility. They might be academically trained or medically trained, or they might be virologists, in the case of, but also look at the people who are saying absolutely not.
[00:28:33] Alan Davison: and the other thing that I think should trigger concern is when you hear allegations of racism, phobia, or any of those X, Y, Z phobic arguments, I would say they are the first warning sign that The argument or the issue that you’re looking at is being obscured by ideology rather than evidence because there’s no need to revert to name calling if it’s a very sound and well established issue.
[00:28:59] Alan Davison: But if you encounter arguments like it’s racist to say that thing and you think for a moment, hang on, that’s not really what the point is. The point is either a lab leak happened, or it didn’t. Either it’s a reasonable hypothesis or it’s not. Where does the race bit come into it? And yes, it is possible that elements of racism play in public discourse, because they have and they do, but that is logically disconnected from what the
[00:29:24] Alan Davison: fundamental claim is itself So look for those warning signs. You’ll see many of them on many issues, I believe.

[00:29:30] Lesson 4: Smart people can use their IQ to rationalize terrible ideas.

[00:29:30] Jeffery Wang: that’s actually a great, um, segue to lesson number four. And this is actually a scary thought because you say that smart people can use their IQ to rationalize terrible ideas.
[00:29:43] Jeffery Wang: Yes. You just said not to impugn their motives you know if they’re terrible ideas, but they’re smart. Why would they use their IQ to rationalize terrible ideas Are they misguided Are they wrong?
[00:29:55] Alan Davison: they’re true believers and look, religion’s a great example. if. Simply by dint of people growing up in a, say, a religious or particular cultural background, more often than not they’ll grow up and they’ll become at times articulate and passionate about the very set of beliefs they happen to be born into.
[00:30:13] Alan Davison: But if they’d been born a hundred kilometres away or a hundred years different, they would have been born into a different circumstance. Religion’s a good example of this because you have remarkably clever intellects arguing about the finest details of a sacred text where if you don’t come from that religious background you have to ask yourself why you’re even arguing about that sacred text because who says it’s sacred?
[00:30:35] Alan Davison: Who says it’s the Word of God? Why would you articulate and get into remarkably complex arguments about really fine reading of say biblical or sacred texts? When you don’t even need to believe that the text is sacred in itself. So that in itself shows that very clever people can articulate ideas that must, as a matter of fact, be wrong at some point.
[00:30:56] Alan Davison: So that shows that it’s at least logically possible, but also there’s been some excellent studies down now for at least a decade or two that shows that high IQ. does not equate to high rationality. Now, rationality means the ability to work your way through arguments in terms of steel manning versus straw manning, in terms of politics.
[00:31:17] Alan Davison: That is not correlated to high IQ at all. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. People with high IQ, and particularly if they’re ideological at the end of the spectrums, or politically, so right wing or left wing in the old binary system, which is very little use nowadays, by the way, people with high IQ But at the ends of the political spectrum, are much less generous and much more easily led by bias than those that are more moderate and possibly even with less IQ.
[00:31:46] Alan Davison: So, the relationship between being, being very rational in the broader sense of our understanding of the word rational and having, if you like, high mental computing ability like IQ is not a straightforward one.
[00:32:00] Alan Davison: So, what it tends to mean is that people who are very intelligent, can often become very articulate and convincing at arguments that they already believe because their intelligence provides them with the tools to articulate in a very convincing way something that they already believe and understand and are committed to. So, the challenge is there that our universities, which are our fundamental sense making institutions after all, that’s where all of our clever people are, we claim, our universities are filled with very clever people. Now, if you are open to the idea that being clever does not necessarily mean you’re always being rational or that you’re always necessarily right, then that’s, I think, where one of the challenges comes from.
[00:32:42] Jeffery Wang: That’s a very pertinent point, because I believe this podcast is about social wisdom. And IQ in itself does not equate wisdom.
[00:32:55] Jeffery Wang: I’ve always had this, I always wonder, people with high IQ, I assume that they would be, they would also carry a high ability to discern, and as you use the word rationalize, or reason, right?
[00:33:11] Jeffery Wang: do you think these high IQ people are aware of the shortcomings of their own arguments? Are they aware of their own biases or do they just not care? because they’re incredibly convincing as you said they’re very persuasive, they’re very, they could be very powerful people. But do they not care what the truth is?
[00:33:30] Alan Davison: That’s a really interesting question because it asks, it poses the challenge of what are the motivations, perhaps psychological or moral, amongst our
[00:33:39] Jeffery Wang: And then you just told us not to
[00:33:41] Alan Davison: Yes, so leaving that, I’ll answer that in a slightly different way. Having a high IQ and being very articulate in ways of drawing evidence and argument together to justify a position.
[00:33:55] Alan Davison: The first person you’re going to convince is yourself. So without wanting to psychoanalyse, you can see that one of the attractions would be in trying to convince others of what you believe, you’re ultimately trying to convince yourself of your position and your rightness about it And the higher the IQ, the more articulate and the better you’re going to be at convincing arguably, yourself as well as those around you but also in discouraging and putting down others who disagree with you but perhaps aren’t as articulate as you are. Now the whole point we have things like the scientific method and the, the consequences of western enlightenment etc is to basically try to blow that open.
[00:34:32] Alan Davison: Because let’s face it, it’s not like the churches were bereft of highly intelligent people. So, in the challenge to religious authority and knowledge and explaining the world, being anything from, is the earth in the centre of the solar system or not, for example, it, the whole reason that we need to step outside that ability to articulate something we already believe is to try to bring those external measures and tests in.
[00:34:59] Alan Davison: And again, that’s a mindset that needs curiosity and that needs openness, and it means steel manning. But if you’re not of that disposition, or you’re being discouraged to have that disposition, then basically you’ll use your intellectual superpowers to constantly reiterate and reinforce something you’ve committed yourself to, especially if there’s a tribal element to it and you’re being a good person in articulating these things.
[00:35:25] Jeffery Wang: But I always wondered, as you mentioned, these hierarchy people may believe that you’re doing the right thing by being, a warrior for their cause Moreso than a genuine searcher for the truth, right? sometimes I wonder how do you convince these people to do the right thing?
[00:35:43] Jeffery Wang: Because they certainly hold a lot of power because of their intellectual capacity to rationalize these terrible ideas.
[00:35:50] Jeffery Wang: But don’t they don’t they realize that if they were wrong, that there are consequences to that power that they hold.
[00:35:56] Alan Davison: I think that’s an excellent question to put to them, but I think I’m not sure if that happens a lot in our current discourse and in our universities.
[00:36:03] Jeffery Wang: And I think that goes back to your lesson number one, the fact is that they don’t have that humility to be curious about things that they know that they might not possibly or were challenging the assumptions that they hold. But this is actually a great segue.

[00:36:16] Lesson 5: Be both strategic and tactical and challenging orthodox.

[00:36:16] Jeffery Wang: lesson number five, you say to be both strategic and tactical and challenging orthodox. So, I’m guessing you’re talking about when you’re challenging those who are incredibly articulate, but I guess wrong or, does not reason well how do you go about it?
[00:36:33] Alan Davison: Look, and that’s very much something that’s come to me through feedback from younger academics and students in that oftentimes they’ll say, I’m really concerned that in my tutorial or in my lecture, this thing was said, and I didn’t quite know how to challenge it and I wanted to challenge it, but then it can also, this has career and reputational impact.
[00:36:52] Alan Davison: So, universities are, and university careers, and I’m talking about university students and staff at the moment, they’re incredibly monolithic in various discipline areas in terms of politics and ideology. So, if you’re a curious young first year student and you hear something in your first-year lecture and you really want to dispute it, but it’s already been framed that anyone who disagrees is a morally bad person or disagrees is XYZ phobic or racist or whatever.
[00:37:19] Alan Davison: The very practical advice I give to people who have that natural tendency to challenge or be curious is think carefully. Now, while ideally you should be in an environment where you can openly and in good faith and respectfully challenge a whole lot of orthodoxies that we see around us, the reality is that for many young people in academia, that is not the case.
[00:37:40] Alan Davison: And that to propose, say, a research topic, or a PhD topic or to put in a funding proposal for research which challenged the orthodoxy of those around you would be, could be incredibly damaging and certainly be very unsuccessful. And so, what we tend to have is a constant meeting around the orthodoxies, if you like, because it’s simply reinforcing the mindset that is very predominant within those discipline areas.
[00:38:10] Alan Davison: All those topic areas, if you like. And the role of a curious and questioning young academic might be to want to really challenge those, but that will have significant career implications for where you might get published, who might supervise your thesis, where you might get funding, and of course, where you might get a job.
[00:38:29] Alan Davison: And if you’re known to be that young academic who challenged and caused some moral mayhem or uncertainty around this very fraught issue, be it race, religion, gender, whatever, anything that’s fraught in a lot of today’s discourse, you will have significantly damaged your career opportunities.
[00:38:48] Jeffery Wang: So, what are you suggesting they do instead then?
[00:38:51] Alan Davison: The first thing is to be self-motivated to learn the tools and techniques of how to respectfully challenge or disagree your peers.
[00:38:58] Jeffery Wang: Okay So you’re not saying fake it. And join, join the orthodoxy until, you get to a position of power.
[00:39:07] Jeffery Wang: You’re not selling your soul to get up the ladder just so that you’re in a position to actually change things, are you?
[00:39:12] Alan Davison: you might have to, if you want to get it. Depends on how far up the greasy pole that you want to get in any field, not just academia,
[00:39:16] Jeffery Wang: The problem though is that once you sell your soul then you’re no longer in a position to challenge orthodoxy. And quite often they find themselves being you I suppose going native right?
[00:39:28] Alan Davison: Being tactical means within the limited domain of influence and that you feel comfortable. Do what you can. Put that footnote in. Have that slight challenge. Ask a question. Think about how you frame something in ways that are staying true to your genuine curiosity. And even if you’re regurgitating a lot of the orthodoxies around that, you can frame it in a way that you are clearly demonstrating you are regurgitating the orthodoxies of that thing around it and that you can keep your own view either a little bit distant from it, or you might even find ways of questioning or disagreeing that.
[00:40:04] Alan Davison: So, it needs to be a very nuanced approach. So that’s what I mean by being tactical. Strategic is long term. That’s the selling your soul piece, which you just mentioned, because after so many years of Letting things go that you didn’t want to touch because they were too radioactive. after you’ve done that for 5, 10 or 15 years, then pretty much gone down that road then, haven’t you?
[00:40:24] Alan Davison: So, I think it is a genuinely challenging situation for many of our young thinkers. And what I’d urge them to do is don’t necessarily find refuge in the extremes. of political polarization on either side, although it will typically be one side at the moment, where the only people who want to hear what you say are people that you normally wouldn’t want to mix with because you actually don’t like their politics or viewpoints on a range of things, but they happen to agree with you on that thing.
[00:40:50] Alan Davison: And that’s, it’s a very challenging environment, I think, for people that are, genuinely curious, and generally want to question the orthodoxies they see around them.
[00:40:57] Jeffery Wang: It sounds to me like you believe though by questioning orthodoxy, you have a chance of waking them up from the matrix, so to speak. Do you still believe that’s the case?
[00:41:07] Jeffery Wang: Are people pretending to sleep, or are they genuinely just misguided?
[00:41:13] Alan Davison: Look, I think there’s a good dose of both. There’s always true believers.
[00:41:16] Alan Davison: And those true believers can be very articulate and clever people, and many of them I’d say are in university. And then there’s a whole lot of people that go along with it. And there’s a very well-known phrase called preference falsification, which is basically a whole lot of people that go around that you bump into that seem to be agreeing with what you’re saying, but in actual fact, they don’t, but it’s because they think everybody else does.
[00:41:37] Alan Davison: And as soon as that bubble bursts, it’s Then you suddenly realize that a whole lot of people you go to work with, or that you travel in to work with, or that you’re on the bus with, or that you meet at the cafe, they actually agree with you, but they didn’t want to say so. So, I think the role of, more heterodox leaders like myself and others, and indeed the role of the university as its main intellectual commitment, should be to burst those bubbles of orthodoxy and preference falsification, and we’re absolutely not doing that at the moment.
[00:42:03] Jeffery Wang: I absolutely agree, and this is when you say preference falsification that just gave a term to this phenomenon I’m observing.
[00:42:13] Jeffery Wang: what I find is that when you practice radical candour, sometimes we’re really surprised at the, the actual opinions of people around you, but I’ve sort of gone on a bit of a journey myself, revealing much of what I think, I realized small talk is a waste of time. So, you started having real conversations to my surprise, 80 percent of people I talk to tend to agree with me. and it’s, it, I can’t explain the kind of relief you have and, realizing that most people are just playing along.

[00:42:43] Lesson 6: Being anti orthodox can be as bad as being orthodox.

[00:42:43] Jeffery Wang: But again, another, another, um, rabbit hole we probably shouldn’t be going down. But lesson number six, on the topic of orthodoxies, you’re saying that being anti orthodox. can be as bad as being orthodox I guess what we’re saying here is that, when you’re talking about tribalism, if you orientate yourself by the tribe being anti tribe is just as bad as being part of a tribe.
[00:43:06] Alan Davison: Indeed, and I think you end up becoming the thing that you pretend to oppose. I’m all for anti-orthodoxy, always challenge orthodoxies because by their nature, orthodoxies are things that tend to get settled and unquestioned.
[00:43:17] Alan Davison: We need to be curious and question things but if you’re always positioning yourself as that person that disagrees at the party.
[00:43:24] Alan Davison: that person that you know, whatever has happened, they’re going to disagree with you. Now, some people really love that. Some people find it stimulating. I find it quite tiresome, because again, if at the core of this is truth seeking curiosity, maybe an orthodoxy can at times be right. That’s absolutely fine.
[00:43:40] Alan Davison: Or maybe a significant number of elements within a cluster of orthodox beliefs can be right as well. So just positioning yourself default in opposition to an orthodoxy is incredibly tiresome in my view. Whatever side of politics you’re on, and while it means you get your own little supporting, clan and cheerleaders, and I think many people have done that in social media, you get a lot of alternative perspectives, and they get their own.
[00:44:05] Alan Davison: that just creates another tribe. With the sort of narrow thinking and its own preference, falsification of those things. So, my thing is, while you want the intellectual attitude of always questioning orthodoxies, don’t become that pain in the arse person that just always disagrees for the sake of it. I personally find it incredibly tiresome.
[00:44:22] Jeffery Wang: Yeah, and I think people are lured into that particular line of thinking because ultimately their orientation is to power because there is great power in being anti orthodox as well, right?
[00:44:33] Jeffery Wang: some people like an underdog and some people, I like to identify as the outsider. and, sometimes insiders have things right and I think ultimately what we need to do is become critical thinkers and call it for what it is and, and orient ourselves to truth seeking, as you said.

[00:44:50] Lesson 7: Humans are apes.

[00:44:50] Jeffery Wang: Now this is probably the lesson that’s going to get our show cancelled but lesson number seven humans are apes.
[00:44:56] Alan Davison: just to remind ourselves that, particularly where I come from, arts, humanities and social sciences, it is so rare to see anyone writing about issues that pertain to the human condition, society, being, gaps in racial outcomes, all of those things that motivate us to make the world a better place.
[00:45:16] Alan Davison: And yet, there seems to be this sort of overwhelming blank slatism that somehow, if you’ve got a theory, whether it be a Marxist theory or this or that theory, that somehow there’s an inherently obvious solution to the human condition, which ignores the fact that we’re the outcome of millions of years of evolution, and we’re an animal.
[00:45:35] Alan Davison: Now, that doesn’t mean, say, we’ve got a biological determinism, we are just merely animals. We’re obviously an exceptional type of animal, clearly. But at the end of the day, we are an animal in our current state now, with our current mental equipment, our current physiology, that evolved many tens of thousands of years ago to be optimized for that kind of environment many tens of thousands of years ago.
[00:45:58] Alan Davison: So, all of those attributes we’ve talked about before, including tribalism and all those things, they are literally what is with us as the human natural condition. And the idea that there’s some, theory of ideal existence of being human that ignores the fact that we’re animals, I just find utterly bizarre.
[00:46:16] Alan Davison: And yet, the vast majority of literature and theorizing that comes out of much of the humanities and related fields doesn’t even have the slightest nod towards, you can like, that biological element in our nature, that evolutionary element in our nature, unless it’s to dismiss it as some kind of, evil eugenics, some kind of social Darwinism, which again is strawmanning the point.
[00:46:39] Alan Davison: The fact that, there may well be ill intentioned and poor outcomes from taking a naive view that we are animals, clearly, that does not mean that the validity of the overall proposition we are apes. Look at how other apes behave, look at how other animals behave, look at how we evolved to pretty much where we are now.
[00:46:59] Alan Davison: But we’re basically, uh, if you like, a modern ape, but in a world that’s very different to what we optimally evolved into. So, the idea that you can talk about improving society, improving the human condition, or addressing any of the social ills we have in the world around us, in total ignorance, and in fact, pride of ignorance of anything related to evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, and all of the insights that come from that.
[00:47:26] Alan Davison: I find utterly staggering myself.
[00:47:30] Jeffery Wang: Okay, let me unpack that a bit because, again a lot of a lot of complex concepts here. So, the first one here is that humans behave, Behaviour or we’re conditioned by our, millions of years of evolution.
[00:47:44] Jeffery Wang: So, what we’re seeing out there in the return to tribalism, it’s actually not a return.
[00:47:49] Jeffery Wang: As you said it’s basically, we’ve always been tribal because that was a mechanism for survival. If you didn’t have a tribe, you didn’t survive. so, I understand that. And part of our instinct is to try and mimic the tribe in order to fit in. but it doesn’t. Doesn’t the proof of progress as a result of enlightenment show us that’s something our tribalistic nature is something that we need to work to suppress because we’ve actually seen the light?
[00:48:16] Alan Davison: Indeed, but I think there’ll always be a force that pulls us back and one of the challenges we have at the moment with the quality or the poor quality of public discourse and how our institutions are arguably failing us is that they’re actually facilitating the reversion back to a very tribal mindset, using the term very broadly at the moment.
[00:48:38] Alan Davison: So, all of those tools and protections against our natural state of insiders and outsiders, of throwing, casting people out who do not agree with you. These are all things that you see everywhere in the rest of the animal world and beyond. And yes, part of the great achievements of the Enlightened, don’t want to single out the Western Enlightened. There have been other periods and epicycles in human history where remarkable achievements have been generated, not just through technology, but through learning and dealing with tribalism. There have been remarkable achievements over history and through different cultures.
[00:49:14] Alan Davison: So what we’re facing now are actually Things which are not only not protecting us from that anymore, but there are things that are encouraging us to be drawn back into that, where social media, arguably, is a very important part of that, but this highly ideologically identity driven, tribalistic mindset of mobbing and of outrage on of, and of, Supposing the worst possible intentions of someone that agrees with you, that in group, out group behaviour, that is something that is absolutely being supercharged at the moment, oftentimes by the very people that should be leading the way and challenging it, i. e. our thought leaders, our politicians, our intellectuals and our policy makers.

[00:49:56] Lesson 8: Great leaders are both intellectual and ethical.

[00:49:56] Jeffery Wang: Yeah, which is great segue lesson number eight, great leadership of both intellectual and ethical and as you alluded to before which is just then, I believe leadership is what’s missing.
[00:50:06] Jeffery Wang: we have this animal nature and that’s what’s causing much of the ills of today. And leadership is about, people who can overcome that urge for, reverting to our animal, tribalistic nature. how do you how do you be a great leader in this day and age when the majority of leadership that we see is just you know missing in action.
[00:50:29] Alan Davison: Indeed, it’s worse than that. It’s not only missing in action, but when we see what is presented as leadership it’s actually feeding off the tribalism. It’s the charismatic, it’s the group forming, it’s the outcasting of those who disagree.
[00:50:42] Alan Davison: then that’s exactly the challenge we have, is that people get into power by exhibiting. qualities that are misconstrued as leadership. becoming a great leader while staying true to the idea that you do not want mob mentality, you do not want tribalism, while still inspiring people without using any of those crude animalistic tools.
[00:51:03] Alan Davison: that is the great challenge around leadership versus being in power. And I think, in my view, great leadership, including great leadership in institutions like universities, must be underpinned by that. Intellectual commitment to curiosity and engaging with a variety of perspectives. And seeing that as being the flip side of the coin, that’s the ethical perspective.
[00:51:24] Alan Davison: It’s a deeply ethical position as well, not a moral clarity position, a tribalistic one. It’s the understanding that You can have an ethical position that you want to do good things. You want to be a good person. You want to create a good team around you and all that, but it must be fed by and articulated through a very keen intellectual commitment to those qualities we’ve been talking about prior to this.
[00:51:48] Alan Davison: So genuine leadership requires the constant reiteration, reiteration of those intellectual qualities that we’ve been talking about as part of the value proposition of being a great leader And that’s very challenging because it means there are a lot of people that might not immediately get on board because they don’t see the rousing appeal to tribalism that is so common now people now.
[00:52:08] Jeffery Wang: 100%. And I think that’s the genuine challenge in that, I believe there are great leaders who are incredibly articulate. at, at inspiring others to follow the same, but the danger is that people take the easy path. It’s easy to get to power by appealing to our animal nature our tribalistic beliefs, far easier than having the character and the substance to be able to do the right thing and be really good and articulate and convincing in inspiring others to do the right thing as well.
[00:52:44] Jeffery Wang: what does it take for great leadership to rise? Because you and I both know we need them right now.
[00:52:51] Alan Davison: look, that’s the 60-million-dollar question, isn’t it? because the incentives for holding fast to those intellectual and ethical values, that actually creates all kinds of impediments for going up into positions of power, I would argue. And so how to frame one’s leadership qualities and values in a way that doesn’t appeal to those cheap tribal elements is precisely the challenge that we have.
[00:53:17] Jeffery Wang: Well, the past, we’ve seen empires fall, right? So really, without burning everything down, is there a possibility we can return to enlightenment? I know this is probably a very heavy question, to throw at you, but do you see a way out of this mess?
[00:53:34] Jeffery Wang: without kind of going through a massive calamity that everyone has to suffer through to understand that eventually we’ll run out of, we’re running on the fumes of the civilization that was built on enlightenment. but eventually we’re going to run out.
[00:53:53] Jeffery Wang: And everything’s going to collapse when merit is no longer, when this system is no longer built on merit.
[00:53:59] Jeffery Wang: do we have to go through one of those calamities before people wake up for this need to return to, to, genuine leadership?
[00:54:07] Alan Davison: I think we do need some form of calamity. It’s just how calamitous the calamity will be because lamentably, the people driving the degradation of those very qualities of Western civilization, of enlightenment, et cetera, are people that are very keen, at least they think they’re very keen, to see precisely those values fall.
[00:54:28] Alan Davison: the idea of merit. The idea of intellectual credibility, the idea of being anti tribal, the idea of questioning moral clarity, all of those things are now, they are not in alignment with many of our intellectual betters in institutions. They are actually driving ideas like, knowledge systems and approaches to life are relative.
[00:54:51] Alan Davison: Who’s to say one point of view is better than another? Who’s to say that a social system that’s been around for tens of thousands of years and practiced in certain communities is any better or worse than any other kind of thing. Now, of course, they all say that from the benefit of driving their electric cars, having modern medicine and 5G on their phone, as if the idea that The outcomes of European enlightenment are somehow no better or worse than any other knowledge system, and yet they demonstrate it to be palpably false every day of their life, because I’d like to know what the 5G system was, or the, or how we can get a spacecraft to Mars, or how we can launch the web telescope to understand the origins of the universe, is somehow no better than an origin story from a first people’s nation, but we’re in the position that even saying that, even challenging a different knowledge perspective from a different culture, is viewed to be racist.
[00:55:44] Alan Davison: Now, that is not to say there are not, there have not been multiple racist elements within dominant views, including Western Enlightenment views, but there has been a constant effort to at least correct and call them out.
[00:55:58] Alan Davison: If we’ve got to the point that not only knowledge is relative and that systems of knowledge are relative. So, you can have, say, Indigenous science. Now, many would argue, and I would, there is only science, because science is determined by its method. But if there’s Indigenous science that poses or postulates a story, or a belief about the origins of the universe, or of the world, or of a country, or of a river, but there’s also a scientific explanation of these things are we supposed to hold that both of those things are either just other sides of a different coin, they’re just different knowledge systems. And even those people that purport to that, as I’ve said on other occasions, if they get ill, they’ll still go to a doctor and they’ll still go to a hospital. They don’t go to the medicine man down the street or the shaman, although they may on some cases, or they may go to some quack medicine.
[00:56:51] Alan Davison: So, I think there’s the great challenge that we have about, do we need a calamity? We’re heading towards a calamity because our knowledge makers and thought leaders are encouraging that calamity. But from the safety of having the benefit of the very things that we’ve enjoyed over the last few hundred years. It’s an ultimate paradox.
[00:57:07] Jeffery Wang: Like it’s that sort of, hypocritical. They enjoy the fruits of the civilization, which is built upon and then question the methods in, in, in how it’s done. But it’s hard not to call into question, I know you told me to steel man, but it’s hard not to call into question of the motives there.
[00:57:28] Jeffery Wang: If they were, and, people would show their belief by what they do, not by what they say. this is a class of people that say they believe in something, but they act there’s something else altogether. these people that, believe in climate change, they’re not going to give up the life that they have.
[00:57:45] Jeffery Wang: maybe a few are, but for the majority of them, it’s that hypocrisy of the inconsistency between what they believe.
[00:57:51] Jeffery Wang: if they truly believe in climate change, they probably wouldn’t be buying a beachside property, for example. That incongruence in that leadership, is really calling into question the character and the genuineness of these people.
[00:58:06] Jeffery Wang: do they seriously believe in these things that they’re preaching, or are they just doing it because it’s just their avenue to power,
[00:58:15] Alan Davison: they’re signalling. And I think I’ve always had a soft spot for religious fundamentalists, for precisely the reason that they actually live by what they believe.
[00:58:23] Alan Davison: And there are indeed, and I know there’s people within academia who genuinely believe the things, say, that you’ve been alluded to, and they would generally try the best they can to live their lives according to those principles. They’re probably the minority. There’s many other people who would be marching along, whatever the protest theme happens to be on that day. while enjoying all the benefits of living.
[00:58:42] Jeffery Wang: But are we led by that little minority or are we led by the signalling?
[00:58:46] Alan Davison: We’re led by the signalling, I would say. And I think my soft spot for religious fundamentalists, as I said, is they actually do and believe what they say. and I’ve used the example before that when you see acknowledgements of land that haven’t been with first people, so we acknowledge the land of the traditional owners that we’re on, that happens in Canada and America.
[00:59:06] Alan Davison: I once made the snide comment that, how do you know if someone’s genuine or not? It’s because they use every opportunity to acknowledge the traditional land that they’re on, but they’re also worried about negative gearing on their property portfolio. So, they might even throw in the line that, this land has never been ceded.
[00:59:22] Alan Davison: We are on stolen land. And you want to put up your hand and say, tell me about the 10 properties you own throughout Sydney. So, I think the kind of hypocrisy that you speak of, I find absolutely infuriating myself. And there’s a lot of those people around. If you believe we’re on stolen land, then why do you have a property portfolio?
[00:59:38] Alan Davison: But also, of course, why are you enjoying the benefits of native gearing on those properties when you’re talking about social justice? So, I think, yes, that’s true. But again, that neither makes what they believe or not believe true or not. It just makes it harder to swallow when they get up and signal.
[00:59:54] Alan Davison: But I think the critical thing is it’s that tribal signalling. You are indicating when you say and do these things, even if you don’t entirely believe them, that you are one of the large tribes of good people that say and do these things. You are a good person. And so, any sort of hashtag theme. It could be Black Lives Matter; it could be trans women or women it could be any of those things.
[01:00:15] Alan Davison: You, you often see those badges together and whether the person may or may not believe whatever the actual truth of that thing is, for instance with Black Lives Matter. What is the evidence that white police officers shoot black offenders at a higher rate than white offenders? Now that’s an evidentiary matter.
[01:00:32] Alan Davison: so, there’s an example of do they actually go to the trouble of looking at the data of police shootings in the United States? Now, if Black Lives Matter means talking about or signalling your commitment to closing the gap, with First Nations people in Australia, that’s a slightly different proposition.
[01:00:46] Alan Davison: But the hashtag BlackLivesMatter, for example, signals a whole lot of things about you, even if you know nothing about the statistics around police shootings. Now, as an intellectually curious person, you’d want to know about those other things before you put the badge on.
[01:01:00] Jeffery Wang: That’s right. Yeah.
[01:01:01] Jeffery Wang: And like you, I’m infuriated by the same behaviours and the absolute sort of lack of curiosity when it comes to, actually finding out the thing behind those causes But I tend to take a view that, The reason why people feel the need to virtue signal, as you say, that they’re a good person is because they no longer have a compass to which to orientate themselves by. when you believe in a higher power and that’s always watching, and you know that you’re doing the right thing according to whatever the high-power dictates.
[01:01:33] Jeffery Wang: Then you don’t need to prove to anybody else other than that I was always watching anyway that you’re a good person. And I often joke, my parents, in fact, most, a lot of our parents have the immigrant experience who sacrifice their entire lives for the good of their children They don’t have the need to virtue signal because deep down inside they know they’re good people who have sacrificed themselves. I think the epidemic of virtue signalling is caused by the fact that most of us today deep down inside, believe that we are not good people. And that’s why it’s causing this need to have this tribal signal. and in fact, the more they signal the more it’s telling me that there are character flaws that they’re deeply aware of.
[01:02:23] Alan Davison: I think that’s probably a very good insight, but probably outside my specialization, but I’d agree that there is a lot fuelling this signalling at the moment and it could well be the concurrence of multiple things. But I think that idea of we have, there is a, at the level of society, those north stars of what it is to be a good person, a moral person, which could be entirely exhibited through your own personal values, individual private commitment.
[01:02:48] Alan Davison: Those things no longer seem to be the case. Again, social media is an element, that constant signalling that you are a good person, thinking these things and saying these things if you’re a really good person, there’s probably no need to put it on your Twitter feed or Xfeed or sub, whatever.
[01:03:04] Alan Davison: So, I think, yep, it’s definitely, there’s something going on.

[01:03:07] Lesson 9: Be consistent but be prepared to change.

[01:03:07] Jeffery Wang: Certainly. So, lesson number nine, be consistent, but be prepared to change.
[01:03:12] Alan Davison: we’re talking about leadership here. It’s really important that as a leader, you show a consistent application of your values, your intellectual values or ethical values. But of course, you can change and develop, and your beliefs might change, your understanding of an organization, or the leadership that’s required in an organization might change.
[01:03:30] Alan Davison: it’s not that you get a reputation for being inconsistent. You have a reputation for applying a consistent set of values and intellectual propositions that may lead to your leadership. Evolving as you go. That’s really important for authentic leadership because otherwise people see leaders changing what they say and do according to the power element.
[01:03:53] Alan Davison: In other words, they see leadership chasing after roles, opportunities, and causes according to how it helps transport or transpose them into more powerful positions. It may be a social cause, maybe a social justice cause, maybe a whatever cause, and if you’re applying a very consistent intellectual approach to these things, you need to navigate your way through those things that are career enhancing in a very real but facile way, versus are you going to stay consistent with your regularly articulated values and outlook on the world.
[01:04:27] Alan Davison: So, it is complex because there will be sacrifices and missed opportunities, but I see a lot of people in leadership roles that are clearly going into those roles because they’re saying and doing the things that are needed and that are the things of the day or that are the orthodoxies. And you have to ask yourself, but I know they’re quite clever people, surely, they’re questioning that when they’re going out and championing a particular intervention, a cause, or a whole of organization initiative.
[01:04:56] Alan Davison: You know from your own conversations or insights into them, surely, they’ve got doubts about the validity of that or whatever it happens to be. But they’re nonetheless chasing those things. So, I think long term, for me, it’s important that you see a consistency of application and messaging from your leaders.
[01:05:12] Alan Davison: And that they’re not seen to be chasing where the opportunities and the power that comes with the opportunities comes from.
[01:05:18] Jeffery Wang: So are you saying that You’re advocating for an absolute moral compass. when you talk about your values, you know there’s an absolute north star and that you sort of orientate towards what’s right, essentially, or what you believe them to be. When you say be prepared to change, obviously you change because the evidence change. The facts change. So, you change your mind, but it doesn’t change the underlying values that you’re trying to
[01:05:43] Alan Davison: yeah
[01:05:44] Jeffery Wang: Gotcha Yeah, and that’s what good leadership should be.
[01:05:48] Alan Davison: But it’s, it can be hard to get ahead, particularly in an environment or an organization or a, a conglomerate of organizations like universities or educational environments. Where there is such an utter orthodoxy around what is to be presented as truth, or presented as good, or presented as insightful to students nowadays.
[01:06:11] Alan Davison: And I often fear that for those people who want to challenge those things, what damage it might do to their leadership. opportunities in the future if they find themselves drawn to or attracted to the idea of the privilege of being in the leadership role.

[01:06:25] Lesson 10: Working for and amongst people with diverse viewpoints is fulfilling.

[01:06:25] Jeffery Wang: lesson number 10, working for and amongst people with diverse viewpoints is fulfilling.
[01:06:31] Alan Davison: it would be, and I wish at a university I was able to do it, but I’m not sure if that’s always the case.
[01:06:35] Alan Davison: But I think the point is there that Seek out people around you to lead or to work with as other leaders who are not necessarily always in agreement with you. It’s obviously a quality of a leadership team that you have a diversity of perspectives and insights on that leadership team. And when I mean diversity, I mean real diversity.
[01:06:55] Alan Davison: I don’t mean superficial diversity. So superficial diversity can mean people with apparently different social backgrounds. But they all come from a very select private school or elite school system.
[01:07:06] Alan Davison: They all, they were all driven by mummy or daddy in the SUV to the same sports events, to the ballet, to the music lessons, to the orchestra, to the extra tutoring.
[01:07:15] Alan Davison: And those people can have a variety of different appearances, but they’ve all come from a very similar background in other ways. It’s the diminution of the importance of class that’s behind a lot of this. diversity, I’m always quite sceptical of because I want to ask, what actually do you mean by diversity?
[01:07:31] Alan Davison: Diversity might mean an African American person that’s on the conservative side of politics.
[01:07:36] Alan Davison: That’s diversity. So, diversity should be viewed in terms of viewpoint diversity, life experience, and a range of different approaches. And the best thing you can do as a leader is leverage and feed off that diversity of perspectives.
[01:07:48] Alan Davison: The worst thing you can do is surround yourself with people that have superficial diversity, but in actual fact they’re all in agreement with a whole lot of views that are held. Because all that will do is reiterate an orthodoxy. around those views and values and leadership qualities that are already there.
[01:08:05] Alan Davison: So, it’s really important to have a diversity of views, but to work in a way as a leader that encourages and respects that, but also makes it an encouraged state, that constant state of diverse opinions. As a leader, you still need to come out with a view and a series of actions. So that’s for sure, but that’s the leader’s responsibility.
[01:08:26] Alan Davison: But at least you can surround yourself with people that have different perspectives and who can challenge you.
[01:08:31] Jeffery Wang: Oh, absolutely. And I think you’ve just described a lot of the senior leadership in incorporated Australia today, when you, where you have essentially what looks like diversity and yet it’s very much, people from the same mode, same socioeconomic class, same sort of thinking.
[01:08:48] Jeffery Wang: I think this is this sort of tick box diversity is probably worse than not having any diversity initiatives at all. and I think a lot of people from diverse cultural backgrounds can certainly, see that happening in real time.
[01:09:01] Jeffery Wang: And in fact, a lot of the people from different, minority cultural backgrounds are seeing, this sort of fake or faux diversity, as a bit of a challenge, because all it does is further push the dominant culture and shoving it in their faces. So, I, I’ve become a bit of a sceptic of the diversity movement of late, because of all this.
[01:09:25] Jeffery Wang: And unfortunately, I think it’s going to take a whole rethinking, and what I what I, say, what I call diversity 2. 0 before we’ll, Get actual genuine viewpoint diversity. So, thanks for that.
[01:09:38] Jeffery Wang: Now, as we all, we do with all our guests, we’d love to throw them a curve ball at the end of 10 lessons.
[01:09:44] Jeffery Wang: And that is, we’re going to ask you, what have you unlearned? So, something you held to be ironclad truth, know early in your career in your twenties that you thought, this is it.
[01:09:53] Jeffery Wang: And then later on throughout your life, you’ll learn that you know that’s just not the case.
[01:09:57] Alan Davison: That’s an excellent question. I think the thing that comes to mind is that I was naive enough to think when I was younger that having compelling logic and evidence would be enough to convince people of a way forward or of the truth of the matter.
[01:10:11] Alan Davison: And it’s probably taken me 20 plus more years to realize that’s that utterly not the case. It’s one of the most demonstrably most naive things that one can believe for all the reasons that we’ve been discussing. So, I used to have the view that When I heard an idea or something that I thought, but that’s just crazy.
[01:10:27] Alan Davison: That’s just nuts. So, I’ll use the tools of logic and reason and evidence to argue back. things have actually got worse over the last 20 or 30 years since I was first doing my study. And the ideas that some of the crazy ideas I saw as an undergraduate and postgraduate in the 90s and early 2000s, they have now come to fruition and they’re now dominant, but they’re always ridiculous ideas.
[01:10:49] Alan Davison: So, I, and many other sorts of sceptical, people of the sceptical bent. have probably spent a lot of time arguing and spilling a lot of ink explaining in clear logical terms why these are bad ideas to zero effect. So, I think I’ve woken up in the last few years to the idea that logic and reason have no impact on a deeply irrational and tribalistic mindset that has been thoroughly weaponized by the people that are pushing these dogmas and orthodoxies at the moment.
[01:11:16] Alan Davison: Knowingly or unknowingly, it just happens to work. So, I think that’s been the greatest, revision of a belief I would have had, that is that overconfidence that being logical and sensible and evidence based would eventually find your way, or your institution, through to a position of better understanding of the world. That north star of truth seeking is palpably false.
[01:11:37] Jeffery Wang: Yeah, unfortunately I think I had exactly the same beliefs when I started out as well. I think roughly maybe 6 7 percent of the population would be of the bent where, they will look at an argument logically and be able to rationalize, to look at it rationally and just make that, but I think as I’ve aged and as you discover people make decisions on emotion. and unfortunately knowing the truth is not enough. Knowing the logic to that truth is not enough. It’s about making that argument persuasive.so one of my life lessons, as I’ve actually had a, an episode of myself is, is to seek the truth and make it persuasive I think it’s incumbent upon us as critical thinkers and truth seekers to genuinely seek that truth, but also to articulate and hence why we’re having this conversation today.
[01:12:27] Jeffery Wang: Well, it’s been an absolute pleasure, Alan. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our conversation and going down all the rabbit holes and, we’ve probably gone for another hour if, if time permits, but we’ll have to finish on that note. You’ve been listening to 10 Lessons Learned, a podcast that makes the world a little wiser, lesson by lesson.
[01:12:46] Jeffery Wang: Today we’re joined by our special guest, Dr. Alan Davison. This episode is produced by Robert Hossary and sponsored by the Professional Development Forum. Don’t forget to leave us a review or comment You can even email us at podcast@10lessonslearned.com Go ahead and hit that subscribe button so you don’t miss an episode of the only podcast that makes the world a little wiser lesson by lesson. Thanks for tuning in and stay safe, everyone.

 This episode is produced by Robert Hossary. Sponsored as always by Professional Development Forum. You can find the www.professionaldevelopmentforum.org you’ve heard from us we’d like to hear from you. Email us it’s podcast@10lessonslearned.com. Remember, this is the podcast the only podcast. That’s makes the world wiser lesson by lesson.

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Barnaby Howarth

Barnaby Howarth – Sometimes Stuff Just Works Out For You

Join us for an insightful conversation with Barnaby Howarth, whose journey from the Australian Football League to becoming a beacon of resilience and hope is both inspiring and instructive. Tune in as Barnaby shares valuable life and career lessons on overcoming adversity and finding strength in vulnerability. Hosted by Robert Hossary

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Dale Stevens

Dale Stevens – You don’t know what you’re capable of.

Facing your fears, embracing change, and learning to ‘do you’ – Dale Stevens has done it all and is here to share her incredible journey and the lessons learned along the way. From landing a role in Mission Impossible to founding Playright, Dale’s story is a testament to the power of persistence and authenticity. Join us for a deep dive into the lessons that have shaped her career and life. Hosted by Jeffery Wang

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Melissa Hahn

Melissa Hahn – There are no wasted experiences.

Explore the journey of fostering effective intercultural relations with intercultural professional Melissa Hahn, emphasizing building genuine relationships over cultural differences. Learn valuable lessons on adaptability, personal growth, and embracing cultural identities. Delve into the significance of self-care and the art of maintaining authenticity in various cultural contexts. Hosted by Siebe Van Der Zee

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Barnaby Howarth

Barnaby Howarth – Sometimes Stuff Just Works Out For You

Join us for an insightful conversation with Barnaby Howarth, whose journey from the Australian Football League to becoming a beacon of resilience and hope is both inspiring and instructive. Tune in as Barnaby shares valuable life and career lessons on overcoming adversity and finding strength in vulnerability. Hosted by Robert Hossary

Read More »
Dale Stevens

Dale Stevens – You don’t know what you’re capable of.

Facing your fears, embracing change, and learning to ‘do you’ – Dale Stevens has done it all and is here to share her incredible journey and the lessons learned along the way. From landing a role in Mission Impossible to founding Playright, Dale’s story is a testament to the power of persistence and authenticity. Join us for a deep dive into the lessons that have shaped her career and life. Hosted by Jeffery Wang

Read More »