Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Thoughts on academia

Multiculturalism appears to be a Threat To The Very Soul Of Western Civilization.

Several months ago, I read a particularly appalling doctoral dissertation for which the candidate was granted a Ph.D. The author rarely went a single page without making an intellectual solecism. Where they bear any relationship at all to the body of the dissertation, the recommendations directly contradict even the conclusions fallaciously drawn from the tendentiously selected evidence.

I'm currently reading Not Even Wrong, where Peter Woit makes the case that the entire body of theoretical physics has spent a generation pursuing the blind alley of string (or superstring) theory.

The intellectual vacuity of much of Postmodernism, Deconstructionism and "Radical Feminism" in the academic humanities has become a trope.

My conclusion: Everything is precisely as it should be.

WTF? Stupidity and vacuity are rampant in academia and everything is fine? "What are you smoking, Larry? (And why didn't you offer me any?)"

There's a reason why we grant tenure to academics; for the same reason, we don't (unlike the religious) automatically appoint Ph.D.'s to positions of political authority. Academics have the ability to make arguments, and employ modes of argumentation, that later prove stupid, a waste of time and/or downright evil. This is a good thing, and it's good because of the highlighted qualifier: later prove. By definition, we don't know in advance what will prove smart, valuable or good. The only way to find out is dialectic[1]: The critical examination of alternative, opposing theses presented by advocates. The entire structure of academia is geared towards creating a "sandbox" for this sort of dialectic, where the worst direct effect of a stupid idea is a stupid doctoral dissertation. It is up to us, the people, the voters, and the politicians we elect, to select which ideas from academia actually make it into public discourse, public life and civil law.

It is a core principle of free, democratic societies that words alone cannot harm us. The most vacuous, stupid, or even downright evil idea has no effect unless we choose to implement it.

A businessman once told me, "If you're not getting people returning your merchandise, you're not selling hard enough."[2] Since there's no way to precisely define your target market, you're missing some legitimate customers if you're not also hitting some who don't actually want your product. The same is true about academia: If academics aren't considering some stupid ideas, they don't have sufficient freedom to discover surprising new intelligent ideas.[3]

It is for this reason that I criticize anticant's condemnation of "multiculturalism". I don't believe that "all minority values must have equal status to those of the majority. Any attempt to uphold majority values over minorities is a form of prejudice. [Melanie Phillips]" I don't believe that we must tolerate the egregious violence and misogyny (to name but a sample of objectionable components) of Islamic culture.

What I object to is the implicit idea that even discussing these ideas—wrong as I think they are—is in some way dangerous. I want to emphasize yet again that neither anticant nor his sources actually cite any proponent of their version of "multiculturalism"; instead it is this vague, mysterious conspiracy, tendentiously defined, and which is (supposedly)
"a combination of hyper-individualism — which grew out of liberalism — and a form of cultural Marxism whose agenda is to destroy liberal values. Between them, these trends tore up the concepts of objectivity, authority and the Judeo-Christian moral codes underpinning western values and substituted emotion, subjectivity, and moral and cultural relativism. [emphasis added]
The clear implication is that discussion of the idea itself is bad; otherwise why not simply cite people who are wrong and criticize them directly?

Academics are not authorities of any stripe, political, moral or even intellectual. They are in an important sense the exact opposite of an intellectual authority: They are paid and given almost unlimited freedom precisely so they can explore specifically bad ideas. Any argument made by a professional academic[4] should be examined more skeptically, more critically, precisely because the economic and intellectual barriers against stupidity have been intentionally relaxed.

But, by the same token, we should criticize the actual ideas and work of academics. When we start criticizing vague, abstract labels with ambiguous or mysterious referents, we stop criticizing ideas and start criticizing the discussion of ideas. And millennia of religious and civil tyranny have taught us that down that road lies only stasis, ignorance and atrocity.


[1] In the prosaic, non-mystical sense, as opposed to Hegel's mystical bullshit.

[2] The ethical implications of this principle are easily addressed by having a permissive refund policy.

[3] The same principle applies to liberty in general: If people aren't actually making mistakes, they don't have sufficient freedom.

[4] Yes, Ms. P, I'm talking about him.

3 comments:

  1. Ho ho. I just posted on that thread

    ReplyDelete
  2. Academics are not authorities of any stripe, political, moral or even intellectual. They are in an important sense the exact opposite of an intellectual authority: They are paid and given almost unlimited freedom precisely so they can explore specifically bad ideas. Any argument made by a professional academic[4] should be examined more skeptically, more critically, precisely because the economic and intellectual barriers against stupidity have been intentionally relaxed.

    This has been at the very heart of my reading of Derrida and deconstructionism. The very point of deconstruction is to turn authority on its ear and see if anything useful comes out.

    ReplyDelete
  3. THE Concept of the /post-modern/ offers an entirely different (and, as presenter of /Mankato History This Month/, on KMSU-89.7 FM) far-more useful interpretive device to me, as an amateur historian. I take as a basis the working axiom (oft-repeated in our interview-broadcasts) that "...the modern age is over. For those are oriented toward symbolic thinking, clearly it ended in 1989, with the collapse of communism and the pulling down of the wall, in Berlin."

    THIS Is but a slight extrapolation of the ideas of hungarian-american historian-emeritus, John Lukacs (b 1924).

    FOR A fuller analysis of what the end of modernism may mean, see: /Shield of Achilles/, Philip Bobbitt (2002):

    http://bodwyn.wordpress.com/2006/04/12/the-shield-of-achilles/

    IN View of the vitiation of modernism & the absence of any /bona fide/ new cultural impulse in the West, we are now more-or-less stuck with al-Islam, its (to us) horrors; and, as well, looming China and all of the vaguely disquieting implications of non-individualistic confucianism.

    THIS Is demonstrated more-than-amply by the weariness of the so-called 'university scene', certainly here in America:

    LOTS Of former (and perfectly satisfactory!) state teachers' colleges all over the land now calling themselves 'universities'; NO Latin and less Greek; and, darn little undergraduate maths beyond 'Algebra for Idiots in the Social Sciences'.

    IN Such a slough, the amateur worker & scholar alone is free to correlate freely, and openly to discuss, information as it associates along the lines of its own specific gravity....

    ANYWAY, The monthly Mankato History This Month broadcasts since 2003 all now are archived, at:

    kmsu.org

    CLICK On archive & scroll down to title. [You, BB, may find most interesting Smith's stuff about Senator Eugene McCarthy, and about the story of Pvt Glenn H Campbell -- BW]

    ReplyDelete

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