Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Leftie Intellectuals lack imagination

Oh yeah, they're also idiots.  I'm afraid that I'm going to get a bit ranty, so if that's not your thing, then stop back later.  Otherwise, hang on while I fisk the Chronicle of Higher Education.

[waits for the thunder of departing feet to die down]

As an Intellectual, I must say that it's very annoying how degraded the state of modern "intellectuals" has become.  Quite frankly, it wasn't always that way.  At one time, there were actually intellectuals worthy of the name (before it became an epithet).

Now, not so much.  Real leftie intellectuals like John Kenneth Galbraith would kick intellectual sand in their faces down on the intellectual beach.  Therein lies the rant.

It seems that a certain Russell Jacoby - a professor of history at UCLA - believes that conservatives all want to outlaw the teaching of evolution, or something:
Are conservative intellectuals anti-intellectual?
No.  Are liberals idiots?  Nice way to start, Scooter.  I mean, we want everyone being open minded from the get go.
The short answer must be no.
Sorry, I'm sticking with my question unaltered, although we'll get to that presently.
A new book, America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered in the Obamacrats) (Encounter), by David Gelernter, a professor of computer science at Yale, affords an occasion to revisit the issue: Do contemporary American conservatives scapegoat intellectuals and teachers? If so, they can claim an all-American pedigree.
Do liberal Professors all display a toddler's lack of ability to understand the motivations of their fellows?  If so, they can claim a long standing pedigree.
"A superficial explanation through economic changes is to be avoided," wrote Richard M. Weaver in one of the ur-texts of American conservatism. "The economic cause is a cause that has a cause," he declared in his 1948 book, Ideas Have Consequences.
And actually, this is where we come to the first non-mocking criticism of Prof. Jacoby.  A pseudo witty, if impenetrable quote doesn't establish your intellectual bona fides outside the faculty lounge.  You see, most people are convinced by ideas, not by glib (if impenetrable) bon mots.  Outside the restricted circle of your students - who have to laugh at your jokes to get the grade - or your faculty lounge peers - who think more or less like you - normal Americans look at this with that quizzical whiskey tango foxtrot expression that Jon Stewart so loves to mug.

You know what?  They're right.  Make your point, and make it plainly.
To their suspicion of economic analyses of social issues, American conservatives add a suspicion of intellectuals as elitists. The aristocratic Buckley famously remarked that he would prefer to be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard. To Buckley, a random collection of Bostonians would prove wiser than liberal, overeducated professors. This position drew upon several features of an American ethos that prizes equality, no-nonsense religion, business, practicality, and self-help, all of which Richard Hofstadter analyzed in his classic work, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963).
Not to put too fine a point on it, but 1963 was a half century ago.  One of the most serious indictments of leftist intellectuals is that they love to fight yesterday's battles.  To put this in context, in 1963, my father - an actual Intellectual, thank you very much, if a leftie - was twenty years younger than I am today.  Pick up the pace, Professor - the World is passing you by.
Buckley was hardly alone in deriding intellectuals as out-of-touch elitists, an attitude that can easily slide into a wholesale denunciation of knowledge and education itself. What does schooling bring aside from an undermining of Christian truths?
Err, a certain leftist indoctrination that a student dare not fail to parrot, at the risk of his grade point average and hopes for tenure?  That is precisely the charge laid at the feet of today's Academy.
That mind-set came to a head in the 1925 Scopes trial, in which a Tennessee high-school teacher was charged with teaching evolution. William Jennings Bryan, the special prosecutor, saw the issue as religion versus the intellectuals, whom he dubbed a "scientific soviet."
Professor, 1925 was four years before my father was born.  He's been dead for over a year now.  You wonder why you lack relevance?  Talk about fighting yesterday's battles - this one is 87 years old.  Boy, howdy.
For Hofstadter, the Scopes trial "greatly quickened the pulse of anti-intellectualism. For the first time in the 20th century, intellectuals and experts were denounced as enemies." Hofstadter also noted—remember, he was writing in the early 1960s—that for many today, the evolution controversy is "as remote as the Homeric era."
Hofstadter was right, a product of an age when Intellectuals still walked the earth, and when lefties knew how to think.  Today's "intellectuals" seem shrunken, like the old Bourbons, restored to the French throne after Napoleon's overthrow: they have learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.  But their time has passed, and while they suspect, they will do their best to cling to the tatters of their power, living in the shadows of a past Roi Solleil.
No longer. Tennessee just passed a law protecting teachers who want to challenge evolution—and global warming.
The irony of the good Professor's argument now exceeds his poor understanding.  You can sum put the unthinking support of people ignorant of the Scientific Method for Creationism by the following: the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.  The good Professor's juxtaposition of this with his unthinking, ignorant of science support for Global Warming can best be summed up with the words the IPCC says it, I believe it, that settles it.  Prof. Jacoby almost certainly knows nothing of the science of climate change, but not only is willing to sneer at those who actually know better than he.  A sneering that assumes that they are a bunch of ignorant rubes, when it's his ignorance that is in question.

It's said that the problem with irony is that so many people don't get it.  Seemingly even at UCLA.

[Lots of idiocy deleted, because this is becoming a tl;dr, even for me.  And that's saying a lot.]
How did liberals take command of higher education and derail America? The standard conservative interpretation is straightforward: America progressed smoothly from Presidents George Washington through Dwight D. Eisenhower, but went to hell in the 1960s and has yet to recover. Radicals have taken over the universities and spread their poison. That is the gist of David Gelernter's book.
Well, yeah - more or less.  PhD candidates that were not sufficiently leftist were blackballed during the tenure discussions by a hard core of leftist faculty, meaning that each decade the faculty became more reliably leftist.  Any young, brilliant academic had to toe the party line, or try to make ends meet on a lecturer's salary - in other words, be frozen out of the tenured 1% and have to make ends meet teaching 5 classes a semester (without benefits) as the 99%.  That's precisely the charge.  And so Prof. Jacoby brings his heavy weight, tenured firepower to bear, to dazzle us with his intellectual firepower.  Dazzle us, I say.
Gelernter is Jewish, and it is not likely that a non-Jew would airily argue that obnoxious leftist Jews have taken over elite higher education.
Wait, what?  That's the intellectual fireworks?  The Jooos did it?
But Gelernter does so with enthusiasm untempered by facts. Aside from quoting Jewish neoconservatives such as Norman Podhoretz as sources, Gelernter does not offer a single example of what he is writing about. Who are these belligerent leftist Jewish professors? Anthony Grafton? Steven Pinker? Richard Posner? Martha Nussbaum? Perhaps Alan Dershowitz?
Sadly, this is what constitutes an argument in the Faculty Lounge.  Everyone grins knowingly - can't expect that sort to understand, what? - and moves on to the afternoon sherry.  Once again, we see that Irony 101 is not a pre-requisite to teach at UCLA.

Because quite frankly, that's exactly what the majority of the country believes.  That some political arguments are created more equal than others, and are ruthlessly excluded from the "polite" society of the liberal arts faculty.  The result of this?  An intellectual desert, as the good Professor unwittingly shows us.
Take a snapshot of second-generation New York intellectuals—the actual offspring of the first—to gauge the soundness of conservative and liberal intellectuals. Compare William Kristol and John Podhoretz on the right to David Bell, Michael Kazin, and Sean Wilentz on the left. Kristol played a key role in making Sarah Palin the Republican vice-presidential candidate in 2008. He sang the praises of "Joe the Plumber" and opined that most "recent mistakes" of American policy derived from "highly educated and sophisticated elites." Podhoretz wrote a book subtitled "How George W. Bush Became the First Great Leader of the 21st Century," in which he enthused that Bush's "innovative" wars in Iraq and Afghanistan "will serve as the blueprint for martial conflict for the foreseeable future." (New copies of Podhoretz's book are available through Amazon for one cent.) Bell, Kazin, and Wilentz, on the other hand, are all productive historians who have written significant books on French and American politics.

In brief, the former are ideologues; the latter serious writers and thinkers.
Ignoring his paean to Obama's nuanced use of Guantanamo that I excised, he finds himself back full circle at his original starting point without even realizing it.  Why was Sarah Palin the sensation that she so clearly was?  Why does the left say that she is stupid, and therefore unqualified to be Vice President?  Why do they never engage in the liberal arts' favorite pastime of compare and contrast with the sitting Vice President, Joe Biden?

And why does Professor Jacoby not see the irony in his own position?

The answer, of course, is that the left no longer knows how to think.  I've pointed out that John Kenneth Galbraith was likely the last true leftist Intellectual worthy of the term, and how he held those like Professor Jacoby in contempt.  As JKG wrote, Jacoby is at the end of the day, adequately predictable.

But the truly damning condemnation of Jacoby comes from his own writing.  It's clear that he has no understanding whatsoever of the positions held by his intellectual opponents.  His opponents know precisely what his thoughts on these matters are.  They hold the interior lines of communication, and continually defeat his arguments in detail.  It's possible that he doesn't have any idea what these terms mean.  No wonder that he clutches at arguments from ninety years ago.

Because his opponents say that all this is entirely predictable: that Professor Jacoby has/had to prove himself as reliably leftist to get tenure, that therefore he would only interact with other leftists, and therefore he won't have the foggiest notion of his opponent's actual arguments.  As Galbraith said, reliably predictable.

It's so utterly, depressingly tedious, which is why I have subjected you, dear reader, to such a pernicious rant.  It's drivel, and quite frankly drivel of a shockingly low caliber.  I'd like to see out Finest Intellectual Minds give us a higher caliber drivel, thank you very much.  For extra credit, perhaps Professor Jacoby can explain why the American people (in large numbers) oppose more gun control laws.  Professor, please show your work, even if it will require a strong stomach on that par of my readers ...

We now return our programming to a less ranty schedule.


Anonymous said...

I wouldn't consider you an "intellectual", due mostly to the arguments you present, but also to the fact you DO things with physical, tangible results - a modern rendition of the Renaissance Man.

Old NFO said...

This is the money quote... "faculty lounge peers - who think more or less like you"

Most are at the MINIMUM liberal, and many fall further to the left than that. I know TWO Conservative PHDs who are still teaching, and they have to hide their conservatism, and even then they are often excluded from discussions!!! One teaches US Gov't, the other International Business... sigh

Sabra said...

I would almost guarantee that Prof. Jacoby, if he has children at all, did not send them to government schools. But then, being Leftist himself I doubt he would have ever noticed that the lionized "teach children how to think, not what to think" slogan actually works out to "teach children how to think in the pre-approved manner."

In things big and small, children are taught to believe the party line, as it were. I have had to explain to my oldest many times the problems with bilingual education--that it leads to manifestly poorer outcomes, that here in south Texas at least it is inherently racist, etc.--because at school they are taught that's the way things should be. And on a smaller scale, I've had to teach my daughter the simplest way to do Math, because Progressive teachers love little more than filling kids' heads with the most inefficient way to do something (the hatred I have for problems like "estimate the sum of 540 and 235" knows no bounds).

And then these same professors wonder why we're sending children off to college needing to take a year or two of remedial classes (not that they're called that anymore).

Ken said...

Well, boss, you make out a case for John Kenneth Galbraith, at least. I had occasion to hear son James K. speak last spring, and was not impressed.