Wednesday, July 12, 2017

McArdle: Conservatives Are Souring On Colleges. Blame Colleges.

Nothing really new here, but McArdle is right.
   Academic freedom is extremely important. Many faculty abuse it by using it as a platform for political proselytizing--almost always from the left. Ad hoc abuse is one thing...but, worse, the academic left has spun out a whole pseudophilosophy to defend their abuse of the principle. You know the patchwork story: everything is political, objectivity is impossible, everyone is really proselytizing anyway, rationality and objectivity are cover stories made up by straightwhitemales in the West in order to cover up their own proselytizing, science is just another ideology...blah blah blah. Worse than cheating is making up a whole world-view about how cheating is inevitable and good and not cheating is just another kind of cheating and...and....and...
   I don't see any way to root out political cheating by faculty without giving up academic freedom--and that's not worth it, obviously. But given that academia is a largely left-wing institution pushing for left-wing causes, I don't see how anyone could expect conservatives not to be somewhat hostile to it on those grounds.
   My view is that using your classes to push political views is no better than using them to promote a business. And using academic freedom as a justification is no better in the former case than in the latter. And the worst thing of all is spinning out a theory to "justify" your wrongdoing...
   But I've got no ideas about what to do--other than, perhaps, suggesting to more intellectually honest professors that they discuss this in their classes, and make sure that students understand that politicizing classes is wrong. That might help.
   None of that addresses other ways in which academia is slanted left, though--like the tendency of institutions to immediately take up left-wing fads pretty much as soon as they appear on the scene--official "microaggression" policies, "diversity" indoctrination, "trans" bathroom policies, presupposing "privilege theory" in official policies and on and on. It's not just the faculty--it's the orientation of the entire institution.
   The best way to stop all this would be for faculty and administrators to become intellectually honest. So that means we'd better start thinking in terms of plan B.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's so much deeper than that. A biased academy is bad, but if the academy were productive, producing scholarship clearly meritorious scholarship, then I suspect a lot of conservatives wouldn't be so bearish about the institution.

The problem is a substantial part of the academy are either outright frauds (most of the humanities) or substantially incorrect about what they study (social sciences). Really what has happened to the humanities is calamitous and inexcusable, and conservatives have been warning everyone about it for decades. You have outright nonsense, in the strictest sense of the word, being peddled daily, hidden only by the thinnest veneer of jargon. Look at New Real Peer Review's really great work on twitter (I know, embarassing platform, but that is the only place dissent can survive now) highlighting the utterly revolting lack of intellectual quality on display.

As for the social sciences, well, you have the replication crisis all of a sudden making people realize all those studies about blue rooms making people more socially cooperative might have been total garbage (who knew?!). And the ultimate black swan for that discipline is the lurking monster of genetic explanation for a substantial amount of human social outcomes. It has to be researched, and I wouldn't bet against that hypothesis once it is, but the discipline is too politicized to do it. Which is pathetic really. Scientists should be able to reason freely without political blinders constantly put on them, but it's actually worse when they put the blinders on themselves.

Ceteris paribus, I am very in favor of the university; it is one of a handful of institutions I consider indispensable. But I cannot fall back on that given the current state of affairs. There is simply too much rot that needs to be cut out now, before the entire organism dies.

TLDR: Don't just think of this in a partisan politics sort of sense, which everyone seems to do, viz. conservatives don't like noxious leftists, there are too many noxious leftists, etc. It is actually a sprawling failure of academic integrity.

12:04 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I couldn't agree more, and I'm glad you posted that. It really *is* important to make both points separately. Though I was just focusing on the other aspect of the disaster.

And, yeah, I agree: New Real Peer Review is extremely valuable.

I'm not sure, though, that conservatives would see and care so much about the nonsense if it weren't all mixed up with the lefty stuff. I'll bet many of them would be fine with right-wing religious nonsense.

Anyway, I'd add the Zakaria point about the humanities, too: they try to argue publicly for their value quite a bit these days, but don't seem to understand that the widespread belief that they're bullshit is largely grounded in the *fact* that they're largely bullshit. They're not *inherently* bullshit...but they're *currently* bullshit. Intellectual standards are generally low, and they're highly politicized.

It might be seeking unity where there isn't any, but I wonder which came first, the low intellectual standards or the politicization? Perhaps both can be traced back to the widespread acceptance of bad French (and some German) pseudophilosophy and literary theory. Postmodernism authorizes you to say basically whatever you want, and it tends to put leftist politics at its core...though the same question arises again: which came first, if either?

12:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I'm not sure, though, that conservatives would see and care so much about the nonsense if it weren't all mixed up with the lefty stuff. I'll bet many of them would be fine with right-wing religious nonsense."

I don't disagree that many would be fine with right-wing type religious nonsense. I think a lot of them would suffer lefty overrepresentation as well. What is insufferable is lefty overrepresentation leading to utter nonsense. I mean, the humanities make the scholastics look like gods at this point.

That said it seems obvious that they probably would stubbornly ignore the obvious would a bunch of righty loons go off the rails. But that's not the problem we face right now, so conservatives are effectively the voice of reason here. The whole tribal game of, well, you guys may be right but you're really no better isn't helpful.

Conservatives are right in a massively consequential sense here, and the left needs to bite the bullet and admit it, or else forfeit their academic integrity more by the day.

"It might be seeking unity where there isn't any, but I wonder which came first, the low intellectual standards or the politicization?"

I mean, continental philosophy was (marxian) politics even at its inception. If your reasonable suspicion that that is the root of all evil, you've proven both came first.

I actually think the root of all evil, for the humanities, is actually Hegel who I think of as basically proto-pomo. The whole dialectical method is a logical abomination. It has kept back continental philosophy for ever, gave us communism, and turned historians from stodgy, well sourced narrative writers into loony, perpetually-incorrect theoreticians. And none of that stuff actually deals with how it is an abomination from a logical point of view (just try to formalize one of those "sublations").

But there is also the social changes brought on by world wars, changing the class structure of the academy, civil rights in the '60s all in play. Social history is obviously meaningful here.

But again, causation doesn't matter. A ton of academic work is bullshit a priori right now. That is really all that needs to be said.

1:19 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Yeah, you had said that conservatives would probably be ok with academia's lefty lean if they were producing competent work, and I somehow illicitly converted that into *They're mad about the bias, and they're also mad about the incompetence*, which...I then illicitly converted into *they'd be mad about the incompetence regardless of bias.* So...never mind...

I always think think that the real turn to the terrible came with much so that I have almost dropped Marx out of the equation...which is obviously wrong. Since the PoMos officially (ought to) reject Marxism, I've allowed that to slip off my radar in this respect. Actually, IMO, paleo-PC was more influenced by PoMo, whereas neo-PC seems to me to be a bit more influenced by critical theory (speaking of Marx) and all of these various bad ideas as filtered through gender studies...though it's always been a big tangle of BS... But no, I wasn't thinking that it led back to Marx, though maybe I should have been.

Hegel...I'm embarrassed to know almost nothing about.

3:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My understanding is a lot of the leading lights of the continentals were effectively Marxists, or "Marxian". Foucault, the Frankfurt School, Adorno, etc. They aren't proper dialectical materialists, but they are broadly sympathetic with the political school and a lot of the work was basically a way to paper over what a dumpster fire Marx's (and ultimately Hegel's) philosophy really is. Or that's my simplistic way of describing it.

"Hegel...I'm embarrassed to know almost nothing about."

Yeah I don't know enough Hegel either to be honest, and more Analytics should take this stuff seriously if only to refute it openly rather than scoff at it in their little cliques. But he seems to dominate the entire direction of continental philosophy in a few important ways:

1. Priority of a sort of philosophy of history
2. Emphasis on dialectical method, which is garbage
3. A totally distinct, almost incommensurate, political philosophy informed by 1 and 2 (think about how Marxism is actually supposed to be a codification of laws of history)

The whole house of cards goes away when you start questioning the whole purpose of philosophy of history and realize dialectics are tinker toys for the innumerate. But there isn't enough dialogue right now to make that common knowledge in the academy it seems.

4:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"continental philosophy was (marxian) politics even at its inception"

To me this sounds patently false. I don't want to get off topic here, but wasn't ancient philosophy in some meaningful sense politicized? What about Socrates? Part of what he was doing in Ancient Greece -- e.g. exploring the meaning of justice -- was inherently political.

Anon if you were suggesting that continental philosophy started with the Ancients then never mind..

4:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, a lot of PCs aren't totally PoMos, they are really mainline Protestants, so things get confusing there. Mainline Protestants were themselves heavily influenced by German idealism, but by other means.

The father of liberal theology, which is effectively the academic representation of that form of protestantism, was Schleiermacher (I think that was the German name), who is more Kantian, and a number of other guys like Tillich and Boltzman, who were pretty clear Hegelians, extended the tradition. If you were to read papers from a place like Union Theological Seminary, they would basically be speaking Hegel.

So I think there is a pretty decent geneological case pointing to Hegel here.

4:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Anon if you were suggesting that continental philosophy started with the Ancients then never mind.."

I think you are misinterpreting me. I'm not saying politicized philosophy started with the continentals, but that the continentals were always doing politicized philosophy. Because they were largely Marxists, or attempting to recuperate the tradition in light of frequent failures.

4:54 PM  

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