Friday, December 02, 2016

George Yancy And the "Professor Watchlist"

   Ok so there's this "watch list" thing. I said this, and I guess it's still about what I think. I haven't looked at it and don't know much about it...but I don't like it. I'm actually going to check it out after I write this...but there's some value in doing some thinking whilst (been looking for a chance to deploy a good 'whilst' for awhile now) behind a veil of ignorance. This is not the sort of thing I'd be crazy worried about...and, as I wrote, if the list is accurate, then, by a familiar PC argument, PCs shouldn't complain about it. If they care about consistency. Which...most don't... But still!
   Anyway, then there's this by George Yancy, who I've talked about here before (George Yancy Gives You The Gift Of You Being Racist). I started off prepared to be sympathetic. By the time Yancy is done comparing himself to Socrates and indicating that his classes are a parade of not-very plausible far-ish left orthodoxies...jeez...I've got to say...way less sympathetic here. (There's also a completely unmotivated gesture at Newspeak, which we, here at the institute, frown upon. There's nothing about Newspeak in anything substantive that Yancy writes.)

   One way people get polarized, according to me, goes like this: we aggregate opinion on the other side in such a way that we end up attributing to everybody over there all the worst ideas. This comes into play most notably when we gleefully go for consistency ad hominems. HA HA! BUT YOU GUYS THINK THAT P AND NOW YOU SAY THAT NOT-P! Which, in practice, often turns out to mean: somebody over on your side thinks that p, and you think that not-p.
   So that's bad.
   Buuuut.... Imma gonna do it anyway.
   Such points sometimes aren't valueless... Anyway: the PC left on campus is famed for shouting down dissent and demanding conformity to their newly-minted orthodoxies. Consider Jordan Peterson who has ignited a firestorm by simply refusing to use the language in non-standard and poorly-justified ways. (I don't completely agree with all of Peterson's arguments, and I'm somewhat less certain about singular uses of 'they'--but I'm disinclined to nitpick when he's right about so much and besieged by people who are crazy about almost everything.) Even small deviations from PC demands can land you in hot water with a left that is powerful on campus, on-line, and in many disciplines. The PC left is fine with this. In fact, they think it's good. In fact, they make it clear that, were they unchecked by liberal policies, their wrath would have far more dire consequences. Against that backdrop, a website that keeps track of (let's suppose) only the most egregious excesses of left-wing professors...doesn't seem all that bad. Does it? But maybe it's just the backdrop talking.
   As I wrote before, I'm not so sure that it's all that bad that there should be a list of professors who exhibit actual, excessive bias in the classroom. Students are, to some extent, a captive audience. We retrograde folk think that they have an obligation to approximate objectivity. Scholars on Yancy's side of things often don't. Objectivity, as they sometimes put it, is your liberal hang-up, bub. Knowing what I know about people and their crap, I'll bet that this list won't be particularly good...OTOH, a truly accurate list of biased profs...uh...wouldn't that actually be a good thing? Theoretically?
   Anyway, by the time Yancy is done talking about his views, I'm thinking: if an undergraduate asked me about taking one of Yancy's classes, and I had to answer, I wouldn't be able to recommend it. Sounds like a load of standard-issue PC/neo-pomo confusions to me. You got all the credits in the world, and you have some interest in hearing the take of someone whose views are skewed way, way in that direction? Then by all means, knock yourself out. You have three or six or twenty precious credits and you want to hear the best which has been thought and said? Well, I'd not recommend spending them on such classes. Others will disagree.
   Finally, and again: the PC left is very fond of what I called the freedom from criticism argument. That is, they commonly say: we're not against free expression (note: that is false.) But you can't expect to be exempt from criticism for your views. (Note: no one does expect to be. What they expect is not to be accused of bigotry for non-bigoted positions. They also expect to not be shouted down for expressing reasonable views. But anyway.) So this argument seems applicable here. Yancy is free to teach what he wants. But he can't expect to be free from criticism for it--or to be free from being classified as biased. Especially if he actually is. Which it sounds as if he might well be.
   In the end, I suppose that this will largely come down to how reasonable and accurate the list is. Honestly, I'm not at all sure how to answer these questions in general / in abstraction from facts about its accuracy.

[Also: what's the real harm of showing up on this list? I see that profs are already clamoring to get on it. They seem insulted that they aren't already. Being "persecuted" for your leftism is basically the dream of many an academician. I used to have a conservative Christian student who kept trying to get the department to sponsor a mock trial in which philosophers tried to convict Jesus (played by him, natch') of perjury. I pointed out to him that (a) he was getting the burden of proof wrong, and (b) we were never going to stop laughing that idea out of the room... But anyway...the glee with which he contemplated that idea reminds me a bit of what's going on with profs eagerly looking to get on this list.]


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