Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

In addition to being a socialist, a fascist, a eugenicist, a friend of terrorists, a foreign-born pretender, a liar, and woefully inexperienced, Barack Obama acts a lot like a college administrator. That's the expert opinion of Victor Davis Hanson, who's been a celebrity academic long enough to know that college administrators represent pretty much everything that's wrong with America.

In [Obama's] limited experience, those who went to Yale or Harvard are special people, and the Ivy League environment has been replicated in the culture of the White House.
It's a huge change from the last administration, which comprised former short-order cooks, lawn care specialists, and Wal-Mart greeters. And it signifies that Obama is -- wait for it, now -- an elitist.

We heard all about that before the election, interminably. But it's worth going over the facts once more, if only for the sake of using the magic word "arugula." Here's Obama's worldview in nuce:
Middle America is an exotic place inhabited by aborigines who bowl, don’t eat arugula, and need to be reminded to inflate their tires.
Not everyone in Middle America bowls, obviously, and not everyone who does bowl views it as a patriotic duty or a holy sacrament or a definitive proof of heterosexuality. And not everyone in Middle America refuses to eat arugula on principle. And Obama didn't actually restrict his advice on tire pressure to Middle Americans.

But once you ignore these little details, it's pretty clear that Middle America is an undifferentiated mass of dour hyperconformists whose sense of self is too fragile to withstand the idea that some people don't bowl.

This cartoon Heartland, with its population of hive-minded hayseeds who assent unanimously to any proposition Hanson dreams up, is the product of an elitist worldview if anything is. But hell, it's not like any of these hicks will notice Hanson's sleight of hand. And even if a couple of them did, he can revoke their membership in the Herrenvolk as easily as he imposed it on them.

Anyway, here's what's currently going on at our nation's colleges, and by analogy, in our government.
Faculties are swamped with memos from deans, provosts, and presidents, reiterating their own “commitment to diversity,” reminding how they would not “tolerate hate speech,” and in general blathering about the “campus community.” University administrators instruct faculty on everything from getting a flu shot, to covering up when coughing, to how to make a syllabus and avoid incorrect words.
It's outrageous, isn't it? They've actually convinced themselves that a college is some sort, the viability of which can somehow be diminished by turning a blind eye to expressions of racial and sexual hatred. Worse, they keep trying to force basic concepts of preventative medicine down everyone's throats, under the pretext that having lots of teachers and students out with the flu is disruptive and costly. The whole thing smacks of Nazism, but without the guns and the stylish uniforms and the belief in transcendent values.

Ivy League administrators are also to blame for Obama's alarming fixation on "czars." You can tell because just like Obama, these administrators have a habit of appointing people to various positions, and then making formal announcements about it.
Among the frequent topics of the daily university executive communiqu├ęs are the formulaic “My team now includes...,” “I have just appointed...,” “Under my direction”....
There's more, natch. Unlike its obsessive critics, the Obama administration is given to "whining or petulance." Which is no surprise, given that "feelings of being underappreciated by the public for all one’s self-sacrificial efforts are common university traits."

In related news, Obama has a "wounded-fawn sense of sacrifice," because he deigned to enter politics and submit to the dreary ritual of being elected president, instead of seeking tenure at UC-Berkeley. Surely it's no coincidence that "academic culture...promotes this idea that highly educated professionals deigned to give up their best years for arduous academic work and chose to be above the messy rat race."

Obama didn't actually do that, granted. But if he had, he would've. Which is typical of academics, and therefore of his administration. The conclusion is obvious:
[T]he United States is now a campus, we are the students, and Obama is our university president.
This metaphor may seem a bit quaint, given that so many of Hanson's fellow travelers have already decided, by means of equally rigorous logic, that they're prisoners of a new gulag, if not of the antichrist himself.

On the other hand, as Hanson's inevitable reference to a course on "Race, Class, and Gender in the Latina Cinema" shows, griping about higher education remains one of the best ways of indulging in racial polemics while pretending to be talking about something else. Like complaints about Obama's "socialism" -- behind which one can hear decades of white outrage over welfare Cadillacs, and the ever-looming threat of reparations -- complaints about his roots in academia reinforce his status as a Lord of Misrule who's turning the world upside-down in order to crush white aspirations and white culture.

If you ask me, the reason Hanson offers all these laborious analogies, even though they're marvelously stupid, and don't even begin to prove what he claims, is because they give his howl of racial anxiety the superficial form of a logical argument. As such, they serve pretty much the same function as statistics in the pages of American Renaissance: they reassure readers that what they're perusing is a product of sober intellectual inquiry, rather than crypto-racialist sour grapes. A civilized era calls for civilized debate, after all...and never more so than when one is explaining that teh darkies and their white enablers are out to destroy Western culture.

I know I'm not supposed to say any of this. I know that the only people who make truly racist arguments nowadays are Ku Klux Klan members, minorities, and leftists; everyone else is simply enjoying a bracing debate on values and civilization and heritage and genetics and stuff. I know that when you heap scorn on those "elitists" who dare to claim that the artistic productions of minorities are worthy of intelligent people's attention, you're standing up for academic standards rather than racial ones. I know that once you've asserted your elemental belief in fairness, no one can be offended by your assumption that behind every successful black woman, there are 25 honest, hard-working white men who were kicked to the curb and reduced to dressing in burlap potato sacks. And I know that sneering at a class on Latina film is not an expression of contempt for Latinas, but for the multiculturalism that elevates them above their station, and the Marxist orthodoxy that claims their station was assigned to them by something other than Divine Will.

Nonetheless, I'm going to be deliciously irreverent -- just like Glenn Beck and Andrew Breitbart -- and suggest that if conservative commentators don't want to be accused of racist demagogy, they should follow these simple steps:
  1. Stop obsessing over multiculturalism in higher education, which really isn't fooling anyone.

  2. Start worrying a lot less about anti-Americanism and reverse racism in academia, and a lot more about all those heavily armed would-be secessionists carrying pictures of Obama with a bone through his nose.

  3. Stop drafting everyone between Scranton and Fresno into your personal army of racially aggrieved Kulturkampfers.

  4. Quit having tantrums over things that didn't bother you at all two years ago, like czars and deficits and fake underclass pedigrees and an Ivy League president who whines that no one appreciates the wonderful things he's doing for the country.
Of course, the political rewards for doing these things would be negligible at best. Which is why you can't really blame people like Hanson for preferring to create a new pedagogy of the oppressed, and deploy their subaltern micronarratives against hegemonic discourses like evolution and climatology and Civil War studies and population genetics and feminism. To paraphrase Paolo Friere, this is the great humanistic and historical task of white conservatarian loudmouths: to liberate themselves by portraying their victims as their oppressors, no matter how ludicrous it sounds to sane people.

(Illustration: "Louis Budenz’s article, 'Do Colleges Have to Hire Red Professors?' was the first publication listing Sarah Lawrence College as hiring Communist professors. Soon after this article was published, the Americanism Committee of the American Legion began targeting Sarah Lawrence faculty members. November, 1951.)


xan said...

Hey, I was all with you, waving my red Hammer 'n' Snickers flag and all, until you included "Civil War Studies" in the ranks of Evil Drivel.

c'mon. Military History is most emphatically not all of History, but it contains some useful information when properly studied.

plus, if you do a count, the field is practically out of business. If Gettysburg College ever goes under it will probably not be taught anywhere but the military academies.

/whine, pout

Phila said...

Hey, I was all with you, waving my red Hammer 'n' Snickers flag and all, until you included "Civil War Studies" in the ranks of Evil Drivel.

I think you may've misread me there, friend.

Spiny Norman said...

The problem with the humanities is that there are no solid metrics for success. That is why we should abolish places like the Hoover Institution* and put up more science buildings in their place.

*Actually, we can keep the Hoover Institution, but only because it's called the Hoover Institution.

grouchomarxist said...

It seems remarkably petty for Professor Hansen (a.k.a. Churchill for War-Mongering Dummies) to pen something like this. I would have expected his usual schtick, i.e. holding up some bleeding, yanked-out-of-context gobbet of Thucydides as the inspiration for his latest paean to the War of Civilizations.

But here he is, trying to palm off the author's irritation with his boss and the galling fetters of political correctness as some kind of profound meditation on the Age of Obama. I'd say being such a sniveling crybaby seems at the very least rather contradictory, for such a fervent admirer of the Secret Code of Military Toughness.

But then, about the only real amusement types like Hansen offer is the unintentionally self-revelatory nature of whatever dribbles out of their pieholes.

Anonymous said...

Gee, I was trying to recall VD Hanson's heartland roots, here's what they say on Wiki:

Hanson, who is of Swedish ancestry, grew up on a family farm at Selma, in the San Joaquin Valley of California. His mother was a lawyer and judge, his father an educator and college administrator. Along with his older brother Nils and fraternal twin Alfred, he attended public schools and graduated from Selma High School. Hanson received his B.A. from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1975[citation needed] and his Ph.D. in classics from Stanford University in 1980.

My bolds.

Seems the boy might have issues, and I don't mean his geographic ones.

I guess California is closer to the "heartland" than Chicago

Anthony McCarthy, not "Andrew"

Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

Back when I was in the Professorin' bidness, I read and taught Freire and Freireans all the time.

He said: "Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world."

We in the USoA have settled for the former, abhor even the prospect of the latter prevailing, and do everything possible to prevent it...

A critical polis is the LAST thing the Corporats want...

Phila said...

the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world."

The sad thing is, that's exactly what Hanson and David Horowitz would like to think they're promoting.