Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Fight the Power!

Phi Beta Cons alerts me to a new study that attempts to figure out why academics tend to be somewhat more liberal than, say, investment bankers. Popular theories include administrative bias, self-selection (i.e., academia's reputation for liberalism attracts liberals), and a program of institutional brainwashing that turns larval professors into an amen corner for Gilles Deleuze and Che Guevara.

This brings up a few scattered thoughts. The study notes that "professors are more likely than others...to have a high tolerance for controversial ideas." There are grounds for questioning this claim, I think. That said, the typical conservative rejoinder that professors tend not to be tolerant of controversial right-wing ideas overlooks the fact that right-wing ideas tend not to be controversial. The basic concepts of feminism, for instance, remain much more controversial than conservative ideas on gender and sexuality. The same goes — generally speaking — for pacifism versus Just War Theory; an absolute prohibition on torture versus dime-novel blather about "ticking time bombs"; socialism versus capitalism; and so on. Which is why argumentum ad populum is one of the Right's favorite logical fallacies.

Typically, conservative kulturkampfers want to have it both ways: they want to appeal to the traditional values held by all goodhearted people, and to pretend that American Exceptionalism is some sort of subaltern micronarrative that's been drowned out by the dominant culture. Accordingly, the Right tends to represent its articles of faith as heretical even — or especially — when they're common as dirt. It's a bit like putting crows on the Endangered Species List, on the grounds that some people think there are too many of them.

Just as tolerance must tolerate intolerance, or reveal itself as a pietistic fraud, multiculturalism must make room at the table for people who want to stamp it out before it destroys Western Civilization. We've liberated the wretched of the earth, and allowed them to indulge in an orgy of cultural miscegenation and male-bashing. Now, it's time to fulfill the promise of the civil rights movement by giving angry white people a voice. Hasta la victoria siempre, Wolverines!

As someone who's devoted tens of minutes to making fun of this approach, I'm dismayed to find that it's more or less what the authors of this study recommend:

In an interview, Gross said that conservatives who want to see more conservative professors may need to engage in the same kinds of activities that female and minority scholars have used with success to diversify the professoriate in terms of race and gender.

Anti-diversity diversity is clearly an idea whose time has come, not least because this movement has plenty of readymade leaders: Glenn Beck is the Rosa Parks of white culture! It takes a nation of millions to hold Rush Limbaugh back! Doc Thompson knows why the caged bird sings! Max Boot's got a right to the tree of life! Well-behaved Teabaggers rarely make history!

Sometimes it seems as though the only lesson these people learned from the civil rights movement is that the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Incidentally, Gross advises conservatives that they can take this approach without demonizing academia. Isn't it pretty to think so?


Anonymous said...

I recall, frequently, a letter to the editor in the Boston Globe on the topic of why academics tend to be liberal. It said that academics tend to be liberal because they read a lot.

Anthony McCarthy

Jazzbumpa said...

I think academics tend to be liberal because their intellectual pursuits invite some sort of engagement with reality - history, economics, sociology - that sort of stuff.

Of course, American conservatism, never built on a sound ideological basis, has been intellectually and ethically bankrupt for at least the last 35 years.

Maybe somebody in academia noticed.

Meanwhile, WASF,