Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Academia's Dirty Secret

Recent polls in the USA indicate that significantly more professors describe themselves as liberal rather than as conservative, and that more profs vote Democrat rather than Republican. The question being batted around now is why so. Of course the rightwing conservatives see this as bias and prejudice in academia. The usual idea is that the social sciences and humanities are especially biased against conservatives, but the polls also show fewer conservative Republicans in the physical sciences.

Also, if we're going to talk about it in this manner, then we should ask why 75% of career military individuals are Republican conservatives. Does this mean that the military is biased unfairly against liberals? A moment's thought will reveal that something else is going on. Military officers volunteer for reenlistment and push their own careers by dint of sacrifice and hard work; something very much like that happens in academia, with its relatively low pay and longer years of training. A career tends to mirror _and to shape_ the character of one's worldview, as sociologists have shown. Rightwing Republicans co-adapt in the niche of a military worldview: a world of rank, of authority and obedience, of toughness and belligerent defensiveness. It makes a lot of sense then that few liberals would choose to stay in such an environment, and that such an environment wouldn't produce many liberals, but rather quite a few rightwing conservatives. This is not "bias" but something deeper; the same dynamic works in academia.

As a leftist of course my own take on this is that the rightwing conservative worldview today attracts individuals who haven't done their homework. My conservative students in Oregon back in the '90s would come to class and argue boldly about essays that they hadn't read. Their arguments were like shadow-boxing against imaginary positions that aren't in the essay. Yes there have been indeed rightwing intellectuals, such as Leo Strauss who taught the neoconservative hawks everything they know, but his work just doesn't measure up. In fact, it is a joke. And with today's rightwing slide into theocracy and anti-science, it is hard to imagine how conservative evangelical individuals could succeed in the fields of biology, geology, genetics, astronomy, paleontology, and such. Can you be a scientist who argues against science-- based on your religious orthodoxy?

The real dirty secret of academia is this: we profs are passing many students who really shouldn't be passing. A famous example is George "C -" Bush, whose ex-professors at Yale are now embarrassed to appear in the media. They gave him below average grades, but they still passed him. Imagine how history might have been different if they did the right thing and failed him. By extension, this happens daily all over the USA, and thousands of little Georges are out there in management postions with their classy degrees, running this country into the ground.

Meanwhile, this is not simply an open debate. The rightwing is now attempting to legislate their worldview and impose it upon academia, to shut down debate. Below is an op-ed piece in the New York Times that names a few names:

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Consider the statements of Dennis Baxley, a Florida legislator who has sponsored a bill that - like similar bills introduced in almost a dozen states - would give students who think that their conservative views aren't respected the right to sue their professors. Mr. Baxley says that he is taking on "leftists" struggling against "mainstream society," professors who act as "dictators" and turn the classroom into a "totalitarian niche." His prime example of academic totalitarianism? When professors say that evolution is a fact.

In its April Fools' Day issue, Scientific American published a spoof editorial in which it apologized for endorsing the theory of evolution just because it's "the unifying concept for all of biology and one of the greatest scientific ideas of all time," saying that "as editors, we had no business being persuaded by mountains of evidence." And it conceded that it had succumbed "to the easy mistake of thinking that scientists understand their fields better than, say, U.S. senators or best-selling novelists do."

The editorial was titled "O.K., We Give Up." But it could just as well have been called "Why So Few Scientists Are Republicans These Days." Thirty years ago, attacks on science came mostly from the left; these days, they come overwhelmingly from the right, and have the backing of leading Republicans.

Scientific American may think that evolution is supported by mountains of evidence, but President Bush declares that "the jury is still out." Senator James Inhofe dismisses the vast body of research supporting the scientific consensus on climate change as a "gigantic hoax." And conservative pundits like George Will write approvingly about Michael Crichton's anti-environmentalist fantasies.
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see more about this in the link above


At 12:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look, I like some of your stuff, but this article is way below your usual standard.

The right-left dichotomy is an artificial dichotomy. Real grass-roots politics is not constrained by that any more.

There are a hell of a lot of angry Americans who don't fit the right or left stereotype.

You probably know all about all that postmodernist stuff I could never be troubled to read. Have you read Guy DuBord and his thoughts on the "Society of the Spectacle"? I think most folks would call him a pomo.

Right and Left are both parts of the "spectacle," the unreal propaganda pushed by the Establishment. Real anti-establishment politics doesn't limit itself to Left and Right.

The military produces a lot of alienated ex-grunts who hate authority but also hate homosexuals, shrinks pushing Ritalin, and the general namby-pamby pinko propaganda that clutters up American discourse. These ex-grunts are socially right-wing but anti-establishment. They are neither right nor left, and they are crucial to America's future.

Have you been asleep, or have you noticed the Minuteman movement? It is neither right nor left. Have you noticed the gun-ownership-rights movement? It is socially rightwing, but profoundly suspicious of government.

At 2:59 PM, Blogger E. Heroux said...

Dear Anon:
Not sure how your comment relates to my post above, which discusses polling results of how people describe their own political positions in academia and in the military, and then argues that careers tend to attract and also to shape one's worldview. If the stats don't apply to you, that's not my business. But I suspect that the post does apply to you on another level, which is why you wrote in to complain.

Besides, your comment is giving me that old shock of misrecognition as played by Eric Bogosian in the film _Talk Radio_ (directed by Oliver Stone, a leftist) about the utter lack of understanding and communication in American populist discourse. With fans like this, who needs enemies?

Some handy-dandy pointers:

* Guy Debord departed from the liberals and communists by way of the Left door of progress, creativity, freeplay and open participation; _not_ the Rightwing reactionary movement of libertarian militias with their homophobic, xenophobic paranoia, barely suppressiing their own patriarchal longings for power. Socially these are worlds apart.

*If I was forced to choose (and I hope not) between the Left and the "American future" you gesture toward, I would certainly choose the Left in a heartbeat. That future is very much more of the same crap we have now in 2005, with an added dose of an Imaginary Tradition that never existed.

*Look any kneejerk teenager can be anti-establishment. But the real question is: For what?

P.S. See


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