24 June 2008

Madrasas for Leftists: PC Universities at the Brink

There once was a time when the university environments of North America were not ones of indoctrination and brainwashing, as they often are now. Professor Alan Kors remembers those days:
I was taught at Princeton, in the early 1960s—in history and literature, above all—before the congeries that we term "the '60s" began. Most of my professors were probably men of the left—that's what the surveys tell me—but that fact was never apparent to me, because, except in rare cases, their politics or even their ideological leanings were not inferable from their teaching or syllabi. Reasoned and informed dissent from professorial devil's advocacy or interpretation was encouraged and rewarded, including challenges to the very terms of an examination question.

...In grad school at Harvard, while a few dates left in the midst of dinner on discovering my free-market and hawkish politics, and while I did get thrown out of a party for opposing, when asked, Eugene McCarthy's view of Vietnam (this should have been a warning), the classroom remained open and, by design, intellectually pluralistic....When I went off on job interviews, I was not once asked a question, ever, about my worldview, but only about my historical research and notions of teaching. Politics were simply not in the category of appropriate inquiry.

...What has changed? In terms of the university in loco parentis, which has been restored and expanded with a vengeance, the revolution has been breathtaking....From diverse motives of ideological sympathies and acute awareness of who can blackball their next career moves, they have given over the humanities, the soft social sciences and the entire university in loco parentis to the zealots of oppression studies and coercive identity politics. In the latter case, it truly has been a conspiracy, with networking and common plans. In the former case—the professoriate and the curriculum—it is generally, with striking politicized exceptions, a soft tyranny of groupthink, unconscious bias and self-inflated sense of a mission of demystification. Most of the professors I meet are kind, indeed sweet, and certainly mean no harm. It is profoundly sad to see what they have become.

There also has been, compounding academic problems, a dumbing down of the professoriate that quite numbs the mind—best seen not in the monographs that earn people their degrees, but in the egregious nonsense, crude meta-theorizing, self-indulgence and tendentious special pleading that are not merely tolerated without criticism, but rewarded at the highest levels.

...Academia also has become a place where professors can achieve the highest rewards, except in the protected fields, for acting out their pathologies. In higher education, to paraphrase the Woody Allen stand-up line, we increasingly send our students to schools for learning-disabled and emotionally disturbed teachers....

Academics, in their own minds, face an almost insoluble problem of time. How, in only four years, can they disabuse students of the notion that the capital, risk, productivity and military sacrifice of others have contributed to human dignity and to the prospects of a decent society? How can they make them understand, with only four years to do so, that capitalism and individual- ism have created cultures that are cruel, inefficient, racist, sexist and homophobic, with oppressive caste systems, mental and behavioral? How, in such a brief period, can they enlighten "minorities," including women (the majority of students), about the "internalization" of their oppression (today's equivalent of false consciousness)? How, in only eight semesters, might they use the classroom, curriculum and university in loco parentis to create a radical leadership among what they see as the victim groups of our society, and to make the heirs of successful families uneasy in the moral right of their possessions and opportunities? Given those constraints, why in the world should they complicate their awesome task by hiring anyone who disagrees with them? __WSJ__via_BelmontClub
In fact, Kors is understating the case--pulling his punches. The reality of the modern university is worse than he describes.

Richard Fernandez thinks that the age of academic indoctrination may be nearing its end. He draws that reassurance from J. Richard Gott's "doomsday argument. It is an interesting argument, related to the "anthropic principle" argument in nature. Thought-provoking, but not conclusive.

I sincerely hope that Fernandez (aka "Wretchard") is right. Universities of indoctrination are spewing out minds that are increasingly incapable of standard reasoning and logic. Too often a graduate of a liberal arts or social science program has never been exposed to divergent points of view--never learned to confront intelligent and reasonable people whose deeply held and closely reasoned ideas differ substantially from their own. Naturally he goes out into the world believing that all right-minded persons will believe as he does, and that all others are either dishonest, corrupt, or stupid.

All of that, before his pre-frontal lobes have even completely myelinated--before his powers of judgment have even come close to maturing. How could he possibly know better, unless someone at some point was willing to force him to delve deeply into diverse disciplines of thought and reason?

As Kors explains in his piece above, those halcyon days of intellectual diversity in the university are as good as gone. But is Fernandez right in supposing that this monolithic thought structure, this incompetence, this intolerance, is soon to meet its doom?

Society--in the form of the news and entertainment media, popular culture--has bonded itself to the PC worldview monoculture of the universities. Government bureaucracy increasingly adopts the same forms, and the bureaucracies of corporations and non-profit foundations have been increasingly moulding themselves according to PC intolerance.

There is no doubt that civilisation is attempting to transition from a religion-dominant culture to a secular-dominant culture. But it is not that easy. Society abhors the moral vacuum of the "middle ground." Secular morality has not truly stepped into the gap to provide a firm foundation for sound child-raising or a decent society. Leftist ideology has attempted to fill the void via many universities and much of the media, but for some reason, it has only done half the job. It has torn down most of the traditional moral icons of the civilisation, but its own moral forms have not been widely taken up by the society at large.

So instead of a culture confidently stepping out into the wide-open future, you see a fearful and insecure society full of self-doubt, questioning its own right to exist in the face of widespread poverty and misery elsewhere in the world. Entire nations are shrinking into the moral void, choosing anti-natalist ideas or going after comfort and security instead of taking risks on a wider future.

The human extinction movements are merely the extreme end point toward which a large part of the university educated are shuffling. Choosing to avoid children, or avoiding marriage altogether are other points along the same scale.

The quasi-suicidal carbon hysteria movement is a mere symptom of the basic intellectual nihilism that has followed university graduates into the culture at large. The true problem underlying the symptom is an inability to test hypotheses and theorems. If the hypothesis meets the long-term requirements of your ideology, put your emotions behind the idea, avoid the rational testing stage altogether, and use all the tools of human persuasion in your bag to put the idea over.

There are many other symptoms of the underlying problem, and it would be nice if we could deal with them all, one by one. Unfortunately, the madrasas for leftists are a fait accompli. But fortunately, there are others who are working on the problem.

The dumbing down of society is a serious problem. Solving that problem may require more than just a bit of indirection and lateral thinking. More on that later.

[slight editing for style may occur after original posting AF]

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Blogger The Irrefutable Fool said...

Al Fin, if you could honestly declare yourself free from the dishonesty of name calling in actual debate, then this post would have merit. Unfortunately you (plural) fall victim to the grandest of human frailties as well.

Everything expressed is an opinion.

Tuesday, 24 June, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

TIF, your comment is virtually without referent. An opinion without referent loses something of its impact. If you feel you need to engage, engage. Be specific.

Name calling is not necessarily dishonest, by the way. It is often merely descriptive.

The blogosphere is an ongoing debate. A lot of information gets passed arround, along with appended opinion. Try not to take these things personally. I assure you, I was never thinking of you when writing any of the words in this posting. ;-)

Wednesday, 25 June, 2008  
Blogger SwampWoman said...

Is it a dumbing down of society, or is it a consequence of raising children to believe that college is their birthright and/or some sort of magic key that will open the door to a life of wealth and ease, whether they are equipped intellectually to do the work required of a meaningful degree or not?

The universities are certainly not going to quit taking the tuition money of people that will take the easiest classes (many times) to end up with an expensive nonsense degree that, if they have good customer service skills, will enable them to be employed in a low-paying service job. In this case, I believe it may be a case of schools evolving to meet the needs/take the money of these students.

The schools are guilty, however, of accepting the applications of people with much lower qualifications because of the color of their skin, and rejecting other, high-achieving students because of their ethnicity. Again, there have to be degree programs for these underqualified students.

I want to know what the problem is with the students if they mindlessly/quietly sit there and listen to ideology instead of instruction. I certainly didn't have any problem saying "that is the biggest load of crap I've ever heard!" in class and challenging the professor to prove it, or going and demanding my money back if I thought the professor was underperforming and/or worthless. I was never penalized for my views with bad grades possibly because they knew, through experience, that I would argue every point docked.

Of course, the difference may be that it was my money that I was paying for tuition, something that I could have spent on new equipment in our business or on kid toys, so I was intent on getting my money's worth.

How you feel about higher educational institutions may be moot because many people (men) are opting out altogether. Education is evolving, and I believe that there will be far fewer college professor jobs in the future.

Wednesday, 25 June, 2008  
Blogger al fin said...

Is it a dumbing down of society, or is it a consequence of raising children to believe that college is their birthright and/or some sort of magic key that will open the door to a life of wealth and ease, whether they are equipped intellectually to do the work required of a meaningful degree or not?

An inept secondary educational system tries to cram every peg--even square ones--into the round hole of college education. Only 20 or 25% should be getting four year degrees or higher.

The whole system is an enormous waste of hard-won capital. A lot of occupations requiring only a year or two after high school can give better income returns than most four year degrees these days.

If high schools did their job and taught business skills and practical skills, a lot of high school graduates could be well equipped to begin their productive lives at age 18 or so.

But no, society likes to baby its little pet children and treat them like porcelain dolls.

Friday, 27 June, 2008  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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