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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Ummah Of Academic Elitism

I am so sick of identity politics. This can go no further. We are either going to commit cultural suicide, or we will break the back of the snake of "group rights". There are none. The Constitution grants rights to individuals only. If we ever abandon that principle, then we are squarely in the world of the Muslim, Nazi, Communist and Italian fascists.

Liberty is an inherently offensive lifestyle. Living in a free society guarantees that each one of us will see our most cherished principles and beliefs questioned and in some cases mocked. That psychic discomfort is the price we pay for basic civic peace. It's worth it.

It's a pragmatic principle. Defend everyone else's rights, because if you don't there is no one to defend yours. If you are not willing to defend other people's rights, then US society is going to become an increasingly violent competition between groups for control. The choices before us are pretty clear. Do we want fighting in the streets, or do we want to support each individual's rights?

Why should we turn our backs upon our liberal principles? Over a million people died in the Civil War, which was about slavery. Since then people have been killed in the labor rights movement and the civil rights movement. Millions of people have died in wars against totalitarian murderous regimes overseas, when they became a threat to our lives and liberty. What was that all for, if we will not defend each other's rights here at home? How can we have the nerve to criticize Islamic countries for their policies if we won't support freedom within the borders of the United States?

Maybe it's time to recognize that the west is having trouble countering Islamic radicalism because we are conflicted about our own principles. What is Islamic radicalism doing for any country? Where is the wealth it produces? It's not exactly a successful ideology, is it? This should be an ideological slam-dunk, but it's not, because we have bought into the ummah here at home.

What REAL difference is there between demanding that no one ever say anything critical about your religion or about your sexual orientation? What difference is there between the hysterics burning Danish embassies because they object to cartoons depicting Mohammed in an unfavorable way and filing harassment charges against an OSU librarian because he countered a list of leftist books with four suggested conservative books, including David Kupelian's "The Marketing Of Evil". PDF - the emails and C&D letter. 42 pages. It's well worth reading, and very funny in places.

Note also the contention that the librarian didn't have the right to disagree with the professors because they have superior academic credentials. Free speech at OSU, it appears, comes only with a doctorate. At Small Dead Animals' post on this issue, Dano posted an excerpt from an article about OSU's stance on academic freedom in the comments:
"Ohio State has always prized freedom of thought and expression, respect for multiple points of view and the civil and open expression of these views," said Executive Vice President and Provost Barbara Snyder. "By encouraging renewed consideration of these issues across our campus, we are nurturing the most fundamental academic right - that of the free exchange of ideas. My hope is that all members of the university community will reflect further on the foundations of academic inquiry and, so, the very purpose of an institution of higher learning."
Oh, really? But a person can be charged with harrasment based on argument over reading matter? What would happen if someone wrote an article pointing out that anal sex is not a healthy practice? Burning at the stake? Being escorted off campus by the police? The faculty voted to charge the librarian with harassment. This is not one or two people, but the institution itself.

It's time for Americans to grapple with the fact that our academic system is riddled with people who espouse values that are utterly antithetical to the American Constitution and the founding principles of our society. You cannot defend academic freedom for Ward Churchill (who has a long track record of espousing murder and violence as political weapons) on principle and then turn around and promulgate disposition theory in education schools, require social work students to lobby legislatures for particular political programs, or dismiss instructors who argue with Palestinian activists.You cannot logically institute a policy of non-discrimination against same-sex couples and then promulgate a policy forbidding RAs to hold bible studies in their own dorms. A university system that prevents the Danish Mohammed cartoons from being shown in the context of a discussion about them is fascist to its ugly, petty core.

Spend some time at FIRE to educate yourself. Look at this assemblage of shameful abuse. A university system which will not tolerate free speech or freedom of conscience is an enemy of the liberal principles of US society. This is a university system that believes in establishing a system of "right thought" and "right action" which is no different than the radical Islamic vision of the caliphate ummah.

Even Lambda seems to be developing fascist leanings, although no lesbian or homosexual person I have ever known has demonstrated this way of thinking. I suppose the divide between the thinking of the average person and the academic intellectual ummah is just as deep there as it is everywhere else. The Solomon Amendment case showed that our law school faculties are dominated by elitist dingbat lawyers who neither understand the Constitution nor the principles of the First Amendment.

True, they admit now that the case wasn't about about free speech:
At the end of a day-long conference, Lambda honored Boston College law professor Kent Greenfield for his work in challenging the Solomon Amendment. The day featured panels planning ways to attack the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which prohibits openly gay and lesbian individuals from serving, and discussing “ex-gay treatment,” a movement by some faith-based groups to alter the sexual orientation of homosexuals.
At the award banquet, Greenfield was introduced by Lavi Soloway, a lawyer who works on gay rights cases, who praised Greenfield for fighting against an “outrageous expression of government enforced homophobia.”
He admitted that the case “wasn’t really about free speech,” as FAIR had asserted in its challenge, but “about equality.” FAIR, he said, had come up with a “creative” argument to fight Solomon.
Note the panel discussing the "ex-gay" movement. I have always felt deep skepticism that this type of therapy would work for most people, but maybe I'm wrong. Dr. Robert Spitzer has very solid credentials over more than three decades as being extremely open-minded toward homosexual orientation as a healthy psychological state, but he presented a study saying that this type of therapy does work for some people. I imagine that you'r have to be very motivated. Anyway, the attempt to block individuals from seeking this therapy is definitely a violation of individual freedom. How can you base any civil rights movement on a denial of individual freedoms?

We're on the verge of becoming a neurotic, violent society. If we don't stick with our basic principles regarding freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of speech and freedom of inquiry we will regress to that state. One US generation's radical principles have often become the accepted wisdom of the next US generation. It is important to allow that process to continue. Free people living in a free society never will have the guarantee that their individual views will win the day - but at least they have the chance to live by their own principles. Isn't that what we should be trying to preserve?

Update: Here's a link to a very interesting discussion on the same topic at Chicago Boyz. The focus is on the cause. Two comments in particular interested me, although they are all substantive:
One minor point: The virtue of the "plain style," where the words are so clear that they present a clear window to the truth within them reflected a love of the truth, a belief that all could see the same truth.

At its worst, political/social/sexual/violent correctness uses euphemisms because then we can obscure what is meant, we don't have to come face to face with what we (or someone else) is doing. Or we can bring down the emotional force of something bigger when powerful words are applied to little actions.

The imprecision of our minds arises in part from our more & more limited vocabularies. The richness (& therefore precision) of English is one of the greatest gifts to a developing mind. Impoverishing young minds with a limited vocabulary underlies 1984 as does the euphemisms that permeate its society.
I think the commenter is implying that we aren't admitting what we are doing, and are therefore unable to ask ourselves if the strategy is worthwhile.

And printed texts:
Here's another hypothesis on root causes. Marshall McLuhan, in "The Gutenberg Galaxy," argued that a culture based on printed texts will necessarily be very different from an oral culture or a manuscript culture...in particular, he argued that things like individualism, respect for privacy, the importance of the individual conscience, etc, were derivative of print technology. The supplanting of print media by electronic technology, he argued, would lead to a return to tribal values. (He was talking about radio and TV; no Internet at the time.)

It's always seemed like a bit of a stretch, but now I'm beginning to wonder if he might have been on to something.
This is very interesting and above my head. I wonder if the drive to internet blogging isn't an attempt to restore a more individualized "text" culture? I tend to think that the post-war "print" culture in the west has served to generate tribalism rather than support it. That is because our culture suddenly abandoned the past in education. You can see the effect of lack of points of historical reference in journalism today.

I really like your first paragraph, probably because it's very similar to something I've been saying for years. The group rights thing is scary because it can lead to not having any rights unless you belong to a group, and can you really belong to a group if you don't have any meetings...

Maybe we need to have some meetings.
I'm really, really worried about this. For several centuries, the idea of free speech was advancing; now, everywhere in the West, it seems to be in retreat. Why?

One hypothesis is this: the increase in the number of people whose lives revolve entirely around *words*. If you are a farmer or a welder, the distinction between "speech" and "action" is pretty clear: if you're a lawyer or a literature professor, not so much, since the only actions you take *are* in the form of words.

See my post The End of Free Speech? and the resulting discussion, at ChicagoBoyz.
Tommy - no meetings. Then we'd have to issue press releases. I can just imagine your suggested press releases. The laughter is painful. Why don't you prepare a draft agenda for the meeting of the group to defend individual rights on the basis that our group's rights are being whittled away? What could we call it? The group of individuals? GOL?
David - Thanks for the link to that discussion. I will put it in the post. I have glanced at the first comment, and I'm sure I'll learn a lot from it.

Let me give you my prior, uneducated off-the-cuff answer to your question as to why respect for freedom of speech and conscience is dying in the west:
It's because post WWII, 1) the west has gotten wussified and 2) we have failed to educate people in the history of the liberal movement of the west.

It takes some intestinal fortitude to believe in and practice freedom. I almost puked back when I was arguing that Ward Churchill shouldn't be dismissed from his post. I break out in a cold sweat when I'm arguing that Holocaust deniers should be given free rein.

It's simply not easy to defend the rights of people to say things that you believe are entirely wrong.

I think that a coddled generation doesn't have the depth of character to defend the rights of people with whom we disagree.

And then, this generation hasn't been taught why we should defend the rights of people who are clearly distasteful. Unless a person realizes that no society protects minorities unless for a broader good, it is natural to think that people you disagree with should be silenced.
>>I almost puked back when I was arguing that Ward Churchill shouldn't be dismissed from his post.>>

I'd disagree with you.... I think a university has the right to determine what its professors may teach, or at least if those professors are teaching a topic in a manner generally considered "professionally" correct. If the professor is not, then the University has the right to fire them. But not throw them in jail. In other words, they don't have the right to prevent his free speech, but they do have the right not to pay him for exercising that right.

>> I break out in a cold sweat when I'm arguing that Holocaust deniers should be given free rein.>>

Hard to know what to do with people who profess such ignorance. You can't stop them from saying what they choose, but you don't have to pay them, support their venue or listen to them. Imo...
Just Stopping In:
I agree with you that Ward Churchill should never have been a professor. I cannot agree with calls for his dismissal. The principle of academic freedom is so important that, IMO, it requires that he not be dismissed for his opinions, unless they proceed to active criminality.

Law or any system of rules, to be workable, must be applied universally. If we look at Ward Churchill and announce that his opinions demand his dismissal, then we support the idea that those whose opinions are offensive should be dismissed from their posts. This then supports the harassment claim against the OSU librarian.

Someone will always be offended by any substantive argument.

In a rational society, Ward Churchill would be dismissed from his position because of his weak credentials and his plagarism. That is not going to happen. In a rational society, Ward Churchill would never have become a professor.

This entire post is about the reality of our day, which is that universities no longer conform to the minimum requirements for rational societies. We must recognize that if Ward Churchill is dismissed for what he said and wrote, the overall result in universities today is that anybody who is right of Marxism will be pitched out of these institutions.

Instead, I am calling for the universities to live by their own rules, which would entail allowing free discussion. Then the radicals and nutcases would be exposed and their ideas would get as much, and only as much, credence as they could obtain from a wider audience.

This is why they don't believe in academic freedom or freedom of speech at all.
In a different context, your first paragraph came instantly to mind when I was pointed to this story about how the Department of Education wants to apply Title IX-style gender quotas to university science and mathmatics departments. "Group rights" will be the death of our country.
I despise Rush Limbaugh. I think he (and most other radio talk-show guys, on both sides) are blowhards.

However, I would fight tooth-and-nail in order to guarantee that he had a right to speak. And I reacted angrily when his civil rights were violated during his drug addiction scandal.

It's not a matter of liking an individual or their views. It all has to do with whether you believe a person has a right to speak his/her mind. It's the one common thread we all have as Americans -- the belief in personal freedom of thought and speech, in basic civil liberties.
I suspect that our current social order is doomed.

The simple fact is that there are all manner of downsides to belonging to a Big Organization (i.e., nation, major corporation, etc.) and lots of upsides for not belonging. Many of these tie to freedoms.

BOs are giant targets -- they say to anyone and everyone with an axe to grind or a lawyer to sic "Hit me with your best shot!". It's much harder to blame or target the small group or individual.

You certainly lose a measure of security and ease when you give up the BO, but, as our tools get more and more dangerous in the hands of the aberrant individual, the more likely it is to die when one of the AIs (or his collective ilk, like a terrorist organization) gets huffy over something.

The fractionalizing of the world also fits into the format of an I&S economic structure. The precursors, Agrarian and Industrial, both have central organizing principles which tie to naturally heirarchical models -- the feudal enclave and the corporation. The natural organizing principle of an I&S society is more networked and inchoate. Heirarchical systems limit the capability of the Best and Brightest by filtering their abilities through the upper channels, often lacking in B&B intelligence and foresight (the Septic Tank Rule of Management). Anyone who has experienced a bureaucracy knows exactly of that which I speak. Hence, a less structured, more networked model for information and control flow would be more effective.

In other words, don't dispair. Everything has an end,and what follows isn't necessarily less or worse -- just different. The I&S society will be inherently free and open, since that is the only way it can work effectively.
Nick B, that is a very interesting thesis. I suspect that there is something in what you write, but that the flattening of control structures you predict is not an inevitable development. For example, as you and I write China is both pursuing technical and scientific capabilities while shutting down all independent internet communications and even text messaging on cell phones.

The I&S society is capable of providing the means for truly comprehensive control of individuals on a scale never before seen.
Peter T, I have been (courtesy of www.thefire.org) perusing the various speech codes and departmental codes of universites. You wrote:
It's the one common thread we all have as Americans -- the belief in personal freedom of thought and speech, in basic civil liberties.

But this is not true in universities. They believe in something completely the reverse. This is a particularly prominent feature of many journalism schools. I applaud your dedication to freedom. I believe you are absolutely correct in specifying that it is the founding principle of our society.

I'm just pointing out that it is not shared by the institutions which are shaping the next generation. That includes law schools, which prepare the judges. Think about that.
Old Grouch, that article is terrifying. Thank you for the link.

We already have a problem with a lack of scientific rigor as a result of commercial pressures (including grants to academics). That sort of proposal would about finish scientific method off, wouldn't it? If you are going to institute quotas, then you will have to stifle the internal freedom of academia somewhat to do it. That naturally implies that the truly intense debate in scientific fields will be subordinated to political goals.

Does the Department of Education not understand that women have children?

Btw, it's another data point to rebut Nick's thesis. Nick's predicted future might ensue, but on the other hand we might see a restoration of the old temple/ruler structure. Either is possible.
Interesting. Three quibbles...

It's more correct to say that the Constitution acknowledges Rights, not grants them. Even though some political rights were granted, the majority of the Bill of Rights were individual Rights supposed to pre-exist at the time of the writing of the Constitution. By using the word "grants" it implies that they are government derived & therefore may be taken away by same.

The War of Norhern Aggression was partly about slavery, but not entirely, especially at the beginning. The main issue was whether or not a state could leave the Union without begging leave of said Union. Everything else no matter how moving was a symptom of the constitutional illness, not a cause.

That out of the way, I think you misunderstand the different cultures we have in this country. There are several I've encountered off the top of my head & wouldn't be surprised if they numbered in the dozens (counting subcultures & such). But what it boils down to is a divide between those cultures who think the individual should dominate society & those who think the collective should dominate. Many on the left as well as a few on the right support a collective emphasis. They do not feel the individual should have too much influence.

Of course the individualists aren't crazy about that.

So I would submit that personal freedom & civil liberties that apply to the individual are not things we all have in common as Americans.

I'll give you an example:

Many people are fine with giving an 18 year old kid a machine gun & a uniform & have him protect us. Take that same 18 year old kid, age him 30 years, make him a civilian & ask those same people that supported him toting an M16 if they're cool with him having a revolver tucked under his jacket.

When in uniform he was part of the collective, enforcing the will & protecting the safety of the collective. Out of uniform he's just an individual & should never have that much power.

I think you'll find as I did that personal freedom, liberty &/or Rights take second place to the collective's will for many people.

There simply is not a common thread for all Americans based on individual anything. In fact there are at least two vastly differing worldviews that making finding common ground tricky at best.
Publicola (good name!), I agree that there is not a common belief in the US that the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights actually should stand. In the universities apparently the idea is that the First Amendment is pernicious and diabolical and must be eliminated ASAP.

I'm sure that at the time the Constitution was ratified and the Bill of Rights was added they were controversial as well. I don't think there is any way to measure popular sentiment at the time, but I wish there were.

Since I believe in the right of the individual to keep and bear arms, I am quite comfortable with the Bill of Rights. I think the rural/city split on this issue is very telling and deep, but it appears to be spreading into the suburbs.

I don't agree at all with your comment about the Civil War. The fight was basically between the slave-holding states and the non slave-holding states. The fear of the slave-holding states was that if new states were admitted and tipped the balance to non-slave-holding states, the abolition movement would result in a modification of the Constitution to ban slavery. Since the import of slaves into the US had already been banned, they were not imagining things. The debate had raged across the nation. A new party had been formed in the north (Repubs) over that issue. Slavery was the root cause.

My argument is that any societal formation that grants rights on the basis of membership in a group smaller than that of the citizenry for very long is going to result in a violent society. In my next post I explain a bit more about why I believe this.

Abstractly put, group rights place groups in conflict; individual rights eliminate grounds for conflict.
>>The principle of academic freedom is so important that, IMO, it requires that he not be dismissed for his opinions, unless they proceed to active criminality.>>

There is a fine line here. I agree with you in principle. On the other hand, I also believe that a university is responsible for the content of what is taught under its auspices. You further state:

>>In a rational society, Ward Churchill would be dismissed from his position because of his weak credentials and his plagarism.>>

I think this is more in line with what I'm saying - that the material he's presenting is not the material that the subject he's teaching requires. I'm on thin ice here - I'm not sure just exactly what subject he's supposed to be teaching, but am assuming that "The Deception of Halocaust Claims" isn't what it is titled. What I'm stating is the same as that which is pointed out with regard to the Political Geography teacher who went off on a rant about Bush - not that he isn't entitled to his opinion, but he's not teaching what he's supposed to be teaching, and a school which is employing him is entitled (as are the students) to demand that he teach what he is hired to teach.

>>Instead, I am calling for the universities to live by their own rules, which would entail allowing free discussion.>>

I can live with that!
I did read something about it being a great dating service for gay men! But that's not my point. My point is that freedom should be freedom. Who among us really has the wisdom to make such decisions for other people?

Law is necessarily restricted to dealing with actual crimes. It cannot effectively be a guideline for behavior. It may be true that eating a lot of fried food is bad for humans, but it doesn't follow that outlawing the sale or consumption of fried food will result in a healthier population, for example.

The aspirational guidelines of systems of ethics, philosophy and religion are very important in any culture, but they only work for any individual if they are good systems and if the individual can follow through with such a system.

I think people on both the left and right have failed to fully internalize the lessons of Prohibition.
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