Appeasement in Academia

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Thomas Sowell's most recent column will come as quite a shock even to many who are, like myself, well aware of the pervasiveness of leftism in academia. He discusses the fact that, although the '60's ended nearly 40 years ago, the basic, oft-romanticized, approach of backing demands with threats is alive and well.

It is so alive and so well, in fact, that The Chronicle of Higher Education recently ran an article on the subject, inspiring Sowell to weigh in. (Sowell does not specifically name the article, but I suspect that it was "Fearing Our Students". [subscription required])

This professor has been advised, at more than one college, not to let students know where he lives, not to give out his home phone number and to keep his home phone number from being listed.

This is a very different academic world from the one in which I began teaching back in 1962. Over the years, I saw it change before my eyes.

During my first year of teaching, at Douglass College in New Jersey, I was one of the few faculty members who did not invite students to his home. In fact, I was asked by a colleague why I didn't.

"My home is a bachelor apartment" I said, "and that is not the place to invite the young women I am teaching."

His response was: "How did you get to be such an old fogy at such a young age?"

How did we get from there to where professors are being advised to not even have their phone numbers listed?

The answer to that question has implications not only for the academic world but for the society at large and for international relations.

It happened because people who ran colleges and universities were too squeamish to use the power they had.... [bold added]
And later,
One of the rare exceptions to academic cave-ins around the country during the 1960s was the University of Chicago. When students there seized an administration building, dozens of them were suspended or expelled. That put an end to that.

There is not the slightest reason why academic institutions with far more applicants than they can accept have to put up with disruptions, violence or intimidation. Every student they expel can be replaced immediately by someone on the waiting list.
But instead of punishing bad behavior, most institutions have rewarded it and thereby encouraged it.

It is true that appeasement encourages more bad behavior, but as Sowell points out, things weren't always this way. Why are they different now? On what basis did appeasement become so common in Western civilization that it has crashed the gates even of the ivory tower? It is because the philosophic basis of the Enlightenment has been attacked, with the result that those who should be defending our civilization are intellectually and morally disarmed or even fail to see a need to defend it.

Ayn Rand considered this very question long ago in "The Cashing-in: The Student 'Rebellion'", an essay she wrote in 1965, and which now appears in The Return of the Primitive. Rand concludes that the repleacement of reasoned debate with brute force in academia is the end result of the long playing-out of Immanuel Kant's philosophic attack on the validity of reason.
These "activists" are so fully, literally, loyally, devastatingly the products of modern philosophy that someone should cry out to all the university administrations and faculties: "Brothers, you asked for it!"

Mankind could not expect to remain unscathed after decades of exposure to the radiation of intellectual fission-debris, such as: "Reason is impotent to know things as they are -- reality is unknowable -- certainty is impossible -- knowledge is mere probability -- truth is that which works -- mind is a superstition -- logic is a social convention -- ethics is a matter subjective commitment to an arbitrary postulate" -- and the consequent mutations are those contorted young creatures who scream, in chronic terror, that they know nothing and want to rule everything.

...

With rare and academically neglected exceptions, the philosophical "mainstream" that seeps into every classroom, subject, and brain in today's universities is: epistemological agnosticism, avowed irrationalism, ethical subjectivism. Our age is witnessing the ultimate climax, the cashing-in on a long process of destruction, at the end of the road laid out by Kant.

Ever since Kant divorced reason from reality, his intellectual descendants have been diligently widening the breach. ... [bold added]
Rand discusses such schools as Pragmatism, Logical Positivism, and Linguistic Analysis, and continues.
It has been said that Kant's dichotomy led to two lines of Kantian philosophers, both accepting his basic premises, but choosing opposite sides: those who chose reason, abandoning reality -- and those who chose reality, abandoning reason. The first delivered the world to the second. [bold added]
Sowell is correct as far as he goes, but for college administrators and faculty to stop sympathizing with the students (a problem Sowell himself notes) or appeasing them, a real philosophic revolution is required, the one Ayn Rand herself has started with her defense of the validity of reason, her highly original approach to ethics (resulting in a morality of egoism), and culminating her moral and intellectual defense of individual rights.

Those who value the free discussion of ideas and the unstinting pursuit of truth that ought to occur in academia (and have, and can, once again), would do well to start understanding this problem by considering her thoughts on the subject, which remain relevant to this day, and to think about what she has had to say about the various issues leading to our current state.

Only then will one know what a real revolution looks like.

-- CAV

Updates

Today
: Corrected several typos. Other minor changes.

2 comments:

Jim May said...

Harry Binswanger was just talking about that this week, how he saw first-hand the Left embracing censorship and intimidation for the first time.

This is worth remembering when some folks confidently assume that the global warming fad will eventually pass, and be seen as the hysteria it is. Who is going to write that history?

The Left has never been properly held to account for its past disasters. Why should that change?

Ever wonder why that is?

I found some insight into answering that question this weekend, when I overheard someone at a party this weekend, a Boomer in his sixties addressing a group of other Boomers, saying "we better get on board with global warming lest we be remembered as the generation that screwed up the planet."

My first thought was that "no, you'd rather be remembered as the generation that threw away freedom" -- but then I was struck by a different, far worse possibility: they will be the generation that destroys the cultural status of science. That kind of "climate change" would most certainly be disastrous.

We have already noted the synergy between the Left and Right on this blog before. On HBL, Steven Rogers once made a brilliant observation that the Left essentially functions as Immanuel Kant's "shock troops" to deal with "the emergency of the Enlightenment", eventually to clear the way for the return of religious conservatism to power.

This is Kant's "one-two punch" which set the pattern of intellectual history for the last two and a half centuries. The Left "fist" strikes with disaster after disaster under the ostensive banners pf "science", "reason", "freedom" etc.; the Right "fist" then promptly uses the disaster to discredit those same ideals. (Since WWII, at least in America, the two fists have begun swapping these roles as the so-called "pendulum" swings, but the pattern is unchanged).

That is *why* the Left has never been held to account; both "sides" have a vested interest in ensuring that it is the Enlightenment and its ideals which are scapegoated. In the past, it has had its defenders, but by the beginning of the 20th century those voices had fallen silent in Europe. By the 1960's they fell silent here -- with the sole exception of Ayn Rand.

From that we can see how future ideological history may unfold -- if there is no change in the movement of the ideological tectonic plates underneath it all. Just as the history books of our childhood blame capitalism for the disasters of government intervention in the 1920's and 1930's, and today's predominant conservatives blame liberalism for the excesses of big government socialism, the global warming hysteria of today's quasi-religious environmentalism will tomorrow be blamed on the "hubris" of science.

Picture the year 2030. Another fresh generation of passive minds will have flowed out of the government schools -- many of them into the churches. The planet starts to cool down just the same way it warmed up -- from overwhelmingly natural causes -- and the fraud is finally exposed, after we have endured two or three decades of stagnant economies and even more dominant government as the basic energy pipeline of man *and* nature is crippled in the name of carbon suppression.

Who do you think will take the fall for all of it? The groundwork is already being laid now to ensure that it will not be the Left, but *science* that is discredited. Can you imagine what the "skeptical" science types, like the "New Atheists", will do in the face of such an outcry, after the biggest episode of crying wolf in history? They'll retreat even further into the funk of permanent cynicism and doubt that is the end-of-road for skepticism. They will indeed be done, if they aren't already.

Today, it is in the name of "scientific consensus" that we are exhorted to give up the fruits -- of science. Tomorrow, we will be told to give up science itself, because it just keeps getting us killed. And then we'll compromise; science will merely become heavily regulated under an increasingly theocratic, essentially totalitarian government. In other words, science and reason will become the handmaidens of theology. Sound familiar? Like pre-WHAT history?

That's the legacy that the hippie generation is poised to leave us. This is the scenario I visualize when I hear them going on about their "legacy" to future generations; not a degraded planet, but a degraded society of faith and force.

Nice legacy.

Gus Van Horn said...

And THIS is why fighting FOR the antidote, Ayn Rand's philosophy of reason is ultimately more important than concentrating too much on every individual crisis caused by this "one-two punch".

Just as various political quick fixes won't save our economy unless people in general start opposing statism, so will doggedly spending all our energy opposing global warming hysteria be a waste of effort.

FUNDAMENTAL change is necessary to end all these disasters and head off others. Until this happens, the left will keep on manufacturing new disasters and covering up the old ones.