Monday, May 01, 2006

Betrayal in the Humanities Requires Student Bill of Rights

I have been a philosophy professor for about 27 years. In a nutshell David Horowitz is right. We absolutely do need a Student Bill of Rights to ensure not just academic freedom but reasonable discourse in general. As things are, with the ever-growing strength of Relativist Studies and all its permutations, the steady march forward of scientifically dubious Psychologies, and the leftist propaganda implicit in Service Learning curricula, PC hokum now tends to squelch logic and reasonable discourse on just about any day in the hallowed halls of the Humanities, in particular, and throughout the University in general. The more interesting question, though, is how this came to be.

My sense is it occurred when Humanities professors -- Philosophy, Literature and History in particular -- abdicated their professional responsibility to teach and analyze great works on their own terms and began instead to yearn for the prestige they imagined to exist in the Social Sciences. Suddenly we in the Humanities wanted to be scientists too, albeit pseudo-scientists, but scientists nonetheless. After Marx, Nietzsche and Freud had proclaimed that philosophy is praxis, God is dead, and morality is merely sublimation, we foolishly lost our way. After World War II, up until the advent of the PC revolution of the 1970’s, the discipline of Philosophy, for example, had been reduced in most American universities to the analytic logic chopping of moral arguments, existential/phenomenological bewilderment and the spinning of Aristotelian metaphysical arguments for theologians in a godless world. All real social advancement appeared to be happening in the Sciences, even the limping Social Sciences.

These were times of despair for the Humanities: “Why couldn’t we be scientists like the Psychologists and Sociologists?” we wondered. Then from the Social Sciences came structuralism which allowed us in the Humanities to analyze all books in the context of linguistic structures rather than in terms of what they actually said. But better was on the horizon. As if by magic, our final salvation arrived in the form of post-Freudian/post-structuralist/post-modernism. All books were now magically transformed into “texts” and all texts were meta-texts. Beyond all odds, we now believed we had been deigned “scientists”. The world had become our oyster. Old Humanities had entered the game again and become a new branch of Science: SUBJECTIVIST Science. And we had some serious science work to do. In our newly deigned scientific minds, Humanities departments would root out all those silent social diseases. We would cure academia of the heartbreak of Phallo-logo-centrist, patriarchal, post-colonial, marginalizing oppressive LATE CAPITALISM. Oh yes, now that we in the Humanities were scientists too (even if only in our own minds), by golly, we were going to change some things. And we did.

We teamed up with the Social Sciences and together became the self-officiated doctors and subjectivist scientists of social disorder. The 70’s, 80’s and 90’s had become heady times in the rebirth of Humanities. Anything could be science so long as we said it was. Since Knowledge itself was now defined as a cultural artifact, we believed we could even reject objective science itself in the name of our subjectivist scientific demonstrations of the oppressiveness of objective science to marginalized peoples and underrepresented genders. Now we in the Humanities, with the mercenary aid we had received from Psychology the limping sister of Biology, could define and then enforce standards of mental and social health by our own dialogical methods. Even more important, with the patina of Psychology we then began to enforce those standards through the strength of the designation of Humanities as a sort of cultural “science.” Now, in the Humanities, we too could diagnose social disease and discover new truths about poverty and gender. As self-designated post-modern scientists we in the Humanities could now find and define oppressed people any way we chose.

No longer would we even have to read mere books. Oh no, not nearly science-y enough for us, now that we joined forces with the Social Sciences. We would now deconstruct “texts” with our new found voice. And as we worked our way into administrative positions we soon would be able to dominate the very means of truth determination in the University. We would soon even try to use our special subjective post-modern science to squelch objective science. After all now we subjectivist scientists were the only scientists who had this new specialized ability to diagnose any text, every text, any thought, every thought with some variety of mental/social illness.
We in the Humanities had deified and begun to shamelessly worship the Social Sciences. As a consequence Humanities professors gave up reading and struggling with great books in order to gasp the ideas actually written within them. Now actual grasping content and engaging in pointed reasonable arguments about meaning and morality could be replaced by academic shunning, drive-by psychoanalysis and the shrill ad hominem invective of paltry Humanities faculty striving to keep their newfound spot in their newly developed PC illusion of a social science.
Once all books had been replaced by “texts,” we too could imagine we were in the scientific business of textual analysis rather than our authentic professions of reading, writing and arguing about new ideas based on a strong appreciation of our heritage. We in the Humanities had silently given up the free exchange of ideas in order to protect our new fantasy that we had the same sorts of inflexible truths we mistakenly imagined the real scientists to have. But unlike real science where every hypothesis and every theory is only true insofar as it is as of yet unfalsified, we in the Humanities became intellectual fascists. Our absolute adherence to our favored ideologies was beyond mere objective truth. Our favored ideologies were subjectively true. Coercive dialogue had replaced honest dialectic. Disagreement was anathema. We now felt the truth, we loved the truth and no argument could convince us otherwise. “Truth” in the Humanities had become the allegiance to the group, and was determined by the group to which our allegiance was bound. The Humanities, as it attempted to transform itself into a species of Social Science, had become no less than an extremist religion. And like every extremist religion the Humanities became oppressive, dangerous and utterly self deceived. Rather than pointing out the incoherent confusion that oozes from the social sciences, or attacking the Social Sciences for their paltry presumptions, we in the Humanities allied ourselves with the Social Sciences. In so doing we betrayed our students and our genuine professions. We in the Humanities are, if nothing else, the guardians of our culture, and when we became to be the PC hit squad for the Social Scientists we betrayed the 4,000 years of Western culture entrusted to us.

Still, I remain an optimist. The inexorable pitiless hand of real economic forces guarantees a change is on the horizon for the foppish presumptions of the PC Humanitarians. That one real Social Science will pay us our just deserts. PC will disappear once the students who have to pay about $200,000 for a four-year degree begin to choose not to pay the salaries of the PC black shirts by rejecting notoriously PC institutions in favor of intellectually honest colleges and universities. When the PC pushers got their degrees they could work a summer job to pay for it. Not that many of them did. But they easily could have. Not so now. My students know this, and they become less and less patient with PC hokum when they look at their astronomical debt and realize that as they listen hour after hour about phallologocentrism, post-colonialism, victim feminism, and the patriarchy that this enlightened discourse is costing them around... at 120 credits or 40 classes for a BA degree, with about 36 actual teacher-contact hours per course per semester… oh $2.31 per minute!

I am certain PC Colleges and Universities across the nation are soon to get a real-life lesson in economics and it won't be altogether Marxist. $2.31 per minute for PC bullying is a bit more than the pathetic students the PC professors have deemed mentally/socially ill are going to pay. Either we in our fields stop the PC nonsense on our own, or Humanities departments will simply disappear as those students who actually suffer to pay for our armchair indulgences as well as our homes simply stop buying our product.


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