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Friday, August 25, 2017

Academics must defend intellectual integrity

The university tenure system was designed to let 'em do that. Yet they're only concerned with being safe.

L ast week on one of the cable channels—it must have been Fox, since it's the only one that still has much contact with reality these days—they had a historian, a stereotypical tweedy academic, bowtie and all, who suggested that maybe instead of tearing down historical statues of Confederates we should just add new ones of popular celebrities.

He meant civil rights leaders, but hey, why not? A Snoop Dogg statue, maybe one of Oprah. But why stop there? Turn our city parks into Disneyland. Take away historical figures that inspire students to learn and replace them with Spongebob. Get rid of all that boring history crap.

And so I found myself once again yelling at the TV—a bad habit for sure. Of all the people in the world who should be standing up for history, it should be an academic historian. It is the sole reason the tenure system was created.

But no. It seems that academics have a rule that they're not supposed to care about mundane things like whether their field gets taken over and discredited by politics.

The only thing academics are good at these days is defending their own sinecures. We have one guy here who makes it his mission to shoot down any research that comes close to infringing on his field. The university had an investor lined up ready to hand over a million bucks to develop one of my inventions. This guy, by making it clear he had to be involved in any such venture, and that since the idea wasn't one of his it must suck, talked them out of it.

A couple months later, somebody somewhere else published a paper on the same thing, showing that the method works spectacularly well. In his zeal to protect his own turf, this guy cost his own university at least a million dollars.

This was in science, but it's just as bad elsewhere. By being concerned only with their own personal well-being, tenured academics are tolerating the corruption of their academic field. It could mean we'll soon be in a country where the concept of history is discredited, just as the concept of news has been.

Washington, it is said, owned slaves. So students, Taliban-style, tear down statues and dream of blowing up Mount Rushmore. If unopposed, they'll end by naming cities and states by number, in grim Soviet style. Washington could be renamed City No. 1 and Oklahoma renamed State No. 46, just as the Soviet Union, in its expression of dominance, created Tractor Factory No. 147.

Failure to speak out against this trend is to accept a country with no past, no monuments to attract tourists, and no shared memories. It would guarantee a gray, cement world with no sense of itself and therefore no future. Like it or not, academics are our intellectual leaders. Yet most of them only seem to be concerned with protecting their own turf.

People are asking where it all ends. They know the answer: it ends nowhere.

Some commentators are already rationalizing: they're only statues, inanimate objects. And the free market will save us. Anyway, what can be done? They are like those elderly people who drive at 15 miles an hour and sit at redlights for 3 or 4 cycles with their left turn signal blinking. Their opponents are like the ones who cut in front of them at red lights, pass them at stop signs, and give the finger to anyone who gets in their way.

The other day Jason Morgan wrote a great article comparing the left's attempts to erase history with eunuch Zhao Gao's erasure of Chinese history under the brutal emperor Qin Shi Huangdi. Zhao's strategy was to put forward an obvious falsehood, such as bringing in a deer and calling it a horse. Anyone who dared to point out that it was a deer was killed.

Zhao preferred to work with the easily duped, and had no spare time for critical thinkers. Those who were willing to commit intellectual suicide in order to maintain their positions were precisely the kinds of people whom Zhao Gao knew he could manipulate into doing his bidding.

In the end Zhao was denied tenure, so to speak: he and all his relatives were massacred. Morgan's argument is that we misunderstand the sickness in our universities. Academics are not purged for their political views, but because they refuse to lie.*

Politics provides useful indices for gauging others' willingness to be cooperatively disingenuous, but when we hear that the groves of academe are politicized, what is really meant is not so much partisan politics per se as the politics required to maintain the academy's carefully fortressed mendacity.

Tenure and the university system were created not as a reward for being really, really smart but to give academics the protection they need to maintain the intellectual integrity of their field. Right now we need historians to explain to the public whether they believe historical memories are worth preserving. Ordinary people can't say it without getting fired; tenured academics have to speak up.

If they don't, they're no better than those who will call a deer a horse to save their ass. The university system will no longer serve its purpose and it will be replaced. And we'll be stuck with a population like the 10,000 people in Boston last week who were so easily duped they got tricked into demonstrating against freedom of speech.

* Note added, oct 13, 2017: This is not such a clear-cut distinction: they are usually purged for violating political correctness. But, as I have often maintained, the essence of PC is pretense.

aug 25, 2017; last edited oct 13, 2017, 3:37 am

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