May 15, 2014

"First they came..."

While reading Henninger’s piece I was reminded of this poetic version of a theme developed by Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller who repeatedly wrote about the “cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis' rise to power and the subsequent purging of their chosen targets, group after group.”
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.”
This is the danger of the ‘politically correct’ litmus test applied by extremists on both the Left and Right; it is a self-destructive spiral that ultimately results in a contest among the self-selecting ‘most correct’ as to which of them will be the final arbiter of what is acceptable. In the course of the battle, sadly, one finds the field littered with the remains of those who didn’t quite measure up to standard. During a brief foray into politics not too very  long ago, I was consistently immersed in this nonsense wherein candidates competed to prove just how much more ‘party pure’ or ‘true to the cause’ they were than their rivals...and the crowd (the few activists who cared enough to even attend a political event) expected–demanded–such. Lost, of course, was any opportunity to actually discuss issues and debate not only the nature of challenges but the merits of alternative solutions. We see this all the time at the national level–a given candidate not sufficiently Right- or Left-wing enough for the hardened extremists. The result: an increasing divide between left and right, rational people driven from the debate, a dysfunctional governing apparatus, and lost opportunity.

Ideological purity is unattainable and the policies that extend from such are un-implementable except by force…which leads to authoritarianism. It takes extraordinary effort to keep from veering into an extreme camp when one perceives that ‘the other side’ is irreconcilable and too much ground has been ‘lost.’ I do agree that at some point one has to say ‘enough,’ hold ground, then methodically and relentlessly push back but how that’s done and the costs extracted in the fight have to be thoughtfully considered otherwise greater things are lost in the process.
So what to do? For the 'common man' to care enough to be involved, to summon both the energy and the courage to say 'enough' when the extremists are on a rant, to realize that what we have enjoyed as a country and as a culture – based on profound principles that are at the heart of our foundational documents – is not permanent and can actually be lost. Take an interest. Get involved.

Bonfire of the Humanities
Christine Lagarde is the latest ritualistic burning of a college-commencement heretic.
Daniel Henninger
May 14, 2014 7:19 p.m. ET

It's been a long time coming, but America's colleges and universities have finally descended into lunacy.

Last month, Brandeis University banned Somali-born feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali as its commencement speaker, purporting that "Ms. Hirsi Ali's record of anti-Islam statements" violates Brandeis's "core values."

This week higher education's ritualistic burning of college-commencement heretics spread to Smith College and Haverford College.

On Monday, Smith announced the withdrawal of Christine Lagarde, the French head of the International Monetary Fund. And what might the problem be with Madame Lagarde, considered one of the world's most accomplished women? An online petition signed by some 480 offended Smithies said the IMF is associated with "imperialistic and patriarchal systems that oppress and abuse women worldwide." With unmistakable French irony, Ms. Lagarde withdrew "to preserve the celebratory spirit" of Smith's commencement.

On Tuesday, Haverford College's graduating intellectuals forced commencement speaker Robert J. Birgeneau to withdraw. Get this: Mr. Birgeneau is the former chancellor of UC Berkeley, the big bang of political correctness. It gets better.

Berkeley's Mr. Birgeneau is famous as an ardent defender of minority students, the LGBT community and undocumented illegal immigrants. What could possibly be wrong with this guy speaking at Haverford??? Haverfordians were upset that in 2011 the Berkeley police used "force" against Occupy protesters in Sproul Plaza. They said Mr. Birgeneau could speak at Haverford if he agreed to nine conditions, including his support for reparations for the victims of Berkeley's violence.

In a letter, Mr. Birgeneau replied, "As a longtime civil rights activist and firm supporter of nonviolence, I do not respond to untruthful, violent verbal attacks."

Smith president Kathleen McCartney felt obliged to assert that she is "committed to leading a college where differing views can be heard and debated with respect." And Haverford's president, Daniel Weiss, wrote to the students that their demands "read more like a jury issuing a verdict than as an invitation to a discussion or a request for shared learning."

Mr. Birgeneau, Ms. McCartney, Mr. Weiss and indeed many others in American academe must wonder what is happening to their world this chilled spring.

Here's the short explanation: You're all conservatives now.

Years ago, when the academic left began to ostracize professors identified as "conservative," university administrators stood aside or were complicit. The academic left adopted a notion espoused back then by a "New Left" German philosopher—who taught at Brandeis, not coincidentally—that many conservative ideas were immoral and deserved to be suppressed. And so they were.

This shunning and isolation of "conservative" teachers by their left-wing colleagues (with many liberals silent in acquiescence) weakened the foundational ideas of American universities—freedom of inquiry and the speech rights in the First Amendment.

No matter. University presidents, deans, department heads and boards of trustees watched or approved the erosion of their original intellectual framework. The ability of aggrieved professors and their students to concoct behavior, ideas and words that violated political correctness got so loopy that the phrase itself became satirical—though not so funny to profs denied tenure on suspicion of incorrectness. Offensive books were banned and history texts rewritten to conform.

No one could possibly count the compromises of intellectual honesty made on American campuses to reach this point. It is fantastic that the liberal former head of Berkeley should have to sign a Maoist self-criticism to be able to speak at Haverford. Meet America's Red Guards.

These students at Brandeis, Smith, Haverford and hundreds of other U.S. colleges didn't discover illiberal intolerance on their own. It is fed to them three times a week by professors of mental conformity. After Brandeis banned Ms. Hirsi Ali, the Harvard Crimson's editors wrote a rationalizing editorial, "A Rightful Revocation." The legendary liberal Louis Brandeis (Harvard Law, First Amendment icon) must be spinning in his grave.

Years ago, today's middle-aged liberals embraced in good faith ideas such as that the Western canon in literature or history should be expanded to include Africa, Asia, Native Americans and such. Fair enough. The activist academic left then grabbed the liberals' good faith and wrecked it, allowing the nuttiest professors to dumb down courses and even whole disciplines into tendentious gibberish.

The slow disintegration of the humanities into what is virtually agitprop on many campuses is no secret. Professors of economics and the hard sciences roll their eyes in embarrassment at what has happened to once respectable liberal-arts departments at their institutions. Like some Gresham's Law for Ph.D.s, the bad professors drove out many good, untenured professors, and that includes smart young liberals. Most conservatives were wiped out long ago.

One might conclude: Who cares? Parents are beginning to see that this is a $65,000-a-year scam that won't get their kids a job in an economy that wants quantification skills. Parents and students increasingly will flee the politicized nut-houses for apolitical MOOCs—massive open online courses.

Still, it's a tragedy. The loonies are becoming the public face of some once-revered repositories of the humanities. Sic transit whatever.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Dakota for writing this. I pray that more will open their eyes to see the direction we are headed is not optimal. Our country, I fear has taken too many steps down the slippery slope. We may never retrieve the solid ground of which we were founded.