Feel My Rebellion
January 02, 2008
Following recent posts on academic groupthink and campus indoctrination, this may be of interest. Mark Bauerlein ponders oppositional narcissism and the rebel professor:
The Adversarial Campus Argument… says that the campus must contest the mainstream, that higher education must critique U.S. culture and society because they have drifted rightward… Several points against the Adversarial Campus Argument spring to mind, but a single question explodes it. If Democrats won the White House in ‘08 and enlarged their majorities in Congress, and if a liberal replaced Scalia on the Supreme Court, would adversarial professors adjust their turf accordingly? Would Hillary in the White House bring Bill Kristol a professorship or Larry Summers a presidency again?
Hardly, and it goes to show that the Adversarial Campus Argument isn’t really an argument. It’s an attitude. And attitudes aren’t overcome by evidence, especially when they do so much for people who bear them. For, think of what the Adversarial Campus does for professors. It flatters the ego, ennobling teachers into dissidents and gadflies. They feel underpaid and overworked, mentally superior but underappreciated, and any notion that compensates is attractive. It gives their isolation from zones of power, money, and fame a functional value. Yes, they’re marginal, but that’s because they impart threatening ideas.
The idea of academic administrators and professors picturing themselves as Luke Skywalker figures - pitted against an evil empire of oppressive bourgeois vales - is rather quaint and not without comic potential. And, as we’ve seen, ‘rebellion’ of this kind is often difficult to distinguish from absurdity, psychodrama and reactionary role-play. Take, for instance, Dr Caprice Hollins, a speaker on “multicultural issues” and currently the Director of Equity, Race and Learning for Seattle’s public schools. Hollins has famously criticised individualism, long-term planning (or “future time orientation”) and the speaking of grammatical English as “white values.” The expectation among teachers that all students should be responsible individuals and meet certain linguistic and organisational standards is, according to Hollins, a form of “cultural racism.” When not denouncing punctuality and the ability to communicate, Dr Hollins finds time to deconstruct the “myth” of Thanksgiving as “a happy time.” Speaking of her appointment in 2004, Hollins announced,
“Now I’ll be part of a system that some people see as an oppressive system. So it’s kind of this dual role - on one hand I’m part of the system and on the other, I have the role of dismantling that institutional racism… They wouldn't have hired me if there wasn't a need. I just need to find out what that need is.”
Some three years later, Hollins admitted to the Seattle Times that she had, in fact, managed to find no evidence of institutional racism in Seattle’s public schools. Dr Hollins is, of course, still employed and still claiming her $86,000 salary. Without a flicker of irony or concession, Hollins has subsequently extended her mission beyond the school gates. In order to find unspeakable wickedness “within the school system”, she is now reduced to turning over stones in children’s summer holidays, which, she claims, constitute “an example of systemic problems.” Dr Hollins is, alas, one of many Witchfinders General, whose sensitivity to oppression is apparently paranormal and whose mission to purge improper thought is unimpeded by reality.
And here’s the thing. Adversarial role-play of this kind has very little to do with how the world actually is. It does, however, have a great deal to do with how those concerned wish to seem. In order to maintain a self-image of heroic radicalism - and in order to justify funding, influence and status - great leaps of imagination, or paranoia, may be required. Hence the goal posts of persecution tend to move and new and rarer forms of oppression have to be discovered, many of which are curiously invisible to the untrained eye. The rebel academic tends towards extremism, intolerance and absurdity, not because the mainstream of society is becoming more racist, prejudiced, patriarchal or oppressive – but precisely because it isn’t.
Fund my bourgeois conformity. I have people to oppress.