A Flattering Consensus
June 02, 2008
NeoNeocon highlights an article by Crispin Sartwell in the LA Times, titled The Smog of Academic Consensus. In it, Sartwell notes the overwhelming political bias among faculty, especially in the humanities, and points to its self-reinforcing nature.
And because there’s a consensus, there is precious little self-examination; a slant that we all share becomes invisible… Academic consensus is a particularly irritating variety of groupthink. First of all, the fact that everyone agrees and everyone has a doctorate leads to the occasionally explicit idea that all intelligent people think the same thing - that no one could disagree with, say, Obama-ism, without being an idiot… [A] professor has been educated, often for a decade or more, by the very institutions that harbor this unanimity. Every new generation of professors has been steeped in an atmosphere in which the authorities all agree and in which they associate agreement with intelligence - and with degrees, jobs, tenure and so on. If you’ve been taught that conservatives are evil idiots, then conservatism itself justifies a decision not to hire or tenure one. Every new leftist minted by graduate programs is an act of self-praise, a confirmation of the intelligence of the professors.
For vivid illustrations of this phenomenon in action, Indoctrinate U is a good place to start. See also this, this and this.
This interview with Indoctrinate U’s director, Evan Maloney, may also be of interest. Here’s a taste.
If we look at it today, it appears that in academia, the long march has succeeded. The ideology of the Frankfurt School now seems to be the default position among academics. But even though the roots of the movement may go back that far, it really was in the late 1960s when today’s crop of academics became politically active. Anti-war activists in the late 1960s ran the risk of getting drafted for Vietnam. And because they opposed that war, they naturally wanted to stay out of the fighting. So a lot of them worked around the draft by going into academic programs that would allow them to avoid the war. And finding an environment that they found friendly to their views, they stayed. And their presence served as an advertisement to like-minded people who may not have wanted to go work for ‘the man’ in the private sector. This attracted more fellow travellers into academia.
By the late 1970s, there was enough of a critical mass of ideologically-driven academics that they began to amass power within academic institutions. By controlling hiring committees, they were able to ensure that their colleagues were as ‘ideologically pure’ as they were. And by attaining power within school administrations, they were able to institute policies such as speech codes that tried to ensure that same ideological purity from their students. By the mid-1980s, we started seeing political correctness dictate the intellectual environment on campuses, and people started facing academic retribution for saying things that were ‘incorrect’ and for thinking things that ran counter to the dominant thinking. Groupthink set in, and the group became more extreme in the conformity that it demanded from people.
If students and faculty are spared serious, thoughtful contact with opposing arguments, their own views can easily become lazy, reflexive and glib. One can simply feel one is right, or ought to be, and that may be the end of the process. This should matter irrespective of one’s political leanings. If a person wants to be right about a given issue, it helps to know why their ideas are sound, if indeed they are. And knowing why an idea is sound generally arises from that idea being tested, vigorously, by people who disagree.