Friday Ephemera
Attitude Correction

A Commonplace Extremism

KC Johnson touches on the Obama-Ayers controversy and develops a theme noted here more than once, i.e. the prevalence of ideological extremism in large parts of academia and its unilateral nature:

For the GOP attack [on Obama] to work, Ayers and [Columbia professor Rashid] Khalidi have to be viewed as exceptional figures - wholly unlike nearly all other professors.[…] Yet the truth of the matter is that the basic pedagogical and academic approaches of Ayers and Khalidi fit well within the academic mainstream. Ayers is, after all, a prestigious professor of education (hardly a field known for its intellectual diversity, as I have explored elsewhere). Khalidi was of such standing that Columbia hired him away from the U of C, and named him to chair its Middle East Studies Department. From that perch, he presided over a wildly biased anti-Israel curriculum, even as he informed readers of New York that students of Arab descent - and only such students - knew the “truth” about Middle Eastern affairs.

I agree with Palin that there’s a scandal here - but it’s not that Obama, among his hundreds of associations with academic figures, was acquainted with, and received support from, Ayers and Khalidi. The scandal is the evolution of a groupthink academic environment that has allowed figures such as Ayers and Khalidi to flourish. The tolerance for extremism is on one side and one side only: the academy doesn’t offer carte blanche endorsement to some types of unrepentant domestic terrorists or to figures who suggest that politically incorrect ethnic groups know the “truth.” Imagine the chances of someone who had bombed abortion clinics in the 1980s becoming a prominent education professor. Or consider the likelihood of a man who claimed that Jewish and only Jewish students knew the “truth” about Middle Eastern matters becoming chairman of a major Middle East Studies Department.

The whole thing.

Update, via the comments:

As a presidential candidate, Obama’s involvement with Ayers and Dohrn is obviously a matter of concern and attempts to downplay the issue have been largely disingenuous. There are questions to be answered, beginning with these. But it seems inadequate to limit that concern to Obama. Ayers – now a “distinguished professor of education” (with tenure) - has flourished in a particular environment, one which not only excuses his past extremism and lack of contrition, but which actively enables his ongoing extremism and his urge to indoctrinate. The journey from terrorist to tenure has, it seems, been achieved with only a change of method rather than a change of core ideology. Violent revolution has essentially been swapped for indoctrination, sanitised as “reform”. In ideological terms, Ayers is scarcely less incoherent and extreme than he was when urging students to kill their parents. That he finds academia so congenial, and so obliging, probably tells us something.

Ayers_the_dissenter_2With their vision of schools as “sites of resistance” and their imaginings of martyrdom and “dissent,” Ayers and Dohrn are both pernicious and absurd. But so is Shakti Butler and so is Caprice Hollins, and Peggy McIntosh, and Wahneema Lubiano and Rhonda Garelick, and Noel Ignatiev and Geoff Schneider. Setting aside Ayers’ criminal past, it’s not clear to me what makes him more objectionable than Noel Ignatiev, who publishes the deranged journal Race Traitor and whose students learn that “whiteness is a form of racial oppression” and should therefore be “abolished,” and that “treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity.” Ignatiev and his Race Traitor colleagues declare their refusal to “limit themselves to socially acceptable means of protest,” and find it “hard to believe” opposition to their ideas could come from anyone except “committed white supremacists”. After all, who but a “committed white supremacist” could possibly take exception to the cultural and psychological eradication of the “social construct known as the white race”? And who else could possibly be concerned that these enlightened beings “reject in advance no means of attaining their goal”?

How is Ayers’ political outlook worse than that of Wahneema Lubiano, who seems to think having brown skin is a career in itself and insists there can be no distinction between her work in the classroom and the advancement of her own bizarre political agenda? Lubiano confidently asserts that “knowledge factories” [i.e. universities] should be “sabotaged” – by those who think as she does, naturally. Her courses in “critical studies” and “race and gender” are construed in such a way that students can be told, at length, that “once white working class people learn that corporate capitalism is using racism to manipulate them, they will want to join with racially oppressed people against capitalism.” (Do parents realise this is what’s costing them $40,000 a year?)

These unhinged educators aren’t just random, unrelated aberrations and they don’t exist in a vacuum. Consequently, it’s not enough to ask Obama how he felt about working with Ayers and endorsing his efforts. One also has to ask how it is that academia became a favoured nesting site for far left fantasists. Not just for people with the usual range of arguments about public spending or welfare or whatever, but people whose worldview is intensely ideological and who feel entitled to “groom” youngsters with the “correct” political outlook.

I want my own “site of resistance.” Feel free to help fund its construction.