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February 2010

I Don’t Deserve This Shabby Treatment

Dicentra steers us to an article by Jere P Surber, a professor of philosophy at the University of Denver. Professor Surber is explaining why the humanities incline so heavily to the left. In doing so, he reveals a surprisingly explicit note of personal and collective envy: 

There’s no secret that the liberal arts are the lowest-compensated sector of academe, despite substantially more advanced study than business instructors and the equivalent of those in the natural sciences... You don’t have to be a militant Marxist to recognize that people’s political persuasions will align pretty well with their economic interests. It’s real simple: Those who have less and want more will tend to support social changes that promise to accomplish that... Who, after all, would want to preserve a situation in which others who are equivalently educated and experienced - doctors, engineers, lawyers, scientists, colleagues in other areas, and, yes, chief executives - receive vastly more compensation, sometimes by a factor of 10 or 100?

Professor Surber feels undervalued by the base calculus of the market and clearly he’s essential to the working of the world. How can it be that doctors and engineers are thought more valuable more than him, a professor of philosophy? Society must be transformed to correct this abomination. To illustrate the magnitude of the injustice at hand, the professor shifts from resentment to self-congratulation:

A second reason that liberal-arts professors tend to be politically liberal is that they have very likely studied large-scale historical processes and complex cultural dynamics.

Studies that must – simply must - lead one to the higher plains of the left. Note the implicit conceit that non-leftist outlooks lead to simplistic conclusions, unlike those who turn by default to the state and its enlargement.

Most of those in the liberal arts have concluded that there really isn’t any other intellectually respectable way to interpret the broad contours of history and culture. They are liberal, in other words, by deliberate and reasoned choice, based upon the best available evidence.

Readers may think that a liberal arts education should expose students to a variety of viewpoints and ideas to be tested. But apparently that messy and time consuming business is no longer necessary. Professor Surber and his peers have already determined the only respectable position. 

This boldness prompts Jonah Goldberg to raise an obvious question:

If liberal academics are such close and obedient students of the best available evidence, how to explain their refusal - or, to be more charitable, longstanding tardiness - to acknowledge the evidence supporting the superiority of markets, the evils of the Soviet Union or the flaws in various academic fads? To be fair I’m painting with a broad brush (but so is he). Still, as gross generalization, the idea that English, Philosophy, and Sociology professors have been at the forefront of following the evidence wherever it takes them is just hilariously absurd.

The academic left is of course renowned for its rigour and impartiality, its open-minded enquiry, and a willingness to engage honestly with challenging ideas

And there’s another, incidental issue to ponder. It perhaps has some relevance to the aforementioned complexity. In many arts subjects, especially those tethered only loosely to evidence, logic or practical verification, there’s often pressure to avoid the obvious and prosaic, even when the obvious and prosaic is true. The obligation to be unobvious, if only for the benefit of one’s academic peers, may help explain the more fanciful assertions from some practitioners of the liberal arts. Consider, for instance, Duke’s professor miriam cooke, who refuses to capitalise her name, thus drawing attention to her egalitarian radicalism and immense creativity. Professor cooke’s subtlety of mind is evident in her claim that the oppression and misogyny found in the Islamic world is actually the fault of globalisation and Western colonialism, despite the effects predating their alleged causes by several centuries. Professor cooke also tells us that “polygamy can be liberating and empowering” – a statement that may strike readers as somewhat dubious. It does, however, meet the key criteria of being both edgy and unobvious.

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Elsewhere (18)

Christopher Hitchens on a people made small in every sense.

The United States and its partners make up in aid for the huge shortfall in North Korea’s food production, but there is not a hint of acknowledgement of this by the authorities, who tell their captive subjects that the bags of grain stenciled with the Stars and Stripes are tribute paid by a frightened America to the Dear Leader. […] A North Korean is on average six inches shorter than a South Korean. You may care to imagine how much surplus value has been wrung out of such a slave, and for how long, in order to feed and sustain the militarized crime family that completely owns both the country and its people.

Gerard Alexander on the condescension of our betters. Via

In this view, we should pay attention to conservative voters’ underlying problems but disregard the policy demands they voice; these are illusory, devoid of reason or evidence. This form of liberal condescension implies that conservative masses are in the grip of false consciousness. When they express their views at town hall meetings or “tea party” gatherings, it might be politically prudent for liberals to hear them out, but there is no reason to actually listen.

Ron Radosh on the polemicist and pseudo-historian Howard Zinn.

Zinn added that his hope was that his work will spread new rebellion, and “lead into a larger movement for economic justice.” [...]  Zinn candidly said that history was not about “understanding the past,” but rather, about “changing the future.” That statement alone should have disqualified anyone from referring to him as a historian.

And Roger Kimball on the same. 

During his disreputable tenure as a professor at Boston University, Howard Zinn did everything in his power to subvert the university... He would, for example, pass around his classes a bag containing bits of paper imprinted with the letters A or B. Whichever token a student picked denominated his grade, no matter what work he did or didn’t do. The point? It wasn’t merely grade inflation. More insidiously, it was an expression of contempt for the entire enterprise of which he was a privileged beneficiary.

Feel free to add your own.

Friday Ephemera

Precision parking. A 57” wide car meets a 61” wide garage. // The pencil crossbow. // Frog petting. // Octopus claims coconut. // A tornado made of wool. (h/t, Coudal) // Tape measure skillz. (h/t, The Thin Man) // The physics of Mega Shark. // Embalming for beginners. // A brief history of the computer. // Evolving robots. // Online egg timer. // McDonald’s menu items from around the world. // How to advertise tuna fish. // Eagle cam. // Treegate. (h/t, Mr E) // Tokyo’s N Building. // A-ki-ra! // Russians at the North Pole, circa 1950. // Devices and debris orbiting Earth. // The scale of the universe. // Aliens: the rap version. 

Reheated (6)

For newcomers, three more items from the archives.


Mandatory lesbianism and the politics of shoes. A video history of radical feminism.

“It was a fantastic bit of graffiti and everybody had it up on their walls. And then we found out that a man had done the graffiti. We were just like, ‘Right, that’s it.’ We were basically going to go round and brick his house ‘til we found out he lived with women and children [laughs] … then of course we couldn’t do it, yeah.”

I Sense A Malign Presence.

Meet Jane Elliott: “diversity” pioneer and Witchfinder General for the modern age.

Note Elliott’s disregard for context, motive or objective criteria. “Perception is everything,” says she. By which she means the perception, or misperception, of one party only. This is the premise of Elliott’s crusade – to provide moral correction for all pale-skinned people. The particulars of an exchange and who did what to whom are all but immaterial; what matters is which party belongs to the Designated Victim Group, as defined by Jane Elliott and others in the trade.

The Wrong Kind of Rich.

Wealthy Guardianistas deserve hefty salaries. Unlike you.

Toynbee’s Guardian salary, for years a subject of speculation, was eventually revealed as £106,000 - excluding royalties, advances, media fees, etc. Presumably Polly feels her own financial rewards are not at all “extravagant” or “unjust,” or a likely cause of public outrage. It seems, then, that Ms Toynbee only dislikes the wrong kind of rich people, which is to say rich people whose politics and backgrounds may differ from her own.

And the updated greatest hits may reward some rummaging.

The Monbiot Fatwa

Armed with a “bounty fund” of over £9000, George Monbiot has been urging Guardian readers to effect a citizen’s arrest of Tony Blair, ostensibly for committing “an illegal act of mass murder” and “crimes against peace.” (Mercifully, this bounty doesn’t extend to parliament or a sizeable part of the British electorate.) Monbiot’s campaign website includes the former prime minister’s public schedule and a charmingly ambiguous assurance:

The fund will remain open for as long as Mr Blair lives, or until he is officially prosecuted.

The proposal met with much whooping and hooting among Guardian readers, with more than a few enthusiastic endorsements:  

I would actually like Blair’s blood on my hands.

Elsewhere, saner voices have noted some procedural concerns.

Blair hasn’t been found guilty of anything by any court, tribunal or other competent forum unless you count the High Court of Islington (Chattering Class Division).


Amusingly, if someone did act in this way as a result of Monbiot’s urgings, Monbiot would also be liable, as he would have procured the wrong and the wrongdoer’s actions would also be attributed to him. I would suggest, as well, that his employer, the Guardian, would be vicariously liable for Monbiot’s wrongdoing.

Readers may recall George’s earlier attempt to arrest former US ambassador John Bolton, which didn’t go terribly well. I perhaps don’t need to add that some of us were hoping to see Mr Bolton decking Monbiot personally, quite firmly, and maybe more than once.

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