David Thompson
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August 06, 2012

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rjmadden

Great. Kids are getting their knowledge of Middle East politics from a professor of folklore and Native American video.

Anna

admit that they would discriminate against openly conservative colleagues.

Is not being a lefty the new gay?

AC1

It's wonderful to be around at a time of seeing the left destroy universities and market forces just starting to provide alternatives and choices (and at massively lower costs).

Universities are turning into Zoos to keep political dinosaurs.

David

rjmadden,

“Great. Kids are getting their knowledge of Middle East politics from a professor of folklore and Native American video.”

Well, some of it at least. Though when it comes to Middle East politics and Islamic radicalism, I’m not sure I’d like my children to rely at all on Professor Shorter’s judgment. But if you need someone to get you up to speed on the “indigenous sexualities” of people “unfettered by materialism,” and the evils of the “totalising colonial mindset” – then, well, I guess he’s your guy.

The Professor Shorter incident is a relatively minor example of a common enough phenomenon, as illustrated by the reactions of the UCLA Committee on Academic Freedom. (Apparently academic freedom now includes the right to indulge in incongruous leftist boilerplate and to misinform one’s students with discredited documents.) But as David Horowitz and others have shown repeatedly, there are many, much more serious cases in which global economics, geopolitics and military history have been taught, badly, by people whose only qualification is in comparative literature. At which point, it’s not just the usual impropriety and arrogant presumption; it’s then a question of fraud.

And it’s worth noting the difference between, say, STEM subjects, where faculty seem to behave themselves, and fields that are often tendentious, attract mostly lefties and are consequently disreputable. I haven’t yet found a professor of chemistry, astronomy or electrical engineering who felt entitled to spend class time haranguing students on the evils of the Iraq war, as Rhonda Garelick did. Nor have I heard of any professors of structural engineering admitting they’d do their best to exclude people they regard as insufficiently socialist.

dicentra

I haven’t yet found a professor of chemistry, astronomy or electrical engineering who felt entitled to spend class time haranguing students on the evils of the Iraq war

Odd how having to hew to the laws of physics instills humility in a person, innit?

Not to mention how teaching in a field that provides real-world practical skills obviates the need to be significant, dammit! Look at me! Look at me! I'm changing the world!

David

dicentra,

“Not to mention how teaching in a field that provides real-world practical skills obviates the need to be significant, dammit!

Bingo.

sackcloth and ashes

The thing about academics like David Shorter is that they are arguing that (1) they are making academe a less elitist and more inclusive domain and (2) their work challenges the existing 'colonialist' mindset and gives a voice to the subaltern/the 'other'.

Firstly, as indeed Heather MacDonald notes with her piece on 'Great Courses' in 'City Journal', the courses offered like Prof Shorter's in UCLA exist despite and not because of demand. Academics of his ilk also add a further distance between themselves and those they teach with their use of po-mo language and other excessively convoluted jargon. For what could be more 'elitist' than teaching and writing in a language which an individual of above average intelligence simply cannot understand? You might as well do what the medieval priests did and preach to their congregations in Latin rather than the vernacular.

Secondly, there is an essential conceit on the part of the Shorters of this world that somehow their 'post-colonial' attitudes make them better able to understand the societies they study (and indeed political and social issues in the round) than maligned traditionalists. What makes Shorter think that he can actually interpret the cultures he writes about accurately, as opposed to imposing his own mental baggage on them, distorting understanding in the process? With his own intellectual arrogance, is he not committing the same sin as the proverbial district commissioner in 1930s colonial Africa or the North-West Frontier?

Thirdly, one of the traits which traditional scholars used to adhere to was that they accepted that they were specialists in their field, and that was that. The polymath was (and is) a rare beast, and the joke in academia used to be on all these funny little men (and they were usually men) who concentrated on the minutiae of their subjects. But Shorter seems to think that his fieldwork amongst native Americans somehow gives him a unique insight into a complex and convoluted conflict on the other side of the world. And he also thinks that the fact that he has a PhD (in an unrelated subject) privileges his view over that of the man and woman in the street. How 'elitist' is that?

dicentra

But Shorter seems to think that his fieldwork amongst native Americans somehow gives him a unique insight into a complex and convoluted conflict on the other side of the world.

Hey, an Indian's an Indian, right? Dot, feather, whatever.

David

dicentra,

The casual arrogance of these people is still striking, even now. It’s the belief that, by virtue of being leftwing, they’re entitled to use the classroom to propagate leftist politics, however incongruously, even if they’re actually employed to do something else entirely. For some, the scholarship, such as it is, seems little more than a pretext for political sermonising. Remember the comical Wahneema Lubiano, who claims to be “physically traumatised and psychologically assaulted” by global capitalism, despite being tenured at an elite university, and who wants to blur distinctions between teaching literature and leftist activism? “Whether I’m thinking, teaching or engaging in politics,” she says, “I think that it is part of my privilege, my work, and my pleasure to insist that those three activities are not clearly demarcated.”

And so Lubiano’s unfortunate students are urged to ponder the “relationship between literature and Marxist theory,” and to “attend to the thought of Marx,” while she brings into class her own “I heart Occupy Wall Street” placards. I think we can assume that refutations of Marxist thought – say, by Von Mises, Kolakowski or Thomas Sowell – won’t feature quite so prominently, if indeed at all. So much for “critical thinking.”

Jonathan

' So much for “critical thinking.” '
But David, they are critical. Of people who hold a different viewpoint.
Can I just say that I really hate the American convention of calling these people Liberals. Liberals believe in personal and economic freedom, these people are Socialists or Marxists who believe in neither.

David

Jonathan,

“But David, they are critical. Of people who hold a different viewpoint.”

More to the point, they’re remarkably intolerant - and in the creepiest of ways.

It’s what “critical thinkers” do, apparently.

Silver Whistle

If you take a liberal arts course in "Tribal Worldviews", especially one that lists as an important link Palestinian Protesters Dress As Avatar "Indigenous Beings" then really, you deserve what you get. And if you are a taxpayer funding that course, ditto. As a society and culture, we really have this coming to us. In spades.

Bart

"if you need someone to get you up to speed on the “indigenous sexualities” of people “unfettered by materialism,” and the evils of the “totalising colonial mindset” – then, well, I guess he’s your guy"

Actually, he seems completely incompetent to teach about tribal societies also. Tribal peoples as "unfettered by materialism" is the sort of nonsense you expect to read in books with dolphins and sparkly pentagrams on the cover, not in the works of genuine scholars. A big part of the Pacific Americans' Potlatch ceremonies, for example, is the competitive giving of gifts and conspicuous consumption of food, and often gratuitous destruction of goods, to demonstrate wealth to neighbouring communities and gain status thereby.

Not something you'd expect from peoples "unfettered by materialism" to do.

The good professor is either deliberately and flagrantly misleading his students, or he's not, in actuality, qualified to teach tribal anthropology. Or, more likely, both.

David

Bart,

I wouldn’t care to speculate on Professor Shorter’s expertise in Native American film and “indigenous sexualities.” But having browsed some of the professor’s material, I wouldn’t regard him as a credible source of insight into Middle East politics. Steering students to the Goldstone Report with no mention of its numerous, very serious errors and general mendacity doesn’t bode well. And given how readily Professor Shorter’s supporters use the terms “apartheid,” “racist” and “ethnic cleansing” to describe the policies of the Israeli government - but not those of its enemies, despite their explicit calls for the “obliteration” of Israel and the “annihilation” of the entire Jewish people, including all Jewish children - I’m not inclined to take them very seriously either.

sackcloth and ashes

'Steering students to the Goldstone Report with no mention of its numerous, very serious errors and general mendacity doesn’t bode well'.

Not to mention the fact that its eponymous author admits that its findings were flawed.

Rich Rostrom

Jonathan: Liberals believe in personal and economic freedom, these people are Socialists or Marxists who believe in neither.

To be fair, many of these people believe in absolute personal liberty in areas such as sex, drugs, and obscene or pornographic expression.

Many classsical liberals had similar attitudes. One of the tragic roots of the Spanish Civil War was the refusal of the "Republican Left" (anti-clerical, anti-monarchist) to see that the Red Left was anti-democratic, while the Catholic Right was not. The "social values" blinded them to the economic and political points.

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