In many ways, academia is a cult.
No, really. I can’t swipe the whole thing, but, for Pete’s sake:
- The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law. Karl Marx, call your office.
- Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished. Wear a Right to Life t-shirt to class and watch what happens.
- Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s). Re-read the Explaining Academia series, and tell me that’s not mind-altering.
- The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth). Do you serve vegan free range soy gluten-free water?
- The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt iin order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion. Most humanities seminars are little more than struggle sessions.
Et cetera ad nauseam. Read the whole thing.
Like other cults, academia has limited appeal. Unless you went to a strictly religious school or — wisely — didn’t go to college at all, I guarantee you’ve been exposed to everything I’ve written about in the Explaining Academia series. You probably don’t even remember it, as it didn’t “take,” just as streetcorner preaching doesn’t take for most people. “Oh, you say the UFO is hiding behind the Hale-Bopp Comet? Fascinating. I, umm…. I’m going to go stand over here now.”
“Let me tell you about Karl Marx”….
There are others among us, though, for whom these nonsensical ravings are the key to life. This is their story.
Let’s take it from the top. From the moment you step foot on campus, you’re told that Race, Class, and Gender are the only important forces at work in the world. These simply bounce off many people, the way fitness freak jargon bounces off a lazy bastard like myself. “Yeah, sure. Carbo-loading. VO2max. Feel the burn and so forth. I, umm…. I’m going to go stand over here now.”
Yeah, this dude’s got a PhD in biochemistry
For others, this declaration seems trivially true. You’d be a totally different person if you were of another race, class, and gender, no? But, as an old buddy of mine used to say, if your aunt had balls she’d be your uncle. What’s the point? You just repeat it on the test, then forget it.
But for a small segment of the population, this declaration isn’t just true, it’s The Truth. It explains everything. Most importantly, it explains why they’ve felt like rejects their whole lives. Like they’re the only ones who get it. Why were all my high school classmates obsessed with fashion? Advertising – capitalists creating a market through status signaling. Why won’t that cute guy talk to me? Patriarchy. Why do I feel so lost and incomplete, even though 75% of the world’s population would trade places with me in a heartbeat? White privilege. Throw Sexuality into the mix, and you’ve just explained — in simple, easy sentences — why every limp-wristed pimply dork in America feels like a loser.
In one fell swoop, you’ve flipped the script. Now the cool kids are the losers, because they don’t have access to the arcane knowledge you do. They are slaves to Madison Avenue and hormones; you are free, a member of the intellectual elite.
Everything builds from there. As David Stove pointed out, we’re all at least somewhat susceptible to Gem arguments. Most of us don’t really believe that the tautology “whatever will be, will be” absolves us of all our obligations…. but it sure is a handy way to get out of doing something unpleasant. And Gems are especially tempting when combined with an appeal to ignorance — we can only know what our Race/Class/Gender situation allows us to know, after all…..
I’ll give you an example. In 1979, terrorist-sympathizing Literature professor Edward Said published Orientalism, which more or less founded (or, at least, mainstreamed) the discipline of Postcolonial Studies. Here‘s how he defined his key concept:
Orientalism is a style of thought based upon ontological and epistemological distinction made between “the Orient” and (most of the time) “the Occident.” Thus a very large mass of writers, among who are poet, novelists, philosophers, political theorists, economists, and imperial administrators, have accepted the basic distinction between East and West as the starting point for elaborate accounts concerning the Orient, its people, customs, “mind,” destiny, and so on. . . . the phenomenon of Orientalism as I study it here deals principally, not with a correspondence between Orientalism and Orient, but with the internal consistency of Orientalism and its ideas about the Orient . . despite or beyond any corrsespondence [sic], or lack thereof, with a “real” Orient.
Most folks, if they bothered to sit down and translate this from academese, would say all that gobbledygook is just a pretentious version of Kipling’s “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” Which anyone who has ever watched anime knows, and the gulf only grows the more you know (try learning an Asian language if you don’t believe me).
And because this is trivially true, normal folks are tempted to draw a trivial conclusion — that, while it’s probably a good idea for historians and literature professors and whatnot to know what ” poet, novelists, philosophers, political theorists, economists, and imperial administrators” thought about their subjects, it doesn’t much matter for the rest of us. If we want to know the “real” “Orient,” we’ll go there; meanwhile, everyone knows that stereotypes are just that. So why, normal folks might ask, is this Edward Said cat such a huge deal in egghead circles?
It has to do with “the Other.” Said didn’t invent this term, nor its ugly verb form “Othering,” but he popularized them. According to Postcolonialists, people think in terms of their own group, and groups are defined “dialectically” or “discursively.” I only know I’m “white,” say, by contrasting myself to “black,” and the more precisely I know “black,” the more secure I am in my “whiteness.” What it is to be actually black, I neither know nor care, because they exist only as Other to me, as a mirror of my whiteness.
Have you spotted the Gem yet?
This way of “thinking” is incredibly seductive, because there’s nothing — literally nothing — it can’t reduce to “discourse.” And once you’ve reduced a subject to “discourse,” you’re completely argument-proof. You can say the most ridiculous things, and nobody can prove you wrong, because proof itself is a “discourse,” a “technology,” a “social construction.”
I know what you’re thinking. Since you’re a devoted reader of Rotten Chestnuts, you recall The Ishmael Effect, another brilliant Stove-ism (seriously, I cannot recommend this guy enough). If you don’t feel like clicking, the Ishmael Effect is
The claimed ability of some philosophical theory to escape from the fate to which it condemns all other discourse.
If I can only see the world through my “discourse,” then how do I know my “discourse” is true? If “whiteness” is defined against “blackness” and vice versa, then how can anyone really know anything? Come to think of it, if we can only see the world through the lens of our “class situation,” then how did you, Karl Marx, see beyond your own “class situation” enough to tell us that nobody can see beyond his class situation? Marx’s answer, as we know, is “shut up, that’s why,” and when a Bolshevik kommissar is holding a gun to your head and shipping you and your whole family off to Siberia, it’s remarkably persuasive. Profs don’t have that kind of power (and would, in fact, be the first ones shot if their beloved Revolution ever actually came to pass*), but they do have the gradebook, which is sufficient in a college classroom.
But, again: That’s “logic,” comrades, which we all know is just another bourgeois “social construction.” Ishmael claims and Gem arguments aren’t supposed to be logical. They’re para-thought, a kind of intellectual bandage to let you jump from a trivial truth to some huge, portentous claim about Society. It’s not supposed to be true. It’s just supposed to feel good. Why does ____ have it better than me? Because Patriarchy. Or “white privilege.” Or capitalism. Or whatever.
And y’all can trust me on this, because I’ve been there — this way of “thinking” is incredibly powerful. It’s intoxicating. It’s like you see the Matrix for the first time.
You can’t help but generate all kinds of exciting new insights. You couldn’t shut them off if you tried!! On paper, “A is A, therefore B” is retarded, but in a classroom, where authority figures with big degrees and published books pat you on the head every time you trot out another Gem, it’s an indescribable rush — you were right all along, and all those jocks and cheerleaders who made life hell back in high school can suck it!!!!
Is it any wonder, then, that these people venture out into the world wide web and behave as they do? Is it any wonder that professional academics and pundits, whose entire worlds are designed to never let reality intrude, can speak and act and vote as they do?
*”War to the death against the rich and their hangers-on, the bourgeois intellectuals!” – VI Lenin.
UPDATE 2/20/15: SciFi author Sarah Hoyt has some good observations along these lines Full disclosure: I don’t read much science fiction** (or, really, much fiction at all) and could care less about the Hugo Awards. But since the terminology is central to some of her points, please note that “Sad Puppies” is a campaign started by writers Larry Correia and Vox Day to make fun of rabid rabbitry in the Hugo Awards. They set out to prove that the Hugos are nothing but the SJW Award for Excellence in SJW Propaganda, and they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams — the fact that Vox Day’s story finished behind “No Award” in its category because of an orchestrated SJW campaign to vote it down without reading it proves, in the bunnies’ sad little brains, that the Hugos are NOT just a clique of Social Justice Warriors upvoting their own stuff and excluding all other viewpoints regardless of merit.
Got that? Now, they’ve decided to do it again this year, this time (if I’m reading it correctly) to really stick it to the Rabbits by voting on a whole slate of (mostly) conservative-ish writers like John C. Wright and Brad Torgersen. Notice the Rabbits’ very first line of attack. Hoyt writes:
Yesterday I took a shashay down to Otherwhere Gazette, where someone in the comments of the posts was asking what the difference was between us and the SJWs, except they had a college degree and we didn’t.
She goes on to show that — as you might suspect — these folks are in fact tertiary-educated in most cases. But that doesn’t matter. The point, to the leftoid, is that having been to college confers such superior virtue on a cult member that nothing else matters (and I’d bet my bottom dollar that if Hoyt et al waved their degrees in the Rabbits’ faces, the next move would be “those aren’t real colleges” or “those aren’t real majors”). The point is not the education as such — meaning, mastery of facts and concepts. “Education,” to a leftoid, means “knowing the code” and being able to play the silly little word games that pass for intellectual discussion. I can render a passage of, say, Judith Butler into the vulgate*** faster than you can; therefore, I am Smart and you are Stupid. That’s all there is to it.
**To be fair, though, I have read bits and pieces of at least some of the authors in question…. which is more than any Social Justice Rabbit who is actually voting on this stuff can say. I’ve read about half of Vox Day’s George R.R. Martin knockoff A Throne of Bones and thought it was exactly that: a competent Martin knockoff. Which is why I didn’t finish it — my weird schedule meant I had to re-read as much as I read, just to keep up with the plot. I read John C. Wright’s Awake in the Night Land, which is the best book you’ll never read twice. I mean that as a compliment — it’s fascinating, and I really enjoyed it, but it’s very dark and very deep and very weird. I tried a Larry Correia book and it just wasn’t for me, though I can see how he makes his money. His epic beatdowns of leftoids on his blog, though, are priceless, and I should probably donate the price of a book or two to him just for that. I’ve never read anything other than blog posts by Hoyt or Torgersen.
***Notice I said “render into plain English,” not “render comprehensible.” No translator is that good.