One of the things I’m trying to do with the “Explaining Academia” series is answer a question lots of conservatives have: Why do “intellectuals” say such baffling, stupid shit?
Sorry for the crude language, but I want to keep this fairly close to earth. See, one of the main problems with academia is that its working assumptions are cloaked in this bizarre, nearly impenetrable idiom. Part of that is simple ego-stroking — you have to be very, very Smart indeed to know what “heteronormativity” means! — but a lot of it isn’t. It’s mostly a bait and switch. If you knew just how crazy these people and their “ideas” are — that this is what the American people have taken on trillions of dollars of debt for — you’d demand that all liberal arts programs be destroyed, and the earth salted around them.
For a specific example of how it all works — be forewarned, it’s disturbing — I can’t recommend Stacy McCain’s “Sex Trouble” series enough. He’s actually read the writings of the “gender studies” loons, and taken them at their word. Y’all have no idea how bad it is. I’m going to make general remarks here, because it’s not just the feminists, and they’re not the worst (they aren’t actively celebrating terrorism, for instance… unlike more than a few in the Race, Latin American, and Middle Eastern Studies departments).
Ivory tower types have what marketing guys call a “product differentiation problem.” All laundry detergents are basically the same, right? Ditto instant coffee brands, cable providers, dental floss… basically, the more commonplace a thing is, the tougher it is to gain market share, and the greater the need for advertising. Think of pro sports stadiums. The New England Patriots, for instance, play in Gillette Stadium (razors). The Steelers play on Heinz Field (ketchup). The 49ers new field is Levi’s Stadium. The St. Louis Cardinals play in Busch Stadium, while the Milwaukee Brewers play in Miller Park (lite beer). The list of basically interchangeable financial-services companies that have stadiums is endless. Or, just to stick with a theme….
I know, I know — the bikini pic was much better. But you get the idea. If any of those companies delivered a hands-down better (or even unique) product, they wouldn’t have to plaster their logo all over a cute chick.
This is academia’s problem in a nutshell. And it’s multidimensional. Colleges like Harvard and Yale can coast on their names. But what distinguishes Directional Tech from Bovine University?
For the students, of course, it’s football. No, really. But what about inside the ivory tower? How do academics sort and rank each other?
It’s a tougher problem than you might think. For one thing, the idea that one professor can “know” more than another, and thus be “better” at professing, runs afoul of pretty much every leftwing piety there is:
- Postmodernists deny that anyone can actually know anything
- Feminists would call such a claim oppressive, because patriarchy
- Blacks would would call such a claim oppressive, because racism
- Third Worlders would call such a claim oppressive, because imperialism
- All three groups would claim that nonwhite nonmale ways of knowing are incompatible with white male ways
- The whole idea of hierarchy is one of the underpinnings of capitalism
Et cetera ad nauseam. But you can’t simply duck the issue by saying all instructors are created equal, because — insults to egghead amour propre aside — education is a product like any other, and professors expect to get paid. Yes, even the Marxist ones.*
Hence the severity of the product-differentiation problem. As we all know, the vast majority of profs are liberals. Well, then — how do you tell one liberal from another? Pick any two professors with similar research interests. Their working assumptions will be identical because their politics are identical. Their politics are identical because, as we’ve noted, the only way to get tenure is to publish “original” research — which in practice means making everything explicitly political. It’s not enough to simply say “here’s how some female writer uses metaphors” or “here’s some dude from the 14th century with unusual opinions.” That’s “antiquarianism.” To get published, one must make the explicit claim that these people matter, that, say, Aphra Behn is far more important than John Dryden, or E.D.E.N. Southworth than Nathaniel Hawthorne, because vagina.**
The only way to stand out, then, is to be More Radical Than Thou.
That’s why intellectuals say such baffling, stupid shit. Did, say, Joyce Trebilcot really believe that a lesbian feminist society — whatever that might be — is the only “morally justifiable” one? It doesn’t matter. It’s obvious that such a society, were anyone foolish enough to attempt its creation, could hardly sustain itself, much less reproduce itself. If you take more than a few steps down the road of her initial premises, you arrive at pure, shit-flinging nihilism. And this is both true and obvious for any clever postmodern theory you can name. Hell, it’s true for Marxism, a fact which professors themselves can’t help but know — the old tsarist “intelligentsia” were the first ones against the wall when the Bolsheviks seized power.
Truth doesn’t matter, and evidence left the building with Elvis. The only way to get paid is to publish, and the only way to publish is to stand out. The only way to stand out is to make ever-more-ridiculous claims about ever-more-obscure topics. It’s all so very, very capitalist. Don Draper would wholeheartedly approve.
*Make that, especially the Marxist ones. As the lone conservative in any faculty lounge will tell you, the nicest car in the staff parking lot always belongs to the out-n-proud Communist.
**We’re leaving aside the obvious contradiction here, that claiming some chick writer is objectively better than a male contemporary contradicts every single liberal dogma there is. It doesn’t have to make sense, y’all — it just has to make money.Loading Likes...