Grade Grubbers

Y’all no doubt recall Hanlon’s Razor:

Never attribute to malice what is adequately explained by stupidity.

You probably also recall the Severian Corollary:

Some stupidity is so stupid, you actually hope it’s malice.

The psychology of this fascinates me, and not just because some handsome, well-endowed bloke named it after me.  Take this, for instance.  As McCain points out, everyone who cares to know — and many, many, many people who don’t — know that Eric Ciaramella is the so-called “whistleblower.”  Likewise, anyone with more than three brain cells to rub together knows that Ciaramella is your standard-issue hyperpartisan Democrat operative.  Here he is, for example, hanging out with Joe Biden’s people and a bunch of Ukrainians at an NSC meeting back in 2015

Pretending that this guy’s name is super-secret spy information is so dumb, it makes anti-sense, what with the Streisand Effect and all.  And yet, all the Media people still carry on like Trump’s campaign guy just Tweeted out the nuclear launch codes or something.  And that carrying-on, in turn, seems positively genius compared to building a “case” around an obvious partisan’s hearsay, especially after the Streisand Effect has really kicked in and anyone not living under a rock has learned that he couldn’t possibly know what he claims to know….

… and yet, here we are.  I might have to retire the Severian Corollary, since malice and stupidity have overloaded the dilithium crystals and we’re about to be sucked into a supermassive black hole of absurdity.  In an effort to salvage it, though, let me suggest: College.

How can people be so dumb as to believe this?  Not “act as if” they believe this, since no one is that good an actor.  For every Nancy Pelosi who knows full well it’s an op, there are five Adam Schiffs, Jake Tappers, etc. who, even though they’ve undoubtedly been briefed on the op, still somehow believe it’s real.  I know, I know, it makes my brain hurt, too…. but there’s precedent.  Passionately believing the truth of something you know to be false is the hallmark of campus culture.

It’s pretty simple, actually.  As one only gets tenure by publishing, and since only original “research” gets published, the Humanities would cease to exist if their professors confined themselves to things like “evidence” and “reason.”  Shakespeare, after all, isn’t around to write any more sonnets, and we’ve long ago examined all probable causes of big historical events like the Civil War.  The only thing to do, then, is entirely decouple the Humanities from reason and evidence.  This is Postmodernism, and it’s so successful because it starts with an impossibility — it’s a fact, the PoMos declare, that there’s no such thing as a fact.

See what I mean?  People like Stanley Fish, Richard Rorty, Fredric Jameson et al aren’t stupid; they know full well they’re embracing a contradiction.  But they are people.  Specifically, they’re people with very cushy one-percenter lifestyles that they’d have to give up if they acknowledged the glaring contradiction, so they …. don’t.  It seems incredible, typed out nakedly that way, but everybody does it all the time.  Atheists think believers do it, of course, and believers feel the same way about atheists.  We’re all sure that deep down, sports fans know they’re just rooting for laundry.  Every pet owner has dropped some food on the floor and caught a glimpse of how thoughtlessly your beloved Fido would eat you if you happened to keel over dead.  On the great list of glaring contradictions people live as if they believe, “the fact that there’s no such thing as a fact” might not even crack the top ten.

If the professors believe it, of course, then so must the students.  Whether the average college kid actually in his heart of heart believes this stuff can, of course, never be known… but they all sure as hell act as if they do, and it’s functionally the same thing.  The one ray of hope is that the average college kid, like the average human, is pretty dumb.  Most likely he just scribbles down “no such thing as a fact” in his blue book at midterm time and promptly forgets the whole thing….

… but I trust y’all see where this is going.  One doesn’t make it into the ranks of the elite Blue Checkmark Twitter Commandos by scraping by with a two-point-something GPA.  You’ve got to really sell it if you want an A in Homi Bhabha‘s class.  So they do.  Nobody even attempts Postmodernism without being naturally verbally dexterous, and when you throw in the sacerdotal lingo that “will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need …partially [conceal] your meaning even from yourself,” well, it’s not hard to see how they start believing that bullshit they themselves helped invent is actually the truth.


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8 thoughts on “Grade Grubbers

  1. Maus

    I do love Hanlon’s Razor inordinately. Perhaps the Maus Corollary should read “But sometimes the stupidity is so maddening that it engenders reciprocal malice.” WRT the dearth of meaningful original research in the humanities, I find it wise to recall the state of knowledge at the dawn of universities in the Middle Ages. The liberal arts (i.e. the trivium and quadrivium) were considered the lowest rung of the academic ladder. Certainly one could be acknowledged as a Master of Arts, fit to teach them to the neophytes; but the expectation was that advanced studies concerned the Big Three: Law, Medicine and Theology. I received my Bachelor’s degree in Rhetoric (one part of the trivium). While it has been the organizing principle of my intellectual life, my course of studies was plagued by the sort of pomo bullshit that is maintained as a flimsy justification for doctoral studies in a subject area that was never historically meant to be pursued at such a level. My loathing for pomo, for the Derridas and Foucaults, reached truly malicious levels of contempt. So much so that I sacrificed departmental honors by preferring to openly and aggressively mock my professor of so-called Modern Rhetorical Theory for pressing the superiority of advertising ephemera as a rhetorical tour de force over the perennial works of Aristotle. I later obtained a second Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy. IMHO that subject is the only area of humanities studies that is capable of sustaining the sort of original research that would justify a Ph.D. (Note that out of respect for Sev, I am bracketing History as a social science. If he were to prefer that it be classified as a humanity, I’d gladly extend my opinion to include it.) At any rate, grade grubbers be damned. What is needed is critical thinkers who can express themselves clearly and persuasively in speaking and writing. That in a nutshell is the purview of classical rhetoric, which sadly is as rare as hen’s teeth at modern universities.

  2. Frip

    I had no idea who Eric Ciaramella is. But when I saw the photo above, I knew which guy it HAD to be. There’s just something about how these people look.

    1. Severian Post author

      Yep. Spot-the-Leftist is the world’s easiest game. I wonder which way causation goes: Do you become a Leftist, then turn into a total pansy, or do you know yourself to be a total pansy, then become a Leftist? Kind of a chicken-and-egg thing, I guess, except that nobody involved can open a pickle jar and everyone cries when they’re triggered.

      1. Pickle Rick

        I don’t know, our Vichy Republican “conservatives” are a catty lot of prissy girls too…
        Hell, even compare the physiognomy of Washington, Lee, Pershing, Puller and Patton to the modern idiots in uniform and weep for the loss of manhood.

  3. Pingback: “The only thing to do, then, is entirely decouple the Humanities from reason and evidence.” | Whores and Ale

  4. MBlanc46

    I’ll stand up for Richard Rorty*. American pragmatism, although a bit unfashionable, is still a going concern. My Plato prof once suggested that a Platonic Idea might be construed as the ultimate product of a Peircean community of inquirers. And seeing philosophy as poetry has something to recommend it. Perhaps it’s not the way to see it, but it is a way to see it. That Plato’s works are small dramas is not merely an historical accident. All that I know of Jameson (beyond the fact that his forename is Fredric, not Frederick or Frederic) is “always historicize”. There has to be something to that. We interpret the past in the present, and the present can’t be completely abstracted from the product. Fish I know only by reputation, and it is not a good one. Foucault (I never could get through one of his books in translation, but you can’t have worked in scholarly publishing 1990–2010 without getting a good dose of him), it seems to me was little more than a bleep-stirrer and social chaos maker. There is on the other hand, something to Derrida.** Like Plato, who seems to have been his inspiration, he showed that if you push any concept hard enough, it turns into its opposite (along the lines of GWF Hegel). That is not the whole story, but it is an important part of the story, and your edifice of facts and logic will be built on sand if you don’t acknowledge that and incorporate it. Executive Summary: The Postmodernist epigones are mostly quacks, but there is something important in it that cannot be simply ignored.

    * Full disclosure: His widow was a client of mine regarding a small posthumous publication.
    ** I was in a small meeting room with him once, at Loyola of Chicago. Very dapper in a $1500 suit (him, not me). Again, I’ve not read much of his work, but I worked on the four volumes of Robert Denoon Cumming’s “Phenomenology and Deconstruction”, so I’ve at least got the basics.

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