Academia's Sympathy for the Taliban

Anonymous Guest's picture
Submitted by Anonymous Guest on Fri, 2007-09-21 09:56

The academic class, which formerly consisted of the priesthood whose members spent their time considering how many angels could dance on the head of a pin and how many ways to use the other end to coerce confessions of witchcraft out of innocent people, is slipping back out of phase with reality into a frighteningly similar pathology to its medieval counterpart.

Perhaps even in the glorious wake of the scientific method, institutes of learning must eventually devolve into institutes of dogma, as though some latent gene is expressing itself. But I don't think so. The corrupting element isn't genetic or intrinsic to academia. It is true that academia, like all fields, becomes padded out with coasters whose security depends upon the current orthodoxy. But it is only when such coasters are protected by non-competitive institutions such as tenure and government subsidization that the historical linkage between the ancient priesthood and the power of the king, which America's founders prohibited, is resurrected and begins asserting the same characteristics.

Of course, story after story of individuals who make breakthroughs in all fields are traditionally populated with orthodox academic villains whose adherence to what goes for proper methodology has crabbed their ability to see profoundly rational discoveries whose begrudging acceptance will eventually revolutionize their fields of study. And yet, in all of these great stories, the defenders of the status quo have yielded in the end because post-Enlightenment academia’s prime mover (or at least ultimate arbiter) has always been reason, and the goal in resisting new hypotheses and paradigms was, ultimately, scientific certainty. Reason has been the fulcrum, the crucible, and the ultimate judge, jury and executioner of orthodoxy to the soaring credit of post-Renaissance western civilization and its academic halls.

However, gradually, attacks aimed almost instinctively at the natural enemy of dogma, reason itself, have bored into that fulcrum like termites, drilled like silverfish through the very words of our knowledge, fissured the foundations of modernity, and left behind a sawdust of semantics, subjectivism, and steaming, twisted “post-structuralism” out of which no rational system of knowledge can be constructed — even as, outside the ivory tower, the effects of reason have been transforming the entire world.

The caricature of the ivory tower has, itself, been caricatured by the ascending Babel-like culture of modern academia, which, through tenure and subsidization, is rapidly marginalizing the voices of those academics who are exceptions to the rule. The ascendant academic culture’s promulgation of irrational theories coupled with attacks on reason have come to a fever pitch in the face of a rising tide of empirical evidence that proves its demons are in fact angels of astonishing beneficence and that its archangels are in fact devils of massive malevolence.

Capitalism that gave us electric light, the telephone, fast food (imagine explaining that concept to anyone outside of a modern capitalist society and what they would think of it), the SUV, and the greatest increase in wealth, health and life span in human history is considered the supreme Satan; and collectivism that gave us, at the latest estimate, the mass murder of over 200 million people is given special dispensation as endless new apologies and excuses are spun and innumerable new semantic disguises are devised to hide its dripping claws and fangs.

The ivory tower has never had to reach so high to stay aloof from knowledge as now, and the air on which its theories subsist has never been so thin since the Dark Ages. Meanwhile, the evidence all around it has never been so abundant that a rational epistemology and its practical requirement, individual liberty, are the foundations of unprecedented human progress in every imaginable field and for every possible "class" of individual, let alone making it possible for at least three out of four people alive today to have been born at all. (They lament this success as “overpopulation.”)

What is cause for jubilation, for collective fanfare from the mountaintops, for intellectual amazement, excitement and gratitude, is ignored as an embarrassing obscenity. What should be at last denounced as the cause of human suffering, the slavery of the human mind that is collectivism, is given funny hats to wear, quaint ceremonies and an intellectually phony "cultural" validity which raises a random collection of traditions, merely because they have been repeated for a long time, like an ancient carved totem before which the individual and his thinking mind must submit.

Most (not all) academics are intellectual frauds, evading evaluation of their own vast store of knowledge with expert adroitness. Under their hoods are lots of bits of theories, facts and politically-triggered defense mechanisms, which they draw around themselves like hermit crabs when in distress, and yet, as a rule, they do not engage in a lot of original thinking, organizing, challenging, truth-demanding or attention to contradictions in knowledge. As in any field, there are innovators and original thinkers, who actually process information and integrate it honestly with all the other content in their minds, including and especially firsthand knowledge, and in so doing have advanced the way everyone thinks about every subject of study. And there are those who don't. The ratio of frauds to original thinkers in academia, unhappily, is probably greater than in other fields, as the nature of their work is seemingly intangible and without direct consequence. They do not have to meet a payroll, build a supermarket, catch a fish, or drill an oil well, or even impart valuable information to students, and yet they can draw a paycheck, even if they attack the world vigorously with nihilistic dogma, causing damage that is as grave to the world as it is consequence-less to them.

Such academics pass moral judgment on entire classes of facts and the theories that explain them, while checking to see if the theories or facts have been added to Foucault’s Revised Demonology, or whatever speech code violation list is en vogue, rather than use their own rational faculty and store of knowledge to validate or invalidate propositions.

When they are frauds, intellectuals and academicians are especially susceptible to insecurity. Since they lack any efficacious skill and are uniquely able to get away with it, they relish power, a substitute for efficaciousness. They seek the power to be the keepers of the law and scripture, and seek tenure and affiliation and seek validation in authority, and readily wield the hammer and tongs of speech codes and political correctness because such things trump the threat of reason like magical invocations.

In comparison to “laymen,” fewer intellectuals have the ability to think; a “middlebrow” cliché, of course, but it is becoming so obviously true we must ask: Why?

Scholars often have all they can do to merely house the masses of cursorily digested information they have absorbed, and somewhere along the way most have pushed the “pause” button on their rational faculty, allowing disintegrated flotsam and jetsam to flood into their minds, especially when their professors go to no trouble to integrate it for them either, and, however well-organized and expediently accessible are the mnemonic cubby holes in which they store it, it is dead knowledge, with no neural net of conceptual relationships to connect it to the dynamic grid of the whole. As thinkers, they are cognitively paralyzed by such “cramming” and become, the moment they start to allow it, only curators over the unassociated contents of museum-like minds. The world ceases to be a living place in their minds that is causally interconnected, a place that makes sense, and becomes a place where the artifacts of the drama of good and evil and the fossils of a living world are stored with equal importance, the shrunken head alongside the microscope alongside the rock, in the silent hall of knowledge. The living world is not valueless, unlike the museum, and yet the modern academic projects the museum’s egalitarian all-inclusiveness upon the world and calls it “cultural relativism,” reflexively granting ethos-status to the omission of ethical integration that was an expedient of hastily accumulating mountains of information.

Over the last century in America, the sum total of evidence has been implying spectacularly that there is a Eureka! somewhere that is being passed over and fundamentally unexamined by American academia. This vast stockpile of evidence demands a conclusion. Academia in America does not allow the evidence to be fully seen or any conclusion to be made, because it would require a whole new non-contradictory and rational way of dealing with knowledge, the difference between a thinking, evaluative epistemology and a library or a museum. When facts begin to scream values so loudly, however, there’s a problem in the modern academic’s paradigm, a problem that he has solved by attacking facts themselves and by attacking reason itself, because reason holds that facts cannot be contradicted.

Excessive indoctrination in self-denying anti-philosophies like orthodox religion or modern political correctness, both of which are faith-based, dogmatic and authoritarian, requires, indeed comprises the repression of natural emotion, that is, repression of emotion based on firsthand experience and evaluation.

The politically-aware intellectual must look at a scene of an American family on Christmas morning, for instance, with slight embarrassment as though it is a bad thing, an indulgence in commercialism, an example of the banal evil of social injustice, an exercise in kitsch excess, at best no better than a cannibal cookout in New Guinea, or whatever packaged thought-bytes or dreary annotations are necessary to thwart the natural human reaction to the concept of people waking up to marvelous things brought about voluntarily and peacefully and given to each other for each other’s pleasure. The natural reaction has to be followed by a qualifying boo-hiss! in the proper academic's mind.

O, the conflict they confront on every front! They can’t help liking a Snickers bar now and then, and yet even the Snickers bar is, if they analyzed it, a veritable doctoral thesis refuting all they believe in and justifying all they object to.

This universal emotional repression cuts off such academics from reacting to their own world or even honestly observing their own behavior in it. Philosophy professors who teach their students that there are absolutely no absolutes on the first day of every class, make absolutely sure they tie the knots on their shoes correctly every morning, make sure to chew their bran muffins to the size they can swallow without choking, and absolutely never stick forks in their eyes. Academicians who proudly eulogize objective truth studiously avoid driving over the guardrail on the overpass of the freeway on their way to campus every day. These people are in constant conflict with the evidence of their senses and the consensus of their experience, and it is no wonder they need the psychic and political security blanket of a Volvo to take them on their harrowing mystery tour between home and class as they cower at billboards and sneer at SUVs and hide in the blindspot of gasoline tankers while blocking three cars from passing them. The Volvo, built by Sweden's socialist government, you see, is proof that the practical expression of dogma, power, really works. (Some drive Volvos because they like them, however, and are unaware of the political homage buying a Volvo represents.)

Most modern academics still purport to loathe established religion, of course, but it is more because they recognize a natural competitor (as did Marx), rather than a reflex to the side of reason and science. They are envious of organized religion and condemn it even as they comport themselves like Galileo’s tribunal toward non-doctrinal thinking. On the path academia is currently stampeding, its arguments must eventually jettison any pretense of rational argument altogether, since until they do so they are merely admitting the weakness of their irrationality by conceding that things must sound rational at all. After diving, thus, headfirst into the arbitrary, I predict, their arbitrary convulsions will exhaust themselves in a proliferation of subjectivist gurus until they all seek refuge under the granddaddy of all dogma, the bunker of all bankrupt intellectuals, medieval religion. Finding more weight in the longevity of the argument from authority than in their own evanescent arguments from whim, they will finally utterly resemble the priesthood of yore, and academia will return to the state of an entirely pre-reason medieval institution whose purpose is to stamp out human reason and progress for the sake of job security, the status quo, and the increasingly dictatorial state apparatus required to protect it from free competition.
There is hope. Those who do not live in the ivory tower, and people dealing with a smaller set of facts in general, are less likely to have given up the process of reconciling knowledge with everything else they know through the patient practice of non-contradiction called logic — star athletes can be said to have dealt with far more details of knowledge successfully than most intellectuals.

Such laymen, the great unwashed, don’t have all the facts, and their conclusions about social or philosophical issues are often misled as a result of this lack of knowledge (usually because of false information from academia), but they can still think. They know the power of incorporating new information into what they already know from their daily experience in practical occupations and they know that reconciling contradictions is necessary to function and survive. Most people test their understanding every day as they deal with practical matters and real-world consequences that cloistered folk in ivied conclaves do not encounter. People outside the ivory tower fly jumbo jets, operate drill presses, cut diamonds, repair cars, program software, and run offices, all for a profit in competition with others. Most laypeople still have the ability to learn facts and build understanding with each new fact by carefully adding it to what they know already and re-evaluating the new sum, a skill and a solemn duty long dispensed with by the subleased storage spaces of many an intellectual’s brain, even as those who toil to make voice-activated software allow the academic’s brain to become even lazier.
Even though attacking or ignoring empirical evidence that contradicts your views is a tactic that renders most people helpless in the real world (and gets them thrown out of flight school), intellectuals do so without any loss of employment, limb or life. Psychologically, however, their thus disembodied views do require a costume of action called “activism” and political “movements” that are meant to be their “practical” expression. Such "actions" are as removed from reality as their blind views and so cannot do any good and cannot avoid causing harm to the very cause their demands and demonstrations are meant to address. Such typically loud, thoughtless, belligerent displays and mass temper tantrums are played out in marches and public squares on college campuses, a make-believe stage which conveniently spares the notions being chanted from being directly tested by causality and spares the people chanting them from ever having to implement them anyway (they did their part by showing up and yelling — or smashing windows and torching dissenting opinions).

Such "action" invariably calls for the massive club of government force to come down from the sky and bludgeon their whims into existence with Zeusian bolts. Instead of rational action, we have impotent whims wedded to mindless force (the government or school administration offices, of course), which causes even more harm to the unfortunate “beneficiary” of their malevolent ardor by immediately proscribing the thought that can be put into addressing the issue.

To wit: a strident celebrity-adorned “environmentalism” that would consign endangered species and habitats to the black market (where drug addicts and prostitutes have fared so well), prevent insecticides proven safe from saving millions of lives in Third World nations and advocate energy sources and agricultural approaches so ineffectual the surface area of the earth they require would wipe out most of the world’s wild habitats; a “feminism” that would “protect” women like China dolls in giant hoop-skirts of paternalistic protectionism; racial quotas that do for minorities what the Soviet Union did for the Yugo; “sensitivity” and “speech codes” that spindle and mutilate free discourse in America’s learning institutions and frequently result in student shout-outs that bar the controversial voice from speaking (as campus administrators and professors stand by to protect their right to make noise); socialized medicine that would treat doctors like a public beach, destroy and feather-nest the research community with progress-fearing status-quosters, stifle pharmaceutical breakthroughs with Byzantine bureaucracy, and kill millions of people with red tape.

I guess it has been said, by the songwriter Willie Nelson, that you always hurt the ones you love, but this aspect of modern intellectualism is Chomsky-esque in its baroque absurdity.

The supposed beneficiaries our intellectuals claim to be liberating (women, gays, minorities, animals, the environment, the Third World) are the very groups they commandeer as pawns for their own political crusades, stripping them of all personal identity and reality, implanting them with sensitive political buttons, exploiting them as political cannon fodder, using them like pseudo-objective exhibits for their own Napoleonically irresponsible, risk-free and opportunistic campaigns.

Foucault is one of the central gurus in the movement to turn language into the equivalent of Illuminati-like Bible Code, the current bell-bottom pants on the Kantian Jabberwocky that still staggers around college campuses on two left feet with a coat of contradictions and a mask of nineteen-dollar words. Foucault seems to be someone who is tortured by sexual guilt and blames his conflicts on everyone else, railing against causality itself in order to liberate a non-existent, mystical-Kantian, identity-less, causeless, diaphanous “subjectivity” which he subconsciously and revealingly feels is necessary in order to validate his own sexuality. My guess. Wherever he finds a conceptual evaluation having the self-constructing effect of individuating personality, sexually or otherwise, he sees a person who has put blinders upon the “freedom of his subjectivism,” someone who has become “objectivised” and thereby oppresses the entire world by his very presence. Foucault, it turns out, irony of ironies, wants some 19th century romantic poet’s ideal of consciousness that isn’t human, and which does not recognize that freedom for humans consists of choosing their own way and building their own lives in a world of given possibilities, instead of being impossible god-consciousnesses that are infinitely malleable, detached, indefinable and constantly erasing the effects of their own pasts and preferences, their own evaluations and experiences, their own identity, in order to be “free.”

Foucault and his ilk buy into the classical false alternative of free will-without-identity or no-free-will-at-all. Free will (his own, at least) must be poetically and mystically absolved of nature and cannot be an identity that has limits or it is trapped and annihilated. What he seems to want is everybody to remain eternally open to whatever he wants, based on the long, circuitous, and dishonestly unacknowledged chess game of his own personal value judgments. Foucault offers a strawman of free will (himself) but not to knock it down. Instead, in order to validate it, he challenges the validity of everyone around his scarecrow, demanding that they possess free will without limits, subjectivism with no objective reality, an infinite mind without the finitude of a brain, a boundless choice without the “blinders” of a chooser, freedom without individuality, consciousness without self — upon which he may extend boundaries that conveniently include his own identity.

Foucault is a fraud, and his cat knows it. All free will decides for human beings is what we will automate, indeed, that is the nature and power of the self. To leave everything subject to arbitrary revision for the sake of avoiding becoming “objectivised” is to treat our experience and the evidence of our senses as if they are unreal because they are not omniscient. Even a small part of reality is reality. From a little, we can know a lot. That is the power of reason, whose spectacular success Foucault’s theory has no power to explain. If we had to think about everything we do originally each time we did it, we would not be able to function or make any progress. Our evaluations may not be perfectly informed, but they are informed and important. Our value judgments may not always correctly evaluate our knowledge or experience, but they are there to deal with something that is real. Moreover, our knowledge is not for social purposes; it is sufficient that it serves each individual’s end alone. Individuality is the nature of human existence, not anathema to it.

Free will is limited, but real, and it is made effective by reason that integrates all of our knowledge and experience, building on a history of conclusions, not a blank slate, that is constantly corrected by testing, not by erasing, and that is advanced by discourse, not by language deconstruction. That is the understanding, and the trust to the future, which too many of our modern academics are actively trying to destroy in order to absolve themselves of intellectual stewardship and thus perpetuate their own less and less justified positions of intellectual authority.

A set of ideas that purports to be stripped of phony sentiment and romanticism down to the “hard reality” of a diaphanous, nonhuman, “relativist,” nonlocated perspective, modern intellectualism is barren of useful meaning that can resonate in the real world. Because it rejects half of human nature as being false, it has no power to explain the burst of heroic accomplishment and discovery America has produced or the unprecedented bloodshed and war produced by totalitarian systems. By refusing to acknowledge the nature of free will and the validity of human reason and all that it implies, they must cast America and Soviet Russia, a land of liberty and a land of slaves, as moral equivalents, with at most a difference in degree, not in kind, in their dysfunctional tally of good and evil.

Cultural relativism is the flipside of nihilism, a fig leaf on the belief that there are no answers, which cutely offers that there are “all answers.” But one cannot support the cannibal and his meal. Cultural relativism in fact claims that there is no objective reality or truth, and “reason” is a fantasy based on random subjectivity, social or otherwise, which, as a convenience, we consider “real.” Attach the discoveries of human nature made in the course of western civilization to "white males" and we have another convenient way to slander those discoveries. America is the resounding cymbal crash at the end of a crescendo of recent human history that categorically destroys all such anti-premises.

America, just for example, produced more wealth in the last century alone than the rest of the world, including China and Russia, in the history of mankind. Yes, that's true — in one century. Its system of government was not coincidentally born in the Age of Reason; liberty was merely a necessary political feature of a society based on reason.

Academics must sneer at all the most obvious leaps forward created by reason, capitalism, science and the individual freedom in the bounteous land that made their very births possible whether they are white, black, female, gay, Catholic, Islamic, atheist, communist or capitalist. Academics must eschew the American tennis shoe or sneaker, a true marvel of engineering, durability, affordability and comfort, and wear Birkenstocks or Doc Martens. They decry the safest, most secure and useful family car ever, the SUV, and drive Volvos (badly) to show their support for the people’s paradise of Sweden. They attack the plentiful and safe supply of meat, a state of affairs mankind has striven for since the cave and still strives for, desperately, in many parts of the globe. They attack capitalism, while living in comfort, plenty, safety, convenience and health the Emperor Nero could never have dreamed of.

Meanwhile, the catalog of what they take for granted is epic: the Bic lighters, ballpoint pens, lightbulbs, toilet paper, jeans, microwave ovens, televisions, antibiotics, T-shirts, soap, tap water, electricity, granola bars, Coleman stoves and other ubiquitous conveniences that have made them forget what “going back to nature” would actually consist of. They even grandstand by taking potshots at the most conspicuous successes of free men, such as Coca Cola, Microsoft, and Campbell’s Soup, this last an icon of safe, reliable, widely available, inexpensive, readily prepared food which some have interpreted as a symbol of angst.

But they must do this in order to prevent themselves from drawing their conclusions from reality, which they don’t believe they could draw conclusions from anyway, having abandoned their minds as static wastelands that can only be fed by the latest set of orders from the latest subjectivist oracle. In the meantime, they must sneer at moon-shots, consider John Wayne more evil than Joe Stalin, hate MacDonald’s, the most efficient, economical and safe food delivery organization ever created by mankind (I know — I worked there when I was a starving teenaged writer), reduce great thinkers to their DNA and judge them accordingly, bash the human use of energy, etc., etc.

They must, in fact, brand as evil any conspicuous example from reality that has serious implications for their own philosophical premises; they must demonize it and make a public spectacle of its humiliation and execution.

This is what the Salem witch-hunters and the Spanish Inquisition did, and it’s what the Catholic Church did when dealing with Galileo, and what the Taliban does to its own people today. It is not what “intellectuals” are supposed to do, and yet it is exactly what much of our academia has taken to doing.

If we take a Volvo to the 21st century we defer defining the ethos that surely must respond to the 20th century. If we are to employ any kind of intellectual honesty we must leave behind mind-destroying, Taliban-creating mysticism, once and for all, before it undermines the breakthrough in our understanding of human nature that has led to such unprecedented success in the last two centuries of American history. Can that happen?
Or will the mediocrities who seek power over government-subsidized institutions that offer them insulation from the consequence of incompetence be allowed to continue ignoring the great truths of our time as they turn our halls of academe into the intellectual equivalent of medieval monasteries?

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I think the thrust...

Olivia's picture

is that without a separation of Academia and State, learning and the pursuit of knowledge will always be battered by the bludgeonings of political brainwashing.

When they are frauds, intellectuals and academicians are especially susceptible to insecurity. Since they lack any efficacious skill and are uniquely able to get away with it, they relish power, a substitute for efficaciousness. They seek the power to be the keepers of the law and scripture, and seek tenure and affiliation and seek validation in authority, and readily wield the hammer and tongs of speech codes and political correctness because such things trump the threat of reason like magical invocations.

Very insightful - and the parallel of the Medieval Priesthood is bang on. The Witchdoctor seated at the right hand of Attila.

Having a dinther day

Suma's picture

I feel like I have been tricked into reading an essay by NickOtani!

So academia = humanities departments? What happened to the science and engineering departments? The gist of the essay is: the intellectual class of the medieval times were the anti-reason priests, then for a while there were all kinds of profoundly rational discoveries in academia, and now academia is heading down the medieval toilet. But what are all these rational discoveries that came out of the humanities departments? Seems to me that, then and now, any discoveries and inventions from academia were/are in the fields of science and engineering - because of the checks and bounds imposed by reality. One cannot fake reality for long (and now with immediate dissemination of findings via the internet, a couple of months at the most).

I actually agree with many of the points, as applied to academia in the humanities areas; but some things (e.g. Volvos, Foucault, hoop-skirts) went over my head; and all those metaphors, analogies are clever, but did not flow too well, they seem to be there because they make nice sound bites. The key points made were driven out of the head by the time I reached the end of essay. (I guess that Anonymous Guest is not a starving writer anymore, and I am no expert in English or writing, but after spending time reading the essay, I may as well give my 2 cents.)

Now I need to read a technical manual and clear my head.

P.S. For the record, I have read many of Ayn Rand's essays and really enjoyed them - so I can read and understand long essays.

Just brilliant, absolutely, bloody, brilliant!

Lance's picture

However, gradually, attacks aimed almost instinctively at the natural enemy of dogma, reason itself, have bored into that fulcrum like termites, drilled like silverfish through the very words of our knowledge, fissured the foundations of modernity, and left behind a sawdust of semantics, subjectivism, and steaming, twisted “post-structuralism” out of which no rational system of knowledge can be constructed — even as, outside the ivory tower, the effects of reason have been transforming the entire world.

Mmmmmm rich, juicy, meaty prose.

Can you tell us Lindsay is this a published article? Or from SOLO or a similar site?
I'm not fishing for the author's identity, just curious in what context this was originally written.

It is an outstanding analysis. And so beautifully presented. I usually struggle reading anything much longer than 1,000 words on a CRT monitor. I find it hard to concentrate for some reason (obviously I don't have that problem with books), but this had me rapt the whole way through.

Just made a quick skim and

Lance's picture

Just made a quick skim and read a couple of those paragraphs in detail... wow. I'll be setting some time aside tomorrow to go over this more carefully!


Lindsay Perigo's picture

This is a reprise of an article written some time ago, but super-relevant, by someone who has valid reasons for requesting anonymity. Enjoy it for the outstanding analysis that it is.


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