Thursday, February 10, 2005



For those who haven't been following online media (as in web logs and the like), the ongoing Ward Churchill controversy has demonstrated very effectively the chronic and perhaps terminal illnesses that infect our universities. Mark Goldblatt diagnoses the condition neatly in "W. Churchill: A sad look at a sick academic bubble" in National Review Online.

If we take as axiomatic the principle that colleges exist in order to pursue and disseminate the truth, it follows that no accredited mathematics department would employ a teacher who denied, say, that base angles of an isosceles triangle are equal; that no physics department would employ a teacher who denied the force of gravity; that no chemistry department would employ a teacher who denied that protons and neutrons are found in the nuclei of atoms; that no biology department would employ a teacher who denied that green plants convert light energy into chemical energy by photosynthesis. The hard sciences, in other words, are bound in their fidelity to truth not only by traditional logic and empirical evidence but by a demand for coherence within a framework of what is already known. Faculty in hard sciences seek to push the envelope of knowledge, not to "deconstruct" it. (Deconstruct v.t. To affect intellectual depth by teasing out secondary and tertiary senses of a term until it belies its original meaning.) It is exceedingly rare, therefore, to find a professor in a hard science espousing irrational, unsupportable theories.

Not so in the social sciences. To be sure, no history department would, in the current academic climate, employ a teacher who openly argued that the Holocaust never happened. But this is a matter of political expediency, not material certainty. On the contrary, many history departments employ teachers steeped in postmodern thinking, who hold, for example, that the perception of a reality existing independently of thought and language is illusory, that "reality" is in fact a linguistic construct of the phenomena of subjective experience which is continually adjusted in response to a fluid social consensus. But if there's no such thing as an independent reality, then there can be no reality check. There's no test for truth. And that, my friends, is Holocaust denial — one step removed. Postmodern thought has taken root across the social sciences, spawning all manner of loopy theoretical posturing in history, psychology, sociology, anthropology, linguistics, political science, and even philosophy itself.

Still further down the epistemological food chain come literature and art, pseudo-disciplines hoist on the ouija-board wonkery of aesthetic judgment. The truth value of a work is gauged neither by correspondence with an independent reality nor even, for the last quarter century, by it coherence within a canonical framework; rather, truth value is a function of whether the work pleases the teacher. Subjectivity, therefore, rules. Literature and art departments often employ faculty members whose theories are not just at variance with one another but are mutually exclusive. It is not unusual, nowadays, for two students at the same college to sign up for the same survey course the same semester with two different professors and discover they're learning nothing in common.

But the epistemological nadir of any university is found in the wacky world of ethnic and gender studies: black studies, Africana studies, Chicano studies, Latino studies, Puerto Rican studies, Middle Eastern studies, Native American studies, women's studies, gay and lesbian studies, et al. The suggestion that "studying" is involved in any of these subjects is laughable; they are quasi-religious advocacy groups whose curricula run the gamut from historical wish fulfillment (the ancient Egyptians were black; the U.S. Constitution was derived from the Iroquois Nation) to political axe grinding (the Israelis are committing genocide against the
Palestinians; the U.S. is committing genocide against the people of Cuba) to
gynocentric self-help (reasoning from verifiable data is a tool of male domination, to which the experiential impressions of women are a necessary antidote) to circumstantial special pleading (Lincoln was gay because, well, he was a nice guy; Hitler, not so nice, therefore not gay). Contesting the status quo is the raison d'etre of these departments. No idea is beyond the pale — except, of course, the suggestion that the status quo might somehow be valid.

The problem of Ward Churchill in and of himself is almost unimportant (except for his gullible and maleducated students, and to the parents who turn over hard earned money to ineffective administrators who pay this clown's salary). (If you want to know what a reprehensible twit this guy is, follow the link.)

What should be of vital importance is the intellectual malaise and moral rot that creates and sustains so many Churchills.

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]