The Abuse of the Politically Incorrect: Academia and Beyond
This speech was presented at the College Abuse Conference in
Durham, North Carolina, on May 8, 2004. Thanks to Robert "Whit"
Whitfield for sponsoring the event, and to Dr. Christina Jeffrey
of Spartanburg, South Carolina, for her hard work in organizing
the conference. I have added an occasional line here and there,
and retitled the speech for LewRockwell.com.
I am an Independent Scholar. That is, I do intellectual work and
sometimes publish scholarly articles and reviews without an academic
position. I am, however, an ex-faculty member. I have no special
need to talk about myself, but since this is an academic abuse conference
and since I can speak to that topic from a wide spectrum of experiences,
let me say this: there are (at least) two brands of abuse occurring
in academia today. There is the familiar ideological abuse of professors
or would-be professors who are not sufficiently left-liberal. Then
there is the petty abuse of junior faculty by senior faculty who
feel threatened when their juniors surpass them in achievement.
I have experienced both but will limit my remarks to the first.
I was one of those who began warning 15 years ago where affirmative
action was taking us. Later in my book Civil
Wrongs I argued that political correctness (PC) developed
in part to protect affirmative action from sustained criticism.
I also argued both there and elsewhere that identity politics and
group entitlements would spread. We would see efforts to suppress
criticism. Increasingly brazen leftists would sabotage the careers
of their opponents if they could. And if unchecked, PC would spread
from academia to the rest of society. I also predicted in 1994 that
the rising homosexual movement, just then being embraced by the
PC crowd, would place PC and Christianity on collision course. All
these predictions have come true. But for having made them, I became
a pariah in South Carolina, a state whose major philosophy departments
are dominated by the cultural Marxist element.
We could use reminding that affirmative actionís academic charity
cases have said some genuinely loopy things. For example, radical
feminist "philosopher of science" Sandra Harding described
Newtonís and Baconís ideas as constituting a "rape manual."
(A presumably masculine Science penetrates a presumably reluctant
feminine natureís secrets: get it?) Radical feminist law professor
Catharine MacKinnon once characterized all traditional voluntary
sexual intercourse as akin to rape. Radical feminist "philosopher"
Alison Jaggar once characterized a candlelight dinner between couples
as a form of prostitution. Afrocentrists proclaim that black people
began civilization on an Africa that was plundered by Europeans
for slaves. Afrocentrist Leonard Jeffries distinguished aggressive
and competitive "ice people" from peaceful and communal
"sun people." I could go on. The research is wretched;
the writing reads like that of student revolutionaries in terminal
adolescence. The most recent justification for the domination of
academia by leftists is that "liberals are smarter." This
was actually said by Robert Brandon, chair of the philosophy department
at Duke University, in
a statement replete with logical fallacies. Example: "most
stupid people are conservative," he said, clearly intending
us to infer that "most conservatives are stupid." That
is like arguing from all dogs are mammals to all mammals
are dogs (the formal fallacy is called illicit conversion).
Such is academia in 2004: comparable not so much to a sinking ship
as to a train in free fall, having gone off an unseen cliff.
As for the spreading of PC beyond the walls of ivy, there is an
abundance of horror stories. We are at the point where it can be
hard to work for a corporation if you violate PC taboos. A
Christian man named Rolf Szabo was fired from Kodak after protesting
an emailed memo about homosexuality. John Rocker, one-time relief
pitcher for the Atlanta Braves, told the truth about the denizens
of New York subways and was
ordered by Major League Baseball to have a psychiatric evaluation.
Successful business people are vulnerable. In the Columbia area,
Maurice Bessingerís wholesale barbecue distribution business was
wiped out after a
scurrilous story in the local newspaper accused him of believing
in slavery. To come full circle, I should mention North Carolina
historian Jack Perdue who taught a course on the War Between the
States at a community college co-sponsored by Sons of Confederate
Veterans. A hostile reporter described the course as stating that
slaves were happy as slaves. No one bothered to check the story
for accuracy (Perdue had said no such thing). After
a year of being savaged mercilessly by the national news media,
Jack Perdue died of a heart attack.
These are just a few examples of the effects of PC on the larger
society. It started in academia, then spread via the media and the
political system. It has infected corporate America with a vengeance.
Ideas do have consequences; bad ideas are destructive.
But the real question is, Where do we go from here?
Letís acknowledge that the PC crowd controls higher education.
Its influence is in evidence everywhere. There is, however, an increasingly
determined counterassault in progress. Armed with documents such
as the Academic
Bill of Rights not to mention the U.S. Constitution itself there
are students, faculty and former faculty who refuse to be silenced.
Let me discuss one promising arena for the counterassault.
Even as PC was spreading, we saw the meteoric rise of a remarkable
new medium: the Internet. Websites devoted to uncensored commentary
began appearing in the late 1990s. The first was the Drudge
Report (which first broke the Monica Lewinsky story), soon
followed by WorldNetDaily.com,
and VDare.com, among
others. Also emerging were online universities, the largest of which
is the University of Phoenix.
Many if not most colleges and universities now have "distance
learning" facilities where course content can be uploaded.
Their students can be anywhere in the world.
We have also seen the rapid growth of homeschooling. Homeschoolers
realize that government schools are in serious trouble, from their
having been co-opted by agendas that have nothing to do with genuine
education. After the Columbine killings it became clear that government
schools are not even necessarily safe. Christian
parents are removing their children from these schools.
The prospects exist for a remarkable dovetailing of interests here.
I see a potential for the formation of new institutions, their primary
base of operations online (but not limited to that). They will operate
at different levels: higher, secondary and elementary. They will
not be business-technical schools organized around the purely vocational
or "school-to-work" model of education. Why not an online
liberal arts college employing the classical
model of education, for those who want the kind of learning
that is capable of producing citizens of a free republic,
as opposed to subjects of our present welfare-warfare state?
To fulfill their goals, they would have to be degree-granting institutions
that can compete head-to-head with the existing ones, however that
minefield is negotiated. Be this as it may, these new institutions
will be unafraid to be explicitly Christian if this is the choice
of their founders and their students. They will teach traditional
subjects in traditional ways. There will be, that is, an explicit
commitment to learning and communicating truth as an end in itself.
They will be committed to educating individuals capable of becoming
citizens of a free society a society of individuals devoted to the
ideals of Constitutionally limited government under the rule of
law. Such citizens will be suspicious of concentrations of power
because their education will have made them aware of the reality
of original sin.
If this conference is the first in a series, it is important that
we do not just have "gripe sessions." We must think strategically
towards new institutions. Even though we will not have the media
on our side, we must not fail to translate our beliefs into constructive
actions. I look forward to working with any and all toward the creation
and building up of "parallel institutions" capable of
competing openly with an educational mainstream that has turned
against this countryís founding principles with a vengeance.
May 15, 2004
Yates [send him mail]
Ph.D. in philosophy and is the author of Civil
Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action
(1994). He is an adjunct scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
His new book, In
Defense of Logic,
is almost completed. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina, and plans
to launch his authorís website soon.
© 2004 LewRockwell.com