Tuesday, January 13, 2004


Reasoning with Leftist Anger and Hate

Adam Kotsko, self-professed leftist, has decided that it is his mission to decide whether or not I am an acceptable candidate for a tenure-track position. Let’s take a look at his reasons:

Okay, let’s take this apart bit by bit, remembering that Adam has already expressed agreement with the current order of things in his disputations regarding "sensible" criticism both on his own site and on LitSkunk. First of all, it is wrong of me to want to radically reshape the way things are currently done in English departments, but it was apparently okay for the Left to radically reshape English departments decades ago, since Adam has no problem living and working under the current hegemony. By Adam's reasoning, it is only correct to dissent if you are a Leftist dissenting against the right. I’m not sure how exactly Adam has arrived at this nifty bit of logic, but there is it.

Adam then reveals his true fear: if people like me—read, evil right-wingers—were to gain ascendancy in English departments, people like him would suffer. He may be correct—certainly I would advocate some house-cleaning, and I would want the professoriate to be a little more rigorous with itself in terms of thinking. I don’t think such a demand is unreasonable, because they are paid to be rigorous thinkers, no? All I’m asking for is professors to actually teach students to read literature, at least as step one, instead of starting with the Leftist readings and leaving any other possibilities out of their syllabus. I’m also asking that the pomos take the last 35-40 years of scientific advancement in the area of the human sciences into account when formulating their theories. Saussurean-derived theories need to be “interrogated,” to use one of their favorite terms, in light of what we now know about how the brain produces language.

Why are you so scared to let this interrogation happen? Because you know that current theoretical practice will have to be radically revised? But isn’t such radical revision our responsibility? Aren't we supposed to revise our ideas in light of new knowledge?

Apparently not, for you would have me and others like me refused jobs on the basis of our disagreement with the current hegemony. So you basically admit that it is acceptable--indeed preferable--to have a department of ideological clones, and that they are justified in making certain that no one who thinks differently ever infiltrates the department. Would you feel the same way about a hiring committee from a more traditionalist department who turned away candidates who practiced theory? Is this sort of political discrimination then justified so that everyone can get along and think the same thoughts? What exactly are you saying? Because it sounds to me like you're simply affirming that my fears are justified. You appear to want postmodern philosophy to remain in place, unquestioned and undisturbed, forever.

As for my remark about Marxist regimes. First of all, I did NOT say that human beings evolved to be capitalists--I said that we evolved to be competitive. It’s part of the survival mechanism. You might think about reading a little science to find out some things before spouting the ideology. Marxism runs contrary to human nature—the nasty little drives that make us human prevent us from adopting such a system without some sort of totalitarian state forcing it upon us. Try looking outside the ivory tower and into the real world sometime. You might see how Marxism operates.

Adam goes on to try and find alternate explanations for the end of the Cold War:

Yeah, the U.S. was in terrific economic condition during the Great Depression. You might want to talk to my dad, sometime. He could tell you some great stories about how well off the U.S. was.

Interestingly, you bring up Stalin’s purges. Now why exactly did Stalin find it necessary to purge a large portion of the Soviet population? Oh, yeah. BECAUSE THEY REFUSED TO FOLLOW COMMUNISM. They weren’t willing to give up private property and the rewards that came with competitiveness, so Stalin branded them enemies of the State and got rid of them.

The U.S. might also have outdistanced the Soviet Union because people had real, human motives to succeed in their endeavors. The U.S.S.R. used the stick method, while the U.S. used the carrot. People were allowed to pursue personal success while also pursuing success for their country. They also knew that they could experiment and fail without getting sent to the Gulag. Ideological curbs on the pursuit of knowledge were far less in the United States--despite all the accusations of McCarthyism--than they were in the Soviet Union. Knowledge that didn't fit into the Marxist picture--like Bakhtin, for example--was eradicated, and the person responsible punished. (Readers should notice here the similarity between the ideological hegemony Adam admits exists in today's academy and the ideological hegemony of the Soviet Union. Why aren't there many new ideas in the humanities these days?)

As for Cuba, don’t even get me started. I know former Cubans. I’d like to see your privileged self down there living under Castro for awhile. I hope you’re not homosexual. Castro’s not big on homosexuality. You might also take a look at the disparity between the way Castro and his cronies live and the way the rest of Cuba lives. If the U.S. embargo is the cause of Cuba's poverty, why aren't Castro and his buddies poor? And if they're such good Marxists, then why aren't they distributing the wealth they have evenly throughout the populace. Oh, yeah. BECAUSE CASTRO IS A TOTALITARIAN DICTATOR.

And, once more, I did NOT say people evolved to be capitalists. Stop putting words in my mouth. Find out a little something about human evolution, which, as a member of the left, I assume you pay lip service to. This is NOT a “politically motivated fabrication.” It’s simply a fact of human biology. It’s not a pretty fact, but there it is. And yes, the difference IS that I’m correct. I have a set of biological facts on my side, proven through the use of scientific method, and you have ideology. I’m not knocking the impetus behind some of this ideology—I’d like a utopia just the same as anyone—but I am knocking the lack of scientific fact, indeed the fact that much of these ideologies fly in the face of scientific fact, necessitating totalitarianism in order to get individual human beings to obey. I'm also knocking the violence necessary to create the utopia.

Finally, Adam goes on to attack Conservative English Major, presumably because I have linked to him:

Well, sorry my friend, but when confronted with extremist thought, people often find themselves pushed in the opposite direction. You begin to get tired of the unquestioned assumptions and the writing off of the bulk of the American populace as “fat, lazy, and stupid,” as your charming friend Steve puts it, and you start to question those assumptions yourself. Just like your heroes were put off by the dictatorial nature of New Criticism, so are some of us put off by the dictatorial nature of the current regime. Human beings, for better or for worse, tend to be reactionary.

Finally, Adam concludes:

Yes, Adam. Hopefully you will outgrow your current phase, a phase of leftism apparently brought on by the anger of the right, if I'm reading you correctly. But I thought that one political extreme couldn't drive a person to move towards the other extreme? Oh, I forgot. I guess you've invoked the double-standard again.

As for embracing a more conservative point-of-view because it is a novelty, think again. That's not what I'm saying, and that's not what Conservative English Major is saying, either. The academy is extreme, and extremism rarely holds up under logical scrutiny. I've come to my current position slowly and carefully. This isn't some sort of Goth phase I'm going through here, but more than a decade's experience as a professional in academia causing me to rethink former positions in the light of overwhelming evidence. As for the political, well, I've always gravitated toward what is now called "classical liberalism," and that's definitely not the liberalism practiced in either the academy or in the Democratic Party. Having seen the dangers of the current regime in the academy, I've decided that a change is in order.

And Adam? One last thing. Just because you and your friend Steve evince contempt for the thinker as well as the thought, please do not assume the same of me. I have a number of leftist friends, including several who know exactly what I think about politics, the academy, etc. While I may think some of their ideas are ridiculous, I am able to get along with the person behind the ideas. In fact, there are even a few I enjoy arguing with, and they with me. Were I hired by a theory-ridden department, I'd like to think I could develop some of the same relationships--agree to disagree, but always hoping of course that I could make a difference.

You might look back through the passages you've quoted from my blog. The tone there is concerned, but it's not angry. Your tone, on the other hand, is angry and condescending. "Real" science? What are the scare quotes supposed to mean, exactly?

But, I'm not out to start a blog war. Frankly, I have better things to do with my time, but you have unfairly characterized me and my position, so I felt it necessary to respond.

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