Sunday, January 19, 2014

Academics in Wonderland

The study of any philosophy is doomed eventually to the solipsism of the idea as the real world falls away and is replaced by the construct of the world. When Buckley favored being governed by the first 2,000 people in the Manhattan phone book than the faculty at Harvard, he was on solid ground.

The first 2,000 people in the phone book, good or bad, are more likely to live in the real world than in some strange construct of the real world. And that experience will endow them with some sense of how things actually work. Some of the faculty of Harvard may live in Manhattan, but it is an imaginary Manhattan whose social and economic laws differ drastically from those of the world.

Academics are good at theory, not just the theory of riding a bicycle as opposed to the physical act of riding one, but of inhabiting a universe entirely based on that theory. An academic can create a theory in which bicycles cannot be ridden or in which cars have no mass and exist indefinitely in that world. If his theory is trendy enough, if he recruits enough students who become faculty who recruit more students into his peculiar world, the theory will spill over into the real world and begin to affect it.

Some insane obsessions that  can exist only in academia stay there. The taxpayers finance them, but they rarely have to hear about them except when a tabloid looking for a few inches of column outrage reveals how many millions are being spent on studies on why lesbians drink too much or a professor who has spent his entire career writing papers on the gay subtext of Sears catalogs from the 1950s.

Others don't stay there. Our modern obsession with racial subtext is largely the work of academics. Sociology has done more damage to American society than crack cocaine, economists who make a living telling government officials that money can be printed infinitely are a political disease and anything to do with the climate has been so thoroughly contaminated with bad motives and bad science that it might as well involve JFK assassination or moon landing conspiracy theories.

Americans got used to the idea that academia was an eccentric place full of wacky professors who occasionally came up with brilliant ideas. This was a convenient myth to cultivate because it obscured the more problematic fact that outside the sciences, the professors were rarely brilliant and their eccentricity wasn't an individual habit, but a collective political reality distortion field.

Even setting aside the influence of the left, the fields that were meant to serve as storehouses of knowledge and learning instead became wonderlands of strange theories that came to life and took them over until the fields no longer studied anything real, but only found ways to sort facts from the real world into their theory world.

American Studies, now on the receiving end of a good deal of unexpected attention after its clumsy boycott of Israel, has very little to do with studying America and a great deal to do with academics studying a world made out of their own theories that has as much in common with America as Wonderland had with Dodgson's Oxford.

Academia has become an alternate world where human relations exist in a mechanical universe governed entirely by identity politics, where the world is always on the verge of a Green Apocalypse and the only way to make anything work is to route it through the foundational theories of existence. This magical world continually changes in response to new theories bubbling up from trendy publications. The very laws of the universe can be gendered and every historical event can be rewritten by viewing it through the lens of class.

Academia is a magical world where nothing is truly fixed and everything exists on belief. Change the belief and you change the reality. It's a meta-world that has a certain fanciful appeal for intellectuals, but little relevance to the real world where things do not change because the theory does and where outcomes are hard and real and the consequences of a bad theory can mean lives lost.

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