Earlier this week, a link at Instapundit led me to a piece by one Ryan Lovelace, a gutsy college journalism major who has dared to tell the truth about the curricular lunacy at the place where he’s studying, “a small Midwestern liberal arts institution in Indianapolis” called Butler University. His primary focus is on Political Science 201: Research and Analysis, a class taught by a black woman who calls on students, in the name of “social justice,” to use “inclusive language,” meaning language that “affirms sexuality, racial and ethnic backgrounds,” and so on, and that, Lovelace writes, expects students “to disregard their ‘American-ness, maleness, whiteness, heterosexuality, middle-class status’ when writing and speaking in the classroom.”
If it is unclear to you what any of this might mean in practice, join the club.
Jay Howard, Butler’s dean of liberal arts and sciences, offered Lovelace the explanation that all this was about “leveling hierarchies” and complained that part of the reason why leveling those hierarchies is such a bitch is the English language: “We don’t have a generic singular, I mean we have he and she. There is no pronoun that is gender-neutral there.” For my part, I can’t easily think of a Western language in which that isn’t the case, but of course, as always, Western civilization is doubtless at the heart of the whole problem: presumably there are plenty of wonderful, sensitive non-Western languages with non-gendered singular pronouns that, if adopted in Indianapolis and environs, would much better serve the noble cause of progress toward an all-inclusive, gender-blind utopia in which all those nasty old hierarchies will be as leveled out as a parking lot. (Want paradise? Put up a parking lot.)
In any case, as Lovelace argues, and as Dean Howard’s comments would certainly seem to confirm, “the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Butler University believes its students were raised as racist and misogynist homophobes who have grown to harbor many prejudices, a stance that is both offensive and hostile to any student’s ability to learn.” Lovelace – who tells us, incidentally, that he quit that ridiculous Poli-Sci class (rah!), and who also mentions almost parenthetically that an “education” at Butler costs 40,000 simoleons a year – notes that while he expected, when he first headed off to college, “to hear professors express opinions different from my own,” he “did not expect to be judged before I ever walked through the door, and did not think I would be forced to agree with my teachers’ worldviews or suffer the consequences.”
One of Glenn Reynolds’s readers at Instapundit commented that she’d taken a freshman seminar at Duke University in which the first thing the professor told them “was that we were all white male supremacists” – including her, “a half-Asian woman.” Readers of Lovelace’s piece offered a cornucopia of similar autobiographical tidbits. For my part, my first thought on reading Lovelace’s piece was that most of his fellow students at Butler would probably be better off at a school where you actually go to learn how to be a butler. At least that would be more useful, career-wise, than the kind of bilge that that Poli-Sci prof is peddling.
My second thought was that Butler might almost have been named for our favorite fourflushing academic hustler, Judith Butler, whose world-class flair for empty but formidably pretentious hokum has made her the doyenne of the contemporary humanities, in which essentially content-free “studies” (Women’s Studies, Queer Studies, Fat Studies, etc.) are spreading like kudzu. But no, it turns out that Butler University was founded way back in 1885 by an abolitionist named Butler. How sad that an institution established by a man with a real cause has ended up as an overpriced grab-bag of all of today’s academy’s most fashionably pietistic pseudo-causes.
It’s wrong to pile on Butler University, of course. It’s just one more depressing example – out of thousands – of the way in which inane orthodoxies have come to rule the roost in the humanities departments of North American campuses. But three cheers for Lovelace: for the more examples students can provide of the ubiquity of this folderal, and of its impact on their efforts to acquire a real education, the better. For the most striking thing I’ve learned from the response to my own current book The Victims’ Revolution, which addresses this deplorable phenomenon head-on, is that there’s an amazing amount of resistance out there to the fact that this kind of thinking really does dominate humanities divisions nowadays, and/or to the notion that there’s anything terribly wrong with it. I’m quick to point out in the book that, yes, there are exceptions – humanities programs, departments, and even whole universities that have dodged the postmodernist bullet. Indeed, even in some of the most appalling departments in the worst affected colleges and universities it’s not uncommon to find individual professors who provide students with first-rate educations in their fields.
Yet, as I’ve come to realize, part of the explanation for why these oppressive, lockstep orthodoxies continue to thrive at so many institutions of higher education is that even professors who in theory are – or should be – fiercely opposed to them have arrived at a kind of modus vivendi with them, and in some cases have even come to identify with them in, say, much the same way that many diplomats representing free countries come to identify with, and are in many cases even prepared to excuse, justify, and vouch for the character of, fellow diplomats who represent the vilest and most tyrannical of regimes.
How else to explain the review of The Victims’ Revolution that appeared in Reason – the (usually) eminently reliable libertarian magazine that boasts its enthusiasm for “free minds” and “free markets” and that one would not ordinarily expect to be particularly happy with the patterns of ideological indoctrination addressed in my book? The reviewer, a nominally libertarian professor at Auburn University, insists, contrary to my claims, that fields like Women’s Studies, Queer Studies, and Chicano Studies do indeed give “due [and presumably valuable] attention to the experiences and perspectives of groups that have traditionally been marginalized and oppressed in Western societies.” He also slams my “superficial, dismissive, and often insulting treatment” of supposedly important “thinkers” such as the shrill propagandist hacks Catharine MacKinnon and Judith Butler. And he suggests, in the name of “critical engagement,” that students would “gain more from studying both Aristotle and [Michel] Foucault, both Samuel Butler and Judith Butler, than from studying just the one or just the other.”
What quickly becomes clear is that the “libertarianism” of Reason‘s reviewer is a peculiar thing indeed, which does not prevent him for a moment from approaching his postmodernist colleagues’ approaches to education – based, in large part, on the totalitarian prescriptions of Frantz Fanon and Paulo Freire – with a benign collegiality. But then again, as it turns out, this purported libertarian is a man whose response to 9/11 was to pen a thoroughly serious open letter to “Mr. Osama bin Laden” in which he broke the following dark news to the addressee: “You have become George Bush.” In short, the man from Reason is the sort of morally bankrupt moral-equivalency maven who, as a rule, can only be found either raving on a street corner or comfortably ensconced in some academic sinecure – an individual, that is, who, even as he seeks to dismiss my book’s thesis, is in many ways the very embodiment of the out-of-touch ivory-tower tomfoolery of which both I and Ryan Lovelace of Butler University have had quite enough.
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