The Victims’ Revolution

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All of these studies, Bawer avers, exist in a kind of “bizarre academic time warp” in which adherents deny American social progress and cling ever more tenaciously to narratives of suffering. Moreover, their overt contempt for the purported enemy—whether mainstream American society in general or Christian heterosexual white men in particular—reveals the limits of their vaunted tolerance. Bawer refers to Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s sneering dismissal of what she calls “heterosexual male self-pity,” pointing out that her hatred would be unacceptable if directed at any other group. That many academics are more concerned with establishing chic credentials than advancing the well-being of their fellows was starkly revealed when queer theorist Judith Butler expressed admiration, in 2010, for Hamas and Hezbollah, and denounced a gay organization in Germany for—wait for it—its supposed Islamophobia in criticizing Muslim violence against gay men. The Ivory Tower arrogance of her stance spoke far more clearly than her tortured prose.

Bawer is the ideal person to have written this book. A PhD in English literature who decided not to pursue an academic career, he is perfectly positioned to dissect the complicated rhetoric of these disciplines and to explain their founding texts and assumptions. Particularly helpful is his ability to expose with wit and common sense the bad faith and self-indulgence of what passes for elite knowledge in the modern academy, only a few examples of which I have been able to highlight, but which make his book absorbing from first to last. His extensive documentation and elegant analysis build to his Emperor-has-no-clothes conclusion about the intellectual vacuity at the heart of the Humanities today. Attending one of a number of conferences in which callow youth present banalities as if they were insights, he reflects that “Most of the people presenting papers at this conference are junior professors or graduate students who, by all indications, have only the most rudimentary familiarity with history, literature, philosophy, or any other legitimate field of learning. They haven’t been educated in anything—they’ve only been trained to mimic their teachers’ jargon and given license to pronounce on things about which they know next to nothing.”  This damning summation has been amply prepared.

If all of this were merely (merely!) a matter of higher education, it would be dismal enough. But as Bawer persuasively contends, the effects are far-reaching, the emphasis on victims having not only corrupted education but “increasingly weakened the fabric of American civil society, the shared culture that has made America great.” Students are not learning their history—the few slogans and ideas they imbibe merely slander the West in broad strokes—and they have no sense of the extraordinary privileges they enjoy in a free country or why they have them. The only thing they have learned thoroughly is an ignorant contempt for their own culture. For Bawer, this situation represents a betrayal of these young people’s heritage: “The people who ‘teach’ these postmodern subjects talk about power, but what they have done as alleged educators is as despicable an abuse of power as one could imagine—because they have used their power to rob young people of their priceless legacy as heirs to the riches of human civilization.”

Although he finds a few glimmers of hope—some skeptical students interested in genuine learning, internet sites that counter academic propaganda, and a few stalwart professors teaching real subjects—Bawer concludes that we are still very much caught in the Identity Studies debacle and that concerted action by parents and administrators will be necessary, though perhaps not sufficient, to bring about change. One can be fairly confident that few academics will rally to the cause. In his recent New York Times review, for example, Andrew Delbanco dismisses The Victims’ Revolution as a “deliberately intemperate book” and “mostly a caricature” with only a “modicum of truth,” contending that Bawer is fighting a phantom enemy that no longer holds the field. This is grossly inaccurate, especially given that Bawer’s study bristles with statistics, direct citations of conference presentations, and detailed close readings of major Identity Studies texts. A patient and comprehensive document, it should be required reading for every humanities student at a North American university.

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  • Chezwick

    I'll buy it…and when I'm done, I'll give it to a liberal sibling or in-law…making certain I point out that Bruce is gay and a former liberal. His sexuality shouldn't matter (and doesn't to me and most conservatives), but to libs, being gay somehow makes one intrinsically benign and victimized, and therefore more credible than a hetero. Perhaps then, they might be reached.

    Pathetic!

  • clarespark

    As an example of the identity politics revolution look no further than the fields of cultural anthropology and social psychology as managed by the early 20th century "progressives" responding to the Great War and its subsequent revolutions. The source was the notion of group character as developed by Herder and the German Romantics. Here is one particularly telling example as the week of the Republican Convention develops: http://clarespark.com/2009/09/06/the-hebraic-amer…. "The Hebraic American Landscape: Sublime or Despotic?" The footnotes are especially juicy.

  • Jonathan Cohen

    Much of the social sciences and humanities at American colleges and universities has come to be dominated by what i would call "victim politics flavored with Marxism". This unfortunate trend is driven not so much by ideology but by its usefulness in pursuing the standard perks of the profession; tenure, merit increases, appointment to influential committees, and above all, financial suppor for new hires, special departments, academic conferences and the like.

    The true victims are the students who are the object of this program of indoctrination. It is amazing how pervasive such behavior is in the traditional departments of social sciences and humanities and how much of their rhetoric creeps into the governance of the universities.

    The most troubling aspect of the Obama administration is that such a high percentage of appointments to policy making positions in the federal government were marinated in this stew of victimology and regard their job as to make government policy based on this nonsense.

  • Spider

    Our schools from K1-12 through university graduate school teach nothing but garbage. After graduation their students.have the lowest skill set of any industrialized nation and at the highest cost. I might add that's for the 50% who actually graduate. What other endeaver in society creates a product (educated citizens in this case) where there is absolutely no accountability for the quality of the product or that the product even gets finished in the first place ??We need to return to a job skills and profession based education system that can compete with other countries. Currently our schools churn out derilect political philosophers identity hate groups and even violent revolutionary activisits. This has to stop! We are paying for this garbage and we must demand better or we soon will become a bananna republic – or make that a Com-munist dictatorship. School systems should be defunded unless they show that they can produce well ballanced educated and productive students with an advanced skill set. The unions need to be told right where to go since they are only in it for themselves.

    • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLNn2YflwNs Roger

      Local control, limits on union demands and rewards for results.

      All three are gone and the consequences are going to destroy us.

  • tagalog

    The article comments on how feminists claim that women are not treated significantly better in the United States than they are in Pakistan or Afghanistan. I've noticed that too, in my travels. I ascribe that kind of thinking to a state of mind that conflates a concept with reality. The feminists seem to be saying, "If women are discriminated against, there is only a difference in quantity, not a difference in quality." But in fact, laws that -for example- mandate stoning women for adultery in 2012 are different in QUALITY from laws that (as in New York State) prohibit women from sitting on a jury in 1975 (it's no longer the law and hasn't been for some time).

    So the kind of thinking that drives feminist and racial studies employing that kind of delusional equivalence of over-broad conceptualizing with the reality of life, is of course, bankrupt and ought to be ignored by everyone. We look at the grain of sand in our own eye and think it's the same as the beam in the eye of the Pakistanis.

  • jzsnake

    Bruce is my hero.

  • http://oldschooltwentysix.blogspot.com/ oldschooltwentysix
  • guest

    When you teach people they are victims, they get a big chip on their shoulder. They feel a big sense of grievance. And they can't take legitimate criticism. In fact, any criticism whether fair or unfair, should be looked at – people should be taught to examine themselves honestly. For instance, black attacks on whites (or other blacks) is a big problem, and blacks should face up to it. "Islamophobia" has very legitimate reasons (remember 9/11?). I've seen remarks by "gays" as to what horrible things they'd like to do to Pat Buchanan (by the way I disagree strongly with him on several things). Maybe gays should consider that extremely promiscuous lifestyles that spread diseases is not a good idea.
    I've made racist remarks, and as a consequence, was told by a black man that "we will annihilate you". I've made anti-gay remarks, and was told by a female couple that I must be "kept down!".
    I've been physically attacked.
    Our education system should teach tolerance of criticism, not only tolerance of racial differences.

  • Ghostwriter

    I'm afraid all this PC stuff has become very harmful. It should be dealt with.

  • Schlomotion

    In her glowing "independent" review of Mr. Bawer's book and her laudatory listing of all the "fine-critics" Frontpage offers in the same pantheon, Janice Fiamengo neglects to disclose that she is a featured writer for Pajamas Media. She thus has a conflict of interest in writing a Beatlemaniacal review of Mr. Bawer's book and it is both intellectually dishonest and a form of acclaim-counterfeiting.

  • Jim_C

    This expose neglects the whiniest, most put-upon victim mentality, entitled-feeling identity group in the country–American conservatives!

    • John C

      Jim: If you are referring to Southerners, you are absolutely correct. John C

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    I love Bruce too… but no need to be sensitive.. Great read Janice.. thanx

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