Since we had so much fun last time, the Chief, over on Simple Facts of Life, is having me over on his web radio show again today tocontinue our light-hearted discussion of the insanity that is modern ‘thought’: the epistemic closure of the Left, gender theory, the Marxist takeover of the schools – the usual. Wednesday, June 19th, at 3:00 P.M. PDT. Click here to go to the broadcast on his website.
So, if you’re free this afternoon, check it out. If not, it will be up on the Chief’s website shortly afterwards.
Not too long ago, perhaps when some god stirred in his sleep, the idea that America is usefully divided into front row and back row people seemed to have a brief moment of currency. Haven’t heard much of that noise lately, but then again I haven’t been listening for it. Or maybe the god fell back into deep sleep, who knows? At the time, it struck me as typical classist nonsense, looking for a way to separate the good, virtuous, and therefore justifiably successful from the bad, vicious, and therefore unsuccessful in a way most flattering to the presumed good people. I most likely reacted this way because I always sat in the back, and was always among the smarter and more ‘successful’ kids in my classes, so the distinction, such as it is, rang false.
Let’s back up: poking around, this idea seems to trace back to the work of one Chris Arnade. He’s an amatuer journalist/photographer who is a sort of secular saint by virtue of his leaving his job of 20 years as a Wall Street quant in order to hang with and photograph poor people. He was unhappy with the Wall Street culture; they also closed his area due to post Great Recession regulatory burdens, and he got a buyout and retired. (1) Starting around 2012, he began to publish his writings and photos, where he coined or at least popularized the idea of front and back row kids. He just recently published a book (disclosure: I have not read it).
The idea seems to be that the kids who sit in the front row of classrooms are the ambitious leaders who rise above such trivia as race, sex, religion and any brand of localism from nationalism on down, while the kids who sit in the back have no ambitions and are fettered by their failure to rise above race and sex, and cling to their Bibles and their loyalty to place. Kids who are ambitious and smart want to sit up front so that they don’t miss anything and get noticed; kids in the back just want to be left alone, and see no value in school. More or less.
The bastion of the first group is of course the Democratic party; the second group voted for Trump. This is evidently interpreted as a failure by Democrats to understand the less enlightened, and of Trump (diabolically?) capitalizing on that very lack of enlightenment. In other words, the smart, good people failed to understand the stupid, bad people, who then voted for Trump as one of their own – or something. It doesn’t quite make sense. In what sense are people who can’t understand people outside their tribe ‘smart’? In what sense are people who value home and God ‘stupid’? Makes a fellah wonder…
Today, however, I’m not here to criticize this particular flavor of bigotry. Rather, it just happens to illustrate today’s Orwellian euphemism: Critical Thinking. To be fully Orwellian, the euphemism must not only avoid saying what it really means, but must say the opposite of what it means. Thus, critical thinking as used today means mindless conformity, the kind of mindless conformity displayed by the kids who sit in the front rows and kiss teacher hindquarters for a decade and a half.
Just as our last Orwellian euphemism, Academic Freedom, might be expected to result in a wide variety of views being expressed without fear of repercussions, but instead results in a viciously-enforced uniformity of thought, Critical Thinking might be imagined as equipping the critical thinker with the tools to criticize, oh, schooling, say. Or his teacher’s political or social assumptions. Or the conclusions of his social class.
Nope. Critical thinkers don’t ever seem to get around to dredging up, let alone criticizing, their own deeply held assumptions, except when those assumptions – say, loyalty to God, family and village – contradict what their teachers think. Then, in the unlikely event the student were to push back (no chance those front row kids are pushing back – they have future careers and success to think of!) those core beliefs are not so much criticized as laughed off stage. The point of critical thinking, in practice, is to prevent any thoughts critical of the assumptions that underlie the attitudes and goals of the front row kids, while making rejection of those held (maybe – the case has not been made) by the back row kids a requirement for membership in the Kool Kids Klub.
If you were to ask any of Arnade’s current or former peers if they have good critical thinking skills, they would pronounce them excellent. And remain unable to understand those poor back seat kids, except through an analysis such as Arnade’s that runs no real risk of upsetting their own feelings of moral and intellectual superiority.
According to Wikipedia, he’s also a socialist, of the ‘retire young from a mid-6-figure Wall Street job to pursue my hobbies’ style socialists. Wonder what those back row kids would think of that?
I am by no means a huge fan or anything, but over the years I’ve read a number of essays and articles by Camille Paglia, and imagined that, while we’d disagree on most things, and it might get loud, she’s the sort of person I could argue with over a cup of coffee. I might be kidding myself, but she always seemed fairly reasonable within her world of assumptions. If I ever got the chance, I’d take it.
I mention this only because, when I was surfing around looking for information on Gender Theory, I happened across this article in the Atlantic. While perhaps best known as an equal-opportunity gadfly, a feminist who challenges many popular feminist assumptions, a lesbian who doesn’t blame everything bad on men, and, most relevant here, a woman who identifies as a man (sort of) who thinks much of gender theory is weak-minded political nonsense, Paglia is a tenured professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She makes heads explode by saying stuff like this:
The idea that ‘self-esteem’ should be the purpose of education: this is social-welfare propaganda. Development of our intellect and of our abilities has to be the focus … You build identity. Maybe identity comes through conflict. For example, my struggles with gender, my struggles with sexual orientation, my anguish over so many decades produced my work … Sometimes conflict is creative …
If there’s no pressure on you, there’s no pressure to create.
So we have got to stop this idea that we must make life “easy” for people in school … No. Maybe the world is harsh and cruel, and maybe the world of intellect is challenging and confrontational and uncomfortable. Maybe we have to deal with people who hate us, directly, face-to-face. That’s important. You develop your sense of identity by dealing with the things which would obliterate your identity. It does not help you to develop your identity by putting a cushion between yourself and the hateful reality that’s out there.
So of course the kind, most enlightened and morally superior students at her school tried to destroy her: to get her fired and censored. If the school couldn’t legally fire her, they wanted the school to offer alternatives to any class she taught, to ban her from speaking on campus, and to refuse to sell her books.
The usual, in other words. But a very surprising thing happened. The administration, some of the faculty and even the school’s president defended Paglia, and refused to bow to pressure, did not censor her books, and refused to cancel an upcoming lecture she was scheduled to deliver.
As the lecture approached, some people gathered outside to protest. Extra guards vetted those who wanted to attend to keep disruptive people with protest posters out. “My students seemed to feel as though they were crossing something of a picket line just to be attending the event without the intent of shouting Camille down,” one teacher said. Another mentions “…the frustrations of some of the students in attendance, a number of them trans and queer identifying, who under unthinkable pressures from their peer group to conform to the political agenda du jour, showed up that night not to protest but to listen.”
The lecture got stopped after a little while by someone pulling a fire alarm, causing the evacuation not only of the lecture, but nearby classrooms. The people inside were forced out into a largely hostile protest crowd where they could be sworn at by a couple of the most sensitive, open-minded and caring people the world has ever known. So, mission accomplished: while stopping the lecture turned out not to be possible, an atmosphere of social intimidation made it clear what the price of disobeying your betters would be.
Note that this level of overt intimidation is rarely needed. Instead, the school has already filtered out kids who might disagree, unless such kids have been cowed into perpetual silence by years of school training (hint: if they’ve applied for college, they have). Paglia, as an old person with tenure and a history of feather-ruffling, and, most importantly, a woman checking nearly all the boxes – woman, lesbian, feminist, transgender, atheist – could risk speaking up. You think a random kid from the suburbs is going to do anything but comply? ALL the authority figures are going to smile if not outright gush upon any kid who bravely confesses his sexual confusion to the cheering crowds. Expressing the slightest doubt in public will get you crucified; administration support for free speech is irrelevant to the social pressure.
The author of the article asked the kid behind the petition to destroy Paglia for comments. Here’s what zhjee (or whatever) said:
Paglia’s comments have echoed the hateful language that pushes so many transgender people to contemplate suicide, and encourage transphobic people to react to transgender people violently. We have been experiencing an interesting phenomenon where Paglia’s supporters have been signing our petition in order to leave dissenting comments (this is especially odd considering they have a counter petition that they are welcome to sign). Some of these comments are extremely concerning and blatantly transphobic.
Just one example: “You are either born male, female, or deformed (physically or mentally). Trans people are mentally diseased and often violent. If they are not able to accept the reality of their disease and cope with it they must be removed from society by any means necessary. Some might argue that the high suicide rate among those suffering from this severe mental disease is nature correcting itself. Camille Paglia is a transgender person who was able to accept and overcome her mental disease. Be like Camille.”
Like it or not, Paglia’s philosophies empower people like this, who would have transgender people “removed from society by any means necessary” (this is a violent threat). This has a lasting, negative impact on the transgender community at UArts––whether it be through the psychological damage that comes with being told that you are deformed and diseased and deserve to die, or whether it be through people like Paglia’s supporters acting on their violent beliefs. To have her spouting these beliefs in the classroom and elsewhere makes life more difficult––and dangerous––for transgender students.
I personally know at least one person who, due to Paglia’s comments, has experienced suicidal thoughts and has considered leaving the University. The comments that many of us have been receiving online have caused public safety at our school to be told to up their security game, in case our (very queer) student body is targeted by angry supporters of hers. This is what we mean when we say that her views are not merely controversial, but dangerous.
To his deathless credit, the author shoots this down thus:
That argument—a speaker is responsible for harms that are theoretical, indirect, and so diffuse as to encompass actions of strangers who put themselves on the same side of a controversy —is untenable. Suppressing speech because it might indirectly cause danger depending on how people other than the speaker may react is an authoritarian move. And this approach to speech, applied consistently, would of course impede the actions of the anti-Paglia protesters as well.
After all, Paglia identifies as transgender, making her a member of the group at heightened risk of suicide. She was subjected to angry chants from perhaps 200 students, including two cisgender students who shouted curse words at her, not to mention an ongoing effort to take away her livelihood and force her from her longtime community. Social-media protests and the Change.org petition led to vitriol and threats, as in any major culture-war controversy. So treated, many people would suffer more psychological distress than if they saw a YouTube clip, however odious, that didn’t target them personally.
One particularly odious tactic is blaming Paglia for comments made anonymously that claim to be based on what she’s said, but which go much farther than Paglia’s words. In this case, the example given also reads suspiciously like a false flag operation to me, as it has long seemed the demand for the right kind of abuse outstrips the supply. Boils down to a rule: If anyone who speaks positively about somebody I don’t like says something mean, all blame can be assigned to the person I don’t like. (A corollary: and I get to interpret all words in the worst possible light.)
So, on the one hand, this is a story about the administration and faculty members, for the the most part, doing the right thing. Wow! Huzzah! But, on the other, a story about just exactly how it will make no difference unless kids, in the classroom and the common room, are free to disagree. They are not. The only way ‘academic freedom’ in the non-Orwellian sense will ever trickle down to the students is if *faculty* are able to disagree, in public, out loud, and support kids who agree with them. But as discussed in the last post, the culmination of decades of work by critical theorists and their useful idiots has made sure no dissenting voices will ever be heard.
The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’. The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another…
…Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification…
But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better.
Academic Freedom. This lovely phrase is supposed to mean that academics are free to pursue whatever line of thinking they want without having to worry about being attacked. Only their peers are qualified to criticize them, as everyone else is assumed to lack the necessary expertise to understand them. Think of it this way: you hire a plumber or an auto mechanic, but are forbidden to judge their work. Instead, only other plumbers and auto mechanics can say if the drain drains or car runs well. Even though you paid for the work, you are in fact prohibited from raising any issues, lest you infringe on the sacred freedom of the plumbers and mechanics, whose arts and mysteries are outside your ken, you commoner, you.
That’s academic freedom. (1) What could possibly go wrong?
In the mean old days, before we had academic freedom enshrined as a foundational principle of our universities, without which certain unspecified evils were sure to beset us, people like provosts and parents and financial backers assumed they had a say in who taught and what they taught. They could get professors fired for being immoral or teaching treasonous or merely insane things.
In addition to the merely pedestrian libertines among the professorial class, Marxists, Freudians, and other frauds didn’t like this state of affairs. So, by the 1930s, anytime anyone attacked academics for being frauds or traitors or simply lunatics, all the good people would circle the wagons and declare: academic freedom! All criticisms, no matter how reasonable, are summarily dismissed as lacking standing. All sorts of idiocy and evil are thus immunized from attack.
This use of “academic freedom“ has proven indispensable to Marxists and their useful idiots as they took over the schools. Insiders were subject to political power plays; outsiders were excluded from the discussion.
Thus, 18 year olds are subject to a homogenous intellectual environment, where they’ll never hear any professor say, for example, that the idea that everything is a social construct is self refuting and moronically stupid. Nope, all they’ll see are heads nodding in agreement. This complete homogeneity of thought, this utter enslavement of academics to a single school of ‘thought,’ in fact, enslavement to a single political idea, is the necessary and intended result of academic freedom.
Yes, college professors are glorified plumbers and mechanics, only much less useful. I went there.
A. Was talking with a 6 year old of my acquaintance, nice little boy. He was telling me that he gets to go to first grade next year, because he was nice and followed the rules. He said almost all the kids in his class get to go to first grade, there was only one boy who was in doubt, because he was always in time out because he talked. I opined that it was pretty normal to want to talk when you’re with your friends, but my young friend said this boy talked all the time and almost never even raised his hand.
No mention of learning anything, except that the price of advancement is being nice and doing what you are told. The young woman who taught at our school (she quit – another victim of the gender fascists discussed here earlier) was in the room. Sotto voce, I asked: how subversive should I get? She seemed to be for it, but I, thinking of this boy’s immigrant single mom, decided not to sow discontent too directly.
His 8 year old brother showed up. He showed me a set of paper strips whereupon were written compliments from his classmates. These included ‘funny,’ ‘generous,’ ‘kind,’ ‘friendly,’ and so on – I half expected ‘punctual,’ as these comments didn’t seem like the kinds of things the 2nd graders I’ve known would come up with on their own. He gets to go to 3rd grade. He is a very nice boy, too.
Once in a while, these kids will tell me about something they’ve learned, all excited about reading hard words or being able to figure out some math. I wonder how much of their school experience is really about learning basics. It seems all but completely about learning to be nice and follow orders.
On a more subtle and damaging level, any sense of real achievement is subverted into awards for mere conformity. Real achievement allows a child to develop a healthy sense of independence, a notion that he, himself, can do worthy things that are not merely plays for somebody else’s approval. (1) Our schools systematically defeat this, by rewarding compliance and compelling empty compliments. It’s telling that one side of the political spectrum went so far as to make ‘you didn’t build that’ a sort of mantra and litmus test. The very idea of achievement is seen as a bad thing. As people of low or no achievement, they hate and fear precisely the independence their opponents admire and hold up as an ideal.
This process of rewarding compliance while defeating any sense of real achievement is an implementation of Fichte’s goal of reassigning a child’s natural loyalties to the state, based on his claim that what a child wants more than anything is the approval of his father. Fichte stated this desire can easily be redirected into seeking the approval of a (state certified) teacher. The goal, according to Fichte, is to destroy family and paternal loyalty and replace it with loyalty to the state (for the child’s own good, of course).
Academics, of course, are all in on “social” explanations of historical phenomena. Being weak, ineffective people themselves, with no experience of life, the very idea of a Caesar frightens and repels them… so they construct theories of History in which it is impossible for a Caesar to exist. On this view, “social forces” (what they used to call “the relations of the means of production”) tore the Roman Republic apart; the Empire was its inevitable next stage. Assign whatever name you like to the Imperator — whether Caesar, Marius, Sulla, or Miles Gloriosus, he’s just the temporary face of the vast, impersonal social forces that control our fate. None of this “History is just the biographies of great men” for them!
Academics as the type specimens of the “Kool Kids Klub membership is the only achievement” crowd. In connection with Great Men, Severian observes something that should be obvious: any culture recognizable as a culture over many generations produces people who are motivated and equipped to
continue that culture. This should be a night follows day level truism. He gives Julius Caesar as an example, who as a 15 year old kid was sent on family diplomatic missions, given command of family guards, and took it upon himself to hunt down and execute some pirates who had kidnapped him and held him for ransom. While Julius was likely more talented than the run of the mill scion of a Roman patriarch, his training was typical. A teenage boy is hankering for some responsibility. The Romans, even if they may seem to us to have gone a bit far, gave such responsibility to their sons as befitted the keepers of a Republic (or an Empire, as needs may be).
The second, regarding Jonathan Haidt’s book asserting politics is a function of morality, where he talks about classifying liberal and conservative, left and right, whatever, using 5 categories – care, fairness, authority, loyalty, and purity. (Note: that’s stretching the idea of morality past the breaking point, at least, as understood in the West for the last 1,000 years, but whatever.) Severian points out how Haidt’s analysis is exactly opposite of reality:
Start from the top. Care? Liberals very ostentatiously don’t give a shit if their policies actually help or not. How’s gay marriage going, for instance? Anyone bother to follow up on that? Did that loving gay couple ever get those hospital visitation rights that we were told, in story after heart-wrenching story, was the whole reason for gay marriage in the first place? As I’ve pointed out before, you’d think the Left would at least be doing some victory laps at this point — “haha silly wingnutz, you said the sky would fall if the gays got married, and look!” But…. nope. Obergefell might as well have happened in the 17th century, for all the Left cares about it now. Ditto the Great Society, the War on Poverty, Head Start, and all the other great Liberal crusades of the past 50 years. They very obviously did the opposite of what they were supposed to, but if Liberals bother to think about them at all — which they only do if you hold their feet to the fire — they just mutter “needs more funding” and change the subject.
Again, we have the dichotomy whereby, on the one hand, people who value achievement (and, therefore, more likely than not, have achieved stuff) tend to strongly care about if and how a proposal is supposed to work, meaning, among other things, they’ve had to wrestle with what ‘work’ means. On the other hand, there are the people I’m always going on about, for whom membership is the only achievement. They care only about signaling they are in the club, and seem truly baffled when people like me keep asking how a proposal is supposed to work, and, indeed, what work means.
My favorite example: when Obamacare was first on the table, I kept hearing wildly ridiculous claims, such as the profits of the drug and healthcare companies would cover the additional costs, and the implicit idea that ‘health care’ is like pork bellies or soy futures – completely fungible, so that the cost of healthcare in, say, Brazil, whatever that means, is somehow relevant to what we call healthcare here in America.
So I did a little research and crunched some numbers. Um, no. It was painfully clear that Obamacare supporters cared only about supporting Obamacare, as in no way was better, cheaper healthcare going to result from it, as events have since demonstrated. But to even go in the direction of considering likely results is a no-no, you hater, you.
It should not need to be said that individual success and the healthy independence it engenders do not exclude appreciation the contributions of others nor make one antisocial. On the contrary, it seems more common for one to both achieve nothing and fail to be grateful. It’s difficult for ingrates to be sociable.
The Chief, over on Simple Facts of Life, is having me over on his web radio show to talk for half an hour about this post, in which I discuss three reasons to reject Gender Theory. We may talk about other things, we’ll see. Wednesday, May 8th, at 3:00 P.M. PDT. Click here to go to his website.
So, if you’re free tomorrow afternoon, check it out. If not, it will, I think, be up on the Chief’s website shortly afterwards.
In previous posts (here and here) I’ve mentioned how our little school, which my wife and I helped found 23 years ago, through which all 5 of our children passed (our 15 year old is still there) and for which my wife worked, often for no pay, over most of the last 20 years, has decided that not calling someone by his preferred pronoun is, effectively, a hate crime subjecting the perp to discipline by the school. The way the rule was worded extended the reach of the school everywhere: never mind if it’s accidental, the person referred to isn’t there at the time, or, theoretically, at least, if it happens off campus: comply, or suffer the consequences.
The latest: at last night’s Assembly Meeting (parents + students + at large members – attendance is optional, so maybe 20 people showed up) where we pass next year’s budget, elect officers, fill committees and hear reports, my wife, one of the very bravest people I’ve ever known, stood up and announced that she was not returning for staff next year, because the school had mandated compliance with ‘gender affirmation’, making it an offense subject to school discipline for anyone to not use a person’s preferred pronoun, and effectively silencing all opposition.
A few people actually make surprised and sympathetic noises, but, apart from me and our 15 year old son, everyone was on the side of gender theory. The best we got were some questions on why it wasn’t OK for someone to disagree if they were polite about it, and a few ‘it was nice knowing you’ testimonials. The Dunning-Kruger crowd, who orchestrated chasing us off and thinks they’re going to run things just fine, was predictably silent.
My beloved’s sense of duty will keep her there for the next 5 weeks until school is out. Our son, who will likewise finish the year, will be ‘home schooled’ (meaning: he can do whatever he wants, which these days means reading, doing an hour of Khan Academy, Boy Scout stuff and playing video games) until he’s 16. Then, he can figure out what he wants to do next, and we’ll strategize. (All his 4 siblings went to college with no more prep than he has now. I repeat: don’t sweat this stuff!)
There are a few loose ends to tie up, but basically, we’re done and frankly relieved. I don’t expect this to end quite this quietly, but am at a loss to imagine, at this point, how the diabolical ugliness will next manifest itself.