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Shooting the Messenger: In Defense of Academia

Discussion in 'General Debates' started by Debater Slayer, Feb 22, 2021.

  1. Debater Slayer

    Debater Slayer Born-again Glompist
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    In recent years, there seems to have been an increasingly dogmatic, virulent attack on academia under the pretense of "keeping politics out of academia." This pretense, of course, isn't based on a solid, objective criterion for what qualifies as "politics": from the theory of evolution and psychological analysis of gender dysphoria to climate science and renewable energy, demagogues and ideologues have found various ways to attempt to undermine the credibility of scientific and academic fields they deem undesirable for one reason or another.

    Essentially, any scholarly research and scientific facts deemed inconvenient by demagogues and pseudo-intellectuals could easily be dismissed--and face opposition from followers of said demagogues and pseudo-intellectuals--under the guise of promoting freethought and accuracy, or under the banner of any number of bombastic but hollow claims. And because much of the public is misinformed or uninformed about exactly how academia works, it is relatively easy to propagate hyperbole and inaccuracies about how it functions compared to fields that are more familiar to most laypeople.

    It seems to me that these attacks on academic research and researchers largely amount to shooting the messenger. When someone claims that a course on evolution has a "liberal bias," for example, the underlying idea is usually that to eliminate this "bias," the course must not teach evolution as a scientific fact--thereby ignoring long-established facts and findings of biology. It is a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenario for academics, then: either forgo intellectual and scientific integrity or keep facing accusations of "bias," "politicizing academia," "campus politics," etc.

    So, essentially, it is not scholars that the demagogues and their followers have a problem with but rather the findings thereof and the facts revealed and studied by scholars. The scholars are merely the messengers of facts and knowledge that are inconvenient and politically problematic for certain people, and what better way to propose an alternative version of facts than to attempt to poison the well and undermine the credibility of those who spend their whole lives studying and expanding their and others' knowledge of facts?

    "Shoot the messenger to undermine the inconvenient message--whether or not it is accurate and honest." That seems to be the motto of some public figures and their followers nowadays, and academia is one of the primary targets of this simple yet pernicious motto.
     
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  2. Fool

    Fool ALL in all
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    I have a relative who watches OAN after fox news became to liberal. while visiting I overheard a program in which a reporter claimed that sometimes scientist are not the best sources for science. i laughed at the absurdity but no doubt some people would agree.
     
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  3. Vee

    Vee Well-Known Member
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    Completely agree. It's very unfair to people who sometimes spend their entire lives doing research and trying to find answers and help others. They deserve a lot more respect.
    I have a beef with the school system, but not with the scholars on an individual basis. For me the issue is that all school is a "one size fits all" machine, that expects everyone to learn the same things the same way, regardless of their individual capacities and intellect. Everyone is good at something, but we can't all excel at the same things. Unfortunately, diversity is not something school knows how to embrace, in any level.
     
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  4. exchemist

    exchemist Veteran Member

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    Surely, the essence of a culture war is to make ideas the subject of politics, isn't it?

    It's what authoritarians - of both Left and Right - have always done. It comes down to a basic intolerance.
     
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  5. 74x12

    74x12 Well-Known Member

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    The poor persecuted intellectual elites ... persecuted by philistines and commoners. That's basically the portrait you paint but I don't think it's accurate. What I think is they are arrogant enough to see themselves this way and you're helping them further their delusions. The reality is they are pushing extremist views on gullible young adults whose brains aren't even fully developed yet.

    The fact is it's not really one thing or another that we can point to but an overall tendency to push extreme "progressive" ideology. One recent study finds that the communist manifesto is the most assigned economist in U.S. colleges.

    Karl Marx is the most assigned economist in U.S. college classes
     
  6. Kooky

    Kooky Freedom from Sanity

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    Yea, I'm a bit doubtful of the narrative that's being constructed here. It seems to me that a non-trivial amount of this attempt to frame disliked factions of academia as conspiratorial and political agenda-driven nonsense tends to come not from outsiders, but from people inside academia - the calls of "it's too political" are often coming from inside the house, so to speak.

    A highlight of this that immediately comes to my mind is the Sokal affair, a case of what was, essentially, an inter-departmental slap fight between different factions of social theorists that was initially started by a jilted Marxist, but snowballed into an international discussion all across Western humanities departments, only to, a decade out of date, fall into the lap of conservative intellectuals, who then immediately started fantasizing about the sinister agendas of "Post-Modern Neomarxists" in US humanities department - at a time when the entire affair had long blown over and most of the actual Postmodern Neomarxists had already retired to make room for a new, thoroughly anti-Marxist generation of academics.

    In light of this, I am very tempted to advance the argument that a substantial portion of these moral panics - and make no mistake, these are moral panics - over supposedly "political" agendas seem to be advanced by academics who feel threatened by the popularity of a particular theory, school of thought, or scientific consensus; lacking the proper scientific tools to fight these perceived threats, they instead shift their attacks from the scientific onto the political arena, where they can then accuse their opponents of being too leftist for their own good, or the wrong kind of leftist - usually a winning proposition in conservative media, given how popular anti-academia discourse is in those circles.
     
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  7. Kooky

    Kooky Freedom from Sanity

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    I'm curious to hear what exactly you see wrong with assigning Karl Marx as reading in college classes.

    Regardless of how wrong you think he was, I doubt you could argue that he wasn't one of the globally most influential economists - or philosophers! - of the 19th and 20th century. I certainly cannot think of a single other economic theorist who had that far reaching an impact in nearly all areas of intellectual life. Even Keynes, who may have been more influential in economics proper than Marx, probably isn't nearly as widely known outside of economics departments.

    EDIT: Although, for what it's worth, the Communist Manifesto isn't exactly an in-depth work on Marxist economics, being nearly devoid of the depths of economic theory, but rather an early blueprint of the philosophy and political theories of Marx & Engels.
     
    #7 Kooky, Feb 22, 2021
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2021
  8. Brickjectivity

    Brickjectivity Veteran Member
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    Some good points there. While there are recent attacks, attacks are not recent. There is a long history of an endemic problem of people not trusting educated people. They're often sitting ducks just like any misunderstood group, which is what they are. They are a misunderstood group. Unlike grade school teachers, what the hell is a professor? What is a doctor? What are their 'Advanced' degrees for? No one ever taught me this. Until I was in a college and even then some I had no idea nor care.

    Everyone knows what a grade school teacher is, so we can easily discuss disagreements about their curricula. Recently there was a thread about a grade school teacher who proposed that children in her class should consider the thought processes involved in slavery. Membership here on RF was divided over what ought to have happened, but we were able to discuss this. We all knew what grade school teachers were and how important their work was.

    Here's a --link-- to that thread about that teacher.
     
  9. Kooky

    Kooky Freedom from Sanity

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    I'm not sure that's entirely accurate. In the past, some sciences have certainly enjoyed authoritarian support, and vice versa - just think of the gruesome practices of early psychology or anthropology being applied to patriarchial and racist ends in the 19th and early 20th century.

    I do however think you're quite on point with your first remark about culture wars - it seems to me that with the growing importance of identity politics, academia has become yet another vector in the Manichean theatre of American politics.
     
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  10. PureX

    PureX Veteran Member

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    "We must eliminate their bias by imposing our bias!"

    The thing I most often notice about this "we must control academia" crowd is the assumption that other people are such idiots that they can't or won't think for themselves, and so must be "fed" the proper information so that they will know what's real, true, and valuable. Otherwise, they will just become the mindless automatons of whomever fills their heads with whatever information, first.

    It's really quite insulting, and unrealistic, to view other people's minds and hearts in such a grotesque way. And I don't understand what causes this horribly denigrating perspective. Is it just the blindness of ego running amok? Is it some sort of an addiction to the idea of their own imagined self-righteousness? Or are they just projecting their own thoughtlessness onto everyone else? I don't know. But they clearly have no faith in the honesty or intelligence of their fellow human beings, at all.
     
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  11. Revoltingest

    Revoltingest I have the kavorka
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    It's like reading Mein Kampf.
    Tis useful to understand such lines of thought.
    But if some prof is saying "Here's a great idea...",
    that would be a fine kettle of fish.
     
  12. Kooky

    Kooky Freedom from Sanity

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    Mein Kampf did not inspire multiple generations of political and academic life all around the world.

    This is like argueing that people shouldn't read Christian literature because the Crusades happened at some point.
     
  13. Quintessence

    Quintessence Tale Weaver
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    The folks who are doing this don't care.

    Right now my state is attempting to undermine higher education in two ways: eliminating tenure and doing a survey of political affiliation at universities.

    Eliminating tenure is a way to help eliminate academic research whose message is unpopular or controversial, because your job security is now put at risk. And the survey of political affiliation? I struggle to fathom what that's about. All I know is that if it goes through and I get it, I'll refuse to answer or lie on it. If the fact that I help students interest in science means I'm pushing a "liberal agenda" so be it.
     
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  14. Revoltingest

    Revoltingest I have the kavorka
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    Didn't it?
    We should keep an eye on them too.
     
  15. exchemist

    exchemist Veteran Member

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    Yes, I meant that the politicisation of ideas involves some being favoured at the expense of others, e.g. Lysenko in biology and Socialist Realism in art, in Stalin's Russia, or the various "approved" versions of history, in a range of different regimes.

    Academia, by contrast, thrives on challenge and iconoclasm. People make reputations by debunking conventional wisdom. That is deeply disturbing to the authoritarian, not least because of the unpredictable directions it can take.
     
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  16. Kooky

    Kooky Freedom from Sanity

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    No, it didn't.

    What does that entail?
     
  17. Revoltingest

    Revoltingest I have the kavorka
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    Nazism appears to endure, albeit less than Marxism.
    Watching C/hristians....just like the Marxists & Nazis.
     
  18. Valjean

    Valjean Veteran Member
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    But there are certain universals, the basics of which are necessary for a cultural and scientifically literate populace? Shouldn't mathematics, reading, history, scientific methodology, critical thinking, and the fundamentals of biology, chemistry and physics be known universally, before individuals go on to individual specialties?
     
  19. Kooky

    Kooky Freedom from Sanity

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    There is far more to Marxism than politics.

    I don't really believe we need more surveillance these days.
     
  20. Kooky

    Kooky Freedom from Sanity

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    Some examples:
    Marxian economics - Wikipedia
    Marxist aesthetics - Wikipedia
    Marxist film theory - Wikipedia
    Marxist literary criticism - Wikipedia
    Marxist historiography - Wikipedia
    Frankfurt School - Wikipedia
    Critical theory - Wikipedia
    Freudo-Marxism - Wikipedia
    Postcolonialism - Wikipedia
    Post-structuralism - Wikipedia
     
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