Crimson Idiocy

George Will has an absolutely magnificent column about the brouhaha over Harvard President Larry Summers recent comments about women in academia:

Addressing a conference on the supposedly insufficient numbers of women in tenured positions in university science departments, he suggested that perhaps part of the explanation might be innate — genetically based — gender differences in cognition. He thought he was speaking in a place that encourages uncircumscribed intellectual explorations. He was not. He was on a university campus.

Biting, but all too true.

Someone like MIT biology professor Nancy Hopkins, the hysteric (see above) who, hearing Summers, “felt I was going to be sick. My heart was pounding and my breath was shallow.” And, “I just couldn’t breathe because this kind of bias makes me physically ill.” She said that if she had not bolted from the room, “I would’ve either blacked out or thrown up.”

Is this the fruit of feminism? A woman at the peak of the academic pyramid becomes theatrically flurried by an unwelcome idea and, like a Victorian maiden exposed to male coarseness, suffers the vapors and collapses on the drawing room carpet in a heap of crinolines until revived by smelling salts and the offending brute’s contrition?

Now, I think what Summer’s said was ill-considered, but the reaction to it was nothing short of idiotic. The last time I check, university campuses were supposed to be bastions of free expression. Instead they’ve become insular communities where dissenting views are systematically ridiculed and shot down. The leftist orthodoxy (calling it “liberal” is an insult to the term) has controlled academia for years now, and it’s only recently that the right has started to do something about it. Through groups like FIRE, the right has started to end the draconian and stultifying climate on college and university campuses, although they face an uphill battle.

Will nails the essential ideological struggle involved here:

Hopkins’s hysteria was a sample of America’s campus-based indignation industry, which churns out operatic reactions to imagined slights. But her hysteria also is symptomatic of a political tendency that manifested itself in some criticism of President Bush’s inaugural address, which was a manifesto about human nature.

This criticism went beyond doubts about his grandiose aspirations, to rejection of the philosophy that he might think entails such aspirations but actually does not. The philosophy of natural right — the Founders’ philosophy — rests on a single proposition: There is a universal human nature.

From that fact come, through philosophic reasoning, some normative judgments: Certain social arrangements — particularly government by consent attained by persuasion in a society accepting pluralism — are right for creatures of this nature. Hence the doctrine of “natural right,” and the idea of a nation “dedicated,” as Lincoln said, to the “proposition” that all men are created equal.

The vehemence of the political left’s recoil from this idea is explained by the investment political radicalism has had for several centuries in the notion that human beings are essentially blank slates. What predominates in determining individuals’ trajectories — nature or nurture? The left says nature is negligible, nurturing is sovereign. So a properly governed society can write what it wishes on the blank slate of humanity. This maximizes the stakes of politics and the grandeur of government’s role. And the importance of governing elites, who are the “progressive” vanguards of a perfected humanity.

Universities have become giant experiments in social engineering – efforts to create a new englightened homo sapiens novum that is free of the “false consciousness” of the old order.

Instead what they’ve created is (for the large parts) fry cooks who can quote Proust. Rather than teaching people how to think, many students are getting orthodoxy shovelled down their throats and any real rational thought is immediately castigated, especially if it divulges from the “race/gender/class” axis that is the predominant focus of almost all academia. While there are certainly exceptions to these generalizations, many are getting shortchanged.

Sadly, if you’re searching for real intellectual diversity, a university campus is generally one of the last places to look.

One thought on “Crimson Idiocy

  1. Liberalism would still prevail on college campuses without embarrassing attempts to control speech. As someone who didn’t always ascribe to the politically correct brand of liberalism espoused in many of my college classes, I often found myself holding back in fear of self-righteous retribution by the professor and his/her defenders. I expect many others did the same, and probably held back more often than I did. The Larry Summers example is a classic case of the politically correct left giving ammunition to those on the right who suggest they’re intolerant of dissent. In many ways, they are…and for them to respond with such breathless indignation to a claim as benign as Summers makes it harder to take them seriously when discussing real issues for which they should be listened to. As a nation, we are being suffocated by those from both parties offering simple solutions to complex problems for political expediency. College professors frequently counter that with sociopolitical reality…at least the ones I had did. If only academia could learn to better choose its battles instead of banging their spoons against their high chairs over a claim that genetics play a role in sciene proficiency, they could become a weapon against the right, rather than a weapon of the right.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.