Anti-intellectualism in humanities academia?

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Whale_Tuune
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26 Nov 2020, 10:29 pm

I'm set to graduate with a humanities degree in May, but I'm reflecting on the problems with academia today, and I'm really disappointed with my humanities education.

For one thing, my major is religious studies, but I haven't really developed a terribly sophisticated understanding of religion from my classes alone. They tend to focus strongly on imperialism and colonialism, with a hefty dose of neo-Marxism. They're discussion heavy and interesting courses, and I'm (I guess) pretty far to the left and what you'd call a market socialist myself. And yet, I find a lot of the leftist culture in academia stifling.

Take a recent religion course which I was in. The professor, a chair of Catholic studies, boldly asserted to my class that the Nazis were all Christians and had Christian in their name. The reality of the situation is more complex than that.

(In short, Hitler and his inner circle were ambivalent or hostile to Christianity, preferring deism or neopaganism instead. Himmler in particular considered Christian principles of mercy and forgiveness incompatible with Nazism. However, the vast majority of registered Nazis were Catholic or Protestant identifying, and the virulent anti-semitism of Church Fathers like Chrysostom and Martin Luther made Germany easily primed for Hitler's rhetoric. Hitler also attempted to submit Christianity to his regime by developing the bizarre "Positive Christianity" movement, which did away with such things like the trinity and virgin birth. However, the Nazis did not have Christian in their name, and Christian efforts to resist Nazis, ie the Scholls/the White Rose Society, Orthodox martyrs like Maria Skobtsova, the works of Catholic bishops and leaders, Quaker subversives, etc should not be understated.)

The professor also claimed that it was Emperor Constantine who converted to Christianity and immediately made it the faith of the Roman Empire. (This harkens back to Protestant anti-Catholic rhetoric, which paints Constantine's conversion to Christianity as the beginning of the faith's fall from grace. I'm not Catholic or Protestant, but while Constantine's conversion began a new trend of Christian emperors save for Julian the Apostate, it was Emperor Theodosius who officially decreed that Christianity become the religion of the Roman Empire, sixty years after Constantine.) When I pointed out both errors, she made no attempt at self-correction and just swept it under the rug.

Scholarship in disability studies tends to skew heavily towards the "social model of disability" to the exclusion of the charity model and the medical model, which are seen as "degrading" (as they rightly can be if applied poorly and indiscriminately-- but they have genuine utility, especially for those severely impaired). I've discussed in a previous post how poorly researched and articulated scholarship in the field can be, and still be presented as solid scholarship. It's frustrating to see poorly sourced articles gaining such esteem because they are saying the things that leftist academics want to hear.

Half the time, I think that I'm going to learn about nonverbal rhetoric (pertinent information for an Aspie) or about the history of yoga, and instead get a lecture on capitalism, colonialism, and racism.

Obviously, these discussions need to happen, but they don't need to be so all encompassing that undergraduates walk away with no perspective or knowledge but the same anti-capitalist, "we can deconstruct all inequality in society with socialism and anti-prejudice" rhetoric that they heard over and over again across classes and disciplines. What's even worse is the culture in many of these circles, which is that any dissenting opinion is inherently prejudiced, and anyone who voices dissenting opinions is therefore at best an uneducated normie and at worst, a flaming bigot with no chance of redemption, and certainly with nothing to teach anyone.

Now, a caveat is that many professors seem alright with dissenting opinions from their students, but if they truly want to foster a culture of even more slightly diverse economic or social opinions, they need to begin offering a variety of sources, encourage dissent and debate, and hire other faculty with different viewpoints. I'm not saying to hire out-and-out racists or neo-nazis, here. But dissenting, and even *gasp* libertarian or "conservative" viewpoints aren't always expressly evil! I don't see many academics taking that leap, however, which leads to a rather underwhelming experience for many humanities students.


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26 Nov 2020, 10:48 pm

Thank you, I take good heart from your writing.

I studied for my degree 25 years ago as a mature student, and the insertion of a strange new brand of left wing politics into everything was just beginning. This have obviously gathered apace to the cost of education.

My subjects were Literature and History, with Lit being the one worst effected. At the time the brightest young students at Cambridge were preaching that a telephone directory had the same Literary value as Paradise Lost.

Fortunately for my Masters degree I found a traditional university.

You have reading skills now, an enquiring mind and intellectual curiosity, and the world is full of books.

On religion, the Upanishads are delightful, the writings of Gershom Scholem intriquing, the poetic Eddas beautiful, the works of Thomas Aquinas impossible for me to fathom, and a book called Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkagaard enough to keep anyone's mind theologically churning - the book looks at Faith.

It is anti rationalism that has taken hold of the academies, and yes, you are entirely correct in thinking that they have become obstacles to learning.



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27 Nov 2020, 12:21 am

To be sure, there were Anti-Nazi Christians who had suffered and even died for their acts of conscience, such as the Lutheran theologians, Martin Niemoller who had spent the war in a concentration camp, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer who had been hanged with piano wire following the failed Stauffenberg bomb plot to kill Hitler. That's not to mention those unnamed heroes who had saved lives for their religious convictions from the Nazis.


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27 Nov 2020, 4:56 am

Whale_Tuune wrote:

It's frustrating to see poorly sourced articles gaining such esteem because they are saying the things that leftist academics want to hear.


Whale_Tuune wrote:
What's even worse is the culture in many of these circles, which is that any dissenting opinion is inherently prejudiced, and anyone who voices dissenting opinions is therefore at best an uneducated normie and at worst, a flaming bigot with no chance of redemption, and certainly with nothing to teach anyone.



The fascist left at work.
Infiltration and supplanting reason and actuality with warm and fuzzy feelings, bugger the truth.
Indoctrination, political dogma and groupthink venerated.
Diversity of thought ridiculed.

AOC: "Morality is more important than the facts". :roll:

It is obscene.
If I were an NT, I probably wouldn't have as big a problem with it. 8)


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techstepgenr8tion
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27 Nov 2020, 6:43 am

I know you've been on sight for a while but I can't remember if you were here when I posted a thread about Johnathan Haidt's 'Two Incompatible Values' lecture, he did a pretty good job of voicing this somewhat early (2016):



I think your analysis, that you're seeing destructive competition between virtues where equity is beating something like epistemic adequacy, is a good description of what's happening.

I think part of the challenge we're in today - we're aware enough of the pain of others in the human condition, as well as how many facts can run utterly contradictory to human happiness or flourishing, that we've been folding a bit on the 'truth at all costs' model. Really postmodernism seems like it was a rebellion against the idea that there could even be a known truth, that any 'truth' will be modeled and sculpted by the interests of the party who sets it in motion. That's a pragmatic notion of course that would clash violently with something like Sam Harris's take (which I'd share) that having an outside objective world means that there are certain things that just don't change no matter what we decide to tell ourselves about reality and that when we suppress facts because we don't like what they tell us we end up just delaying the project of integrating that information adequately in the public sphere and sometimes worse, giving people who'd otherwise be rightly seen as quacks custody of what we've come to the decision is forbidden knowledge.

As for what the right thing to do in society or the public sphere is - that's genuinely a complex problem and we have the extremes of communism and social Darwinism both being undesirable, key being to find the least undesirable point in between that can hold stable.

The question though with academia - what's more important? Generating more lucid thinkers who can push progress forward or morally instructing the middle and upper middle class of the future on what to think and why? The idea might be that so many people are in college now that they can't simply teach truth without a didactic overlay, that it's too dangerous to have that many people thinking in a hard objective manner, but that also comes at the expense of progress, of professional competence (as you've said - it's been damaging to your education but knowing that doesn't make it cost a penny less), so maybe it's a question of having fewer people go to college again and having something like a community college light-blue collar and trades education for the rest?

I've been out of college for over a decade so I can't say a lot on where they might be headed next but it seems like what you're seeing is a result of that feud between pragmatism and objectivity as well as the question central to Marxism of whether to understand a world or culture or to change it, the tension here being that 'learning' is about understanding by way of historical accrual of observations.


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27 Nov 2020, 8:25 am

The Science Wars from the 1990s are still being fought, it would seem.


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27 Nov 2020, 10:15 am

GGPViper wrote:
The Science Wars from the 1990s are still being fought, it would seem.


Hey, I am a-okay with critique of scientific theory as the be-all end-all of truth. Science is an enclosed system that can't necessarily provide utmost truth (although it can prove falsehoods). And in certain "scientific" disciplines (*cough*psychiatry*cough*) the appearance of objectivity and quantifiability seems more important than widespread critical thought itself. The danger of when science becomes "scientism" is a big question that the humanities thinkers could contribute to! But the humanities is going through an intellectual crisis where true discussion is foresaken in favor of the "right" opinion.

I'm mostly upset by supposedly empirical or academic articles which make broad claims with little to no data with which to back them up, false/biased information being blithely passed on to us by professors, and rabid groupthink.


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27 Nov 2020, 10:41 am

Back in my day in college you might get a professor (with a lot of mullah from investments) with a pro business bias, and then get a former civil rights activist lady with a far left bias (and a Marxian sociology textbook) the next semester, and then a colorful looking professor of the Hasidic Jewish persuasion (with the hat and the hanging sideburns) who announces in front of class that "that evolution is a bunch of hooey" the semester after that. And a lot of more mainstream instructors in between those. So it would all kinda even out. Which was good because you got a taste of differing povs.

But that was some time ago.

So I used to be skeptical about all of these complaints about one group commandeering acedemia. But yes I have heard things like extreme anti racists instructors telling the class that "the ancient Greeks werent all of that. They had slaves and oppressed women"(which is true, but ALL civilizations of the near east and mediterranean of that time had slaves and oppressed women ... so the Greeks were no worse than anyone else at the time in that. So WTF?).

So maybe things have gotten more skewed since my day. But I couldnt say.



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27 Nov 2020, 11:12 am

The humanities are, to a large degree, intrinsically subjective, hence intrinsically subject to cultural fads among the intellectual elite. (For example, what constitutes "great" literature or "great" art? That's an intrinsically subjective question.)

The sciences, especially the physical sciences, are more constrained by objective realities, hence much less politicized (although there's no such thing as pure objectivity, of course). Scientific research priorities are certainly political -- but these are decided, to a large degree, by funding sources outside of academia itself.

Hopefully the humanities will become more open to varying points of view, and more concerned with factual accuracy again. But it's good, at least, that the current fad is in favor of learning the perspectives of various categories of marginalized people. I hope that the humanities won't swing to the opposite extreme of being anti-egalitarian, as they once were, back in the colonialist era.


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Last edited by Mona Pereth on 27 Nov 2020, 1:42 pm, edited 6 times in total.

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27 Nov 2020, 11:23 am

naturalplastic wrote:
So I used to be skeptical about all of these complaints about one group commandeering acedemia. But yes I have heard things like extreme anti racists instructors telling the class that "the ancient Greeks werent all of that. They had slaves and oppressed women"(which is true, but ALL civilizations of the near east and mediterranean of that time had slaves and oppressed women ... so the Greeks were no worse than anyone else at the time in that. So WTF?).


That angle gets brought up because popular depictions of Classical Greece often are more informed by popular misunderstandings of Greek democracy and egalitarianism than by the reality that even the most democratic Greek city state was an oligarchy dependent upon slavery.

You're right that they were about average for their time, which is a good case in favour of no longer placing them on a pedestal above their neighbours.

If you'd like to discuss this in more depth it should probably get it's own thread though.



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27 Nov 2020, 11:40 am

Pepe wrote:
AOC: "Morality is more important than the facts". :roll:

But AOC also said: “And whenever I make a mistake, I say, ‘OK, this was clumsy.’ and then I restate what my point was.” See Ocasio-Cortez accuses CNN's Chris Cillizza of taking quote out of context in tweet by Avery Anapol, The Hill, 01/07/2019.


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27 Nov 2020, 1:13 pm

This might seem like disconnected rambling but you touched on a lot of things that I've been thinking about.

I studied at a politically diverse college in a conservative area and I was satisfied with my education. I majored in history and philosophy and my professors were mostly liberals with some more left-wing and right-wing people mixed in, with more conservatives than socialists. None of them let their politics replace the material they were supposed to teach and one my more political history professors was a libertarian (I think? He hated both military and economic intervention) who also considered himself a post-modernist and a historical Marxist (but not at all a political Marxist). This was because he rejected objectivity and believed history was determined by economic forces. I'm a moderate leftist and I had more professors to the right of me than the left.

I'm more used to people falsely claiming that the Nazis were mostly or entirely secular or pagan but what you experienced wasn't good either. As an atheist its refreshing seeing a Christian like you have an accurate and nuanced take on this issue.

I don't know what the charity model of disability is but the little of what I've encountered about the medical model seems like a strawman. Saying that there is something medically wrong with someone does not normally imply that the only problem is in the person and that society has no obligation to accommodate them. Almost any disability is a mixture of social and medical factors, although with mental disabilities it is harder to determine where one ends and the other begins. The problem is that most people don't even try.

Its hard to know the extent to which academia has the viewpoints it has is due to bias versus their positions being correct (or the most justified based on current evidence). The assumption that any ideological discrepancy a field might have with the general public is necessarily rooted in bias is itself rooted in the postmodernism that most of the conservatives complaining claim to reject. And they would laugh at you if you suggested that communism is unpopular in economic departments because of bias. There obviously is a lot of bias and the culture of some fields might need to become more focused on arguments than on conclusions. But affirmative action for specific ideologies would probably result in affirmative action for bad ideas.

I could go on a much longer rant certain postmodern ideas like identitarian deference are anti-intellectual and how they help the right but this took a long time to write and I don't want to derail the thread.



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27 Nov 2020, 1:55 pm

Quote:
Saying that there is something medically wrong with someone does not normally imply that the only problem is in the person and that society has no obligation to accommodate them. Almost any disability is a mixture of social and medical factors, although with mental disabilities it is harder to determine where one ends and the other begins. The problem is that most people don't even try.


Yep. Disability studies needs a more nuanced and powerful voice. My issue is basically with "models" as a whole. No one way of viewing disability (or strategies to address those with disabilities) can dominate our discussion of them. Oversimplification in undergraduate studies is my issue. Obviously, where one draws the line in terms of "oversimplification" is subjective, though.

Besides the fact that, "disease" isn't the perjorative some thinkers would believe it to be. Cancer patients have a disease, and they still have the right to patient advocacy and self-directed care and research.

We tend to talk a lot about these things of WP but I don't see much of these ideas floating around being transmitted into meaningful action... although I suppose I'm not one to talk atm.


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27 Nov 2020, 6:13 pm

Having spent the last 8 year of my life in college and graduate school. Academia is a strange beast. On one hand you have a bunch of smart people working really hard to improve the knowledge base of mankind. On the other hand you have rampant agenda-ism that is counterproductive to that goal.

I don't have a structural fix. Removing agenda is impossible, as humans have their biases and that will creep in no matter what. Trying to quota political/thought diversity is worse as that comes with all kinds of bad side effects. I think the best you can do on an institutional level is soft promote an environment where thought diversity is valued. Above all else, emphasize accuracy and truth and never ever fall into "morally correct but factually inaccurate" thinking.

On an individual level, just realize that academicians are human beings with human flaws. Most of them worked really really hard to be where they are today, and know a lot about their field of expertise. They tend to be less solid outside said expertise.


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27 Nov 2020, 6:42 pm

Whale_Tuune wrote:

Hey, I am a-okay with critique of scientific theory as the be-all end-all of truth. Science is an enclosed system that can't necessarily provide utmost truth (although it can prove falsehoods).


Science AND reason, make a good combination.
Understanding the human psyche is also vital, if one wishes to embrace The Truth, of our existence. 8)


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Last edited by Pepe on 27 Nov 2020, 6:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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27 Nov 2020, 6:50 pm

Mona Pereth wrote:
Pepe wrote:
AOC: "Morality is more important than the facts". :roll:

But AOC also said: “And whenever I make a mistake, I say, ‘OK, this was clumsy.’ and then I restate what my point was.” See Ocasio-Cortez accuses CNN's Chris Cillizza of taking quote out of context in tweet by Avery Anapol, The Hill, 01/07/2019.


Politicians always reinvent the truth, when it suits them.
It is in their job description.
You have to be a consummate liar to do well in politics.
They always need to consider partisan politics, and not let their team down, through their own ineptitude.

I rather like her, but AOC isn't the sharpest political tool out there.
She is attractive to the younger demographics, so her gaffs are tolerated more because of that.
As a man, am I allowed to say that these things? 8O


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Laughter is the best medicine. Age-appropriate behaviour is an arbitrary NT social construct.
Don't tell me white lies. Gaslight me at your peril. Don't give me your bad attitude.
If I'm so bad, pass me by. ;)


And one more thing,


"A stranger is a friend gang-stalker you haven't met yet."

Truth may be inconvenient but it is never politically incorrect...The Oracle of Truth has spoken...8)


THERE WILL BE NO COUP IN AMERICA!