Two cheers for the college students who are fleeing humanities courses. Apparently, more and more of them are doing so. It’s the free market at work. And a beautiful sight it is.
The numbers [President Drew] Faust cited for Harvard are astounding. Currently, she said, about 14 percent of Harvard undergraduates major in a humanities field. That’s higher than the national rate, but it’s down from the 25 percent rate at Harvard when Faust started her tenure as president nine years ago. Most of the withdrawal, she noted, was due to students heading toward the hard sciences (not the social sciences). When it comes to enrollment in humanities courses in general at Harvard, the trend there is downward as well, a drop of ten percent over the same period of time.
But, perhaps today’s materialistic young people are not really running away from humanities courses. Perhaps they are really just running toward hard sciences. It would make sense. There are far more job opportunities for those who study engineering or even statistics than there are for art history majors.
If you were an employer who would you prefer, someone who knows how to put things together or someone who insists on taking everything apart?
All of this is true. But, it assumes that humanities professors are teaching art and literature. It assumes that they are teaching students how to appreciate great art, how to formulate narratives and how to use language effectively.
Yet, Bauerlein suggests, that is not the case. To put it nicely these departments have become indoctrination mills. They teach you how to police thought for the least sign of bigotry and then to show you the shortest path to the safe space—where you can whine with your fellow whiners.
Bauerlein quotes a professor from UVA:
When English turned into a practice of reading literature for signs of racism, sexism, and ideology, it lost touch with why youths pick up books in the first place, said University of Virginia Professor Rita Felski.
To put a slightly finer point on it all, far too many humanities professors are now practicing a method called deconstruction. They have learned how to deconstruct texts and, since that is probably all they know how to do, they are teaching their students how to do it too.
But, how well do you know what this mental abomination really is? In truth, deconstruction is a fancy term for what would, in another context, be called a pogrom. It derives from the practice of a Nazi philosopher named Martin Heidegger. After World War II, when Heidegger’s adherence to the Nazi cause got him banned for teaching for several years, savvy commentators pointed out that deconstruction was dangerous.
The reigning authorities had banned Heidegger because his philosophical practice, involving the Destruktion of alien cultural contaminants was understood to be very like a pogrom.
During the time of the Third Reich the practice was used to purge German culture of all Jewish contaminants. But surely, Heidegger was equally appalled at Anglo-Saxon thought. If you think it was just the Jews you missed a lot of the point.
One recalls, as Karl Jaspers sagely noted at the time—and as I quoted in my book The Last Psychoanalyst— that once you learn how to deconstruct you can direct the practice against any other cultural product—like the works of straight white males.
And not only that. After all, in what was probably the greatest pogrom in human history, Mao Zedong’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution attacked Confucian influences and, obviously, anything that retained a whiff of capitalism.
The Cultural Revolution showed us where the current mania might lead. When the Red Guards took power no one was allowed to read any book except the little red book of the sayings of Chairman Mao. They were obviously, a substitute for the Analects of Confucius.
On the off chance that you have not been forced to learn the practice of deconstruction, allow me to explain what it is. One should not confuse it with taking something apart, that is, analyzing it, to find out how it was put together.
If you want to understand deconstruction do not think of reverse engineering. Think instead of what the SA and the SS did when they rampaged through Jewish neighborhoods.
First, they identified and marked cultural contaminants, like Jewish bakeries and texts written by Jewish writers. Next they extracted these contaminated products from the local neighborhoods, the better to neutralize their influence. At times, they simply burned all of the books. Eventually, they liquidated the human beings who lived by the rules of this culture.
It’s roughly the same thing in today’s academy. When facing a literary or philosophical text, or even with a newspaper article, a practitioner of the art of deconstruction will first mark and identify passages within the text that contain cultural contaminants. He will not care to discern what the author is saying or what the text is dramatizing. He will limit himself to purging the text of contaminants. He knows that he cannot do it well if he allows himself to be seduced by its wisdom.
Then he will extract and attempt to neutralize the offending material. He will do so by placing these passages within a new text, one that he himself has written. There everyone will see clearly what they had not seen before: that is, how certain texts had made them into bigots. Finally, the practitioner of deconstruction will attack and try to destroy the reputation of the person who wrote the text. Either to run him off campus on a rail or, if he is no longer among us, to take down his picture from its exalted place in the English Department.
Since the practice does not just apply to Jewish or Anglo-Saxon influence, it can easily be used to mark and identify, then to neutralize texts that are believed to be racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic or transphobic. Today’s modern version of deconstruction seeks to purge all cultural products of bigotry, the better to bring about the reign of social justice.
Deconstruction is a practice more than a theory. Once you acquire it as a bad mental habit you will look at all texts, including neighborhoods, as having potentially been corrupted by bigotry. Thus, you will set out—you might even make it your life mission—to purge your community’s founding texts of all cultural contaminants.
Once you acquire this skill you will no longer be able to appreciate the power of art or the value of literature. You will become a professional scold, at best, or, at worst, a latter day Brown Shirt or Red Guard.
And, the habit will also make you incapable of doing your job. Unless, of course, you are a professor facing a near-empty classroom.