Friday, October 1, 2010

The Ivory Tower under Siege

It seems like yesterday. In fact, two years have passed since the reputations of investment bankers crashed and burned with the markets. In mere months, the Masters of the Universe were transformed into demons.

Reputation is a tricky thing. The titans of Wall Street discovered, to their chagrin, that they could no longer lord it over lesser mortals. They had lost a lot more than money.

And then, along came an administration that chose to demonize Wall Street and its corporate clients. Clearly, the cultural transformation was not a transitory phenomenon.

No one is crying for Wall Street. The people who work there are brilliant and savvy people. They can and should take full responsibility for the state of their own reputations.

Many of us would feel better if only the bad eggs were tarred, if only those who deserved it had their reputations damaged.

Unfortunately, that is not how reputation works. And that might not be such a bad thing, because if professionals believe that their reputations will be damaged by the misdeeds of their colleagues, they will be more concerned with maintaining high ethical standards within their businesses.

Irresponsible behavior is a lot easier to justify when you believe that the irresponsible person is the only one who will be punished.

As bad as was their behavior in the mortgage market, the titans of Wall Street compounded their error by working to put Barack Obama in the White Houses. If they believed that Obama was fully qualified to be President, then they deserve the opprobrium that has been heaped on them. If they believed he was their friend, they were seriously out of touch with reality.

Wall Street bankers are not fighting back. They are lowering their profile, retiring to their limos and country estates, and trying to ride it out.

Not so for another group whose reputation has recently suffered. Here I am thinking about academic intellectuals.

While the country is struggling to make ends meet, while recent college graduates are struggling to get a job, any job, the denizens of the ivory tower are, as Thomas Benton wrote, losing stature and status. Link here. Via Instapundit

In Benton's words: "In a period of extreme anxiety about economic insecurity, when millions of people are losing their jobs, and their lives are unraveling, the appearance of a professor with a job for life and no accountability seems as offensive as a portly aristocrat being carried in a sedan chair through the streets of Paris during the hungry summer of 1789."

Hats off to Benton for a perfect analogy.

As Benton expresses it, academics whose reputations have been tarnished are not retiring to their ivory towers: they are complaining. They are turning it into a melodrama.

Benton entitles his excellent article: "Why Do They Hate Us?" words that previously had been used to refer to the attitude of the al Qaeda terrorists toward America.

If ivory tower intellectuals think that they have been attacked by terrorists suicide bombers then they need to get out in the world more.

Why have these reputations suffered such a precipitous decline, to the point where Thomas Benton has had to stop telling people that he teaches English literature. When you cannot admit in public to what you do for a living, your badge of pride has become a stigma.

Clearly, academic humanities departments have come to symbolize everything that is wrong with the university system. It's not because professors are teaching Chaucer and Horace, even though many of them still do, but because they have politicized literature to the point where students are suffering more indoctrination, and less learning.

Now the world beyond the ivory tower seems to have caught on. It knows that these students are woefully unprepared to assume the burdens and responsibilities of gainful employment. The fact that many of them incur extreme debt to acquire a degree that not only does not guarantee a job, but that seems to be an impediment to getting hired.

Of course, the dumbing-down and politicization of literature programs has been going on for quite some time now. It does not date from yesterday.

What does date from yesterday is that more and more people know about it. So, blame it on the internet, or, more precisely, on the blogosphere.

If you don't like how it feels to blame, let's give credit to the free market in ideas. After all, academics in a classroom are not used to having their ideas challenged. Holding the power to issue grades they can say what they want and force their unwitting students to believe it.

As for the tenure system and peer reviewed articles, in many journals your peers will only advance your career if you think what they want you to think.

Peer review requires intellectual integrity. In today's politically correct academic world, such integrity is in short supply. Ideological conformity is the order of the day.

This has allowed tenured professors to say the most silly and ignorant things and to have their remarks greeted with praise and promotions. Now, when these same remarks make their way into the blogosphere and the same professors are mocked and ridiculed.

Hello, free market. Good-bye, reputation.

There is one more, rather obvious, reason why ivory tower intellectuals have lost status and stature. That is: the country is now being run by one of their own.

Barack Obama is the product of everything that the academy holds sacred. And he is governing like a professor. He is condescending; he talks down to everyone; he treats the American people like his pupils.

At first, a lot of people were seduced by his rhetoric and his oratory, but, now the rhetoric is wearing thin and the shtick s looking like self-indulgence.

It's one thing for academic intellectuals to culture their follies in the petri dishes of university departments. It is quite another when these cultured  and toxic ideas escape and make their way through the body politic.

At that point, the good opinion of all your academic peers will pale next to the verdict of reality.


Proud Hindu said...

What passes for "free trade" under Corporatism is often just pure evil.

Just look at Monsanto and what it is doing all around the world.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

What is the alternative? Don't we recall that the Great Depression was caused in large part by trade wars instigated by nations that wanted to protect their local labor market.

I think that "evil" is a bit strong. What has Monsanto been doing? Please keep us informed.

Proud Hindu said...

I mentioned it elsewhere on your blog. First, they were underway trying to patent a strain of wheat that is indigenous to India. RiceTec of Texas tried to patent basmati rice - again growing in India for thousands of years and another Corporation tried to patent the neem leaf - millions of years old in India and used since the beginning of time as a natural pesticide and other things.

Vandana Shiva fought all of this in court. She is also saving indigenous non-GMO seeds in "banks" across the country and teaching farmers how to become independent from Monsanto. She's got several videos and podcasts on line that you can listen to.

Monsanto broke India's non-GMO laws by introducing GMO into the country. She fought them on that too but after she won they bribed the government and they are in.

The "Green Revolution" of decades ago was a disaster that resulted in mass suicides of farmers (as is still happening). "Green" here not meaning "environmentally friendly" but rather the introduction of factory farming, mono-crops and Multi National (American) Companies to India's farming industry.

Don't know if you would be interested in all of this because it's in India but the info is out there if you are.