Today I turn to a consideration of John Searle's
The Storm Over The University
that I mentioned yesterday, when I gave a translation of the last of my regular Spiegeloog-columns of 1988-1989, that is logically and materially relevant to "The Storm", and dates from the year before it, as The Storm is from 1990:
There is more about Searle in Nederlog, in reaction to an interview with him from 1999, that comprised more than what concerns only education and the universities:
The present Nederlog is part 1 of a series in which I consider Searle's The Storm Over The University, that you find under the link.
I'll divide my quotations and comments over several files, because that will make it easier for me and because Searle's text is fairly long. And I will quote and comment rather a lot because I mostly agree with Searle now, as I would have then, as you can see from my
As it happens, I did not read Searle's The Storm-text until last week and indeed I did read nothing much like it in Dutch, ever, except by myself, and that because, clearly, I was the only one who saw things as I did and who had the courage to speak out in public - for it is not as if nobody saw (more or less) what I saw, but rather that everybody who did and who did not have a very safe position or a private and independent income did not have the courage to speak up, or else didn't care. (Yes, one learns a lot about people and their pretensions, when one does not follow the multitude into evil.)
Before entering into part 1 of my quotations from Searle plus my comments, I should briefly indicate why it concerns me, and indeed also why it should concern my readers - and I have repeatedly addressed these questions in Nederlog before, both in Dutch and English, and at length in ME in Amsterdam in Dutch. If you read (some of) that material before, the following summary will be mostly known and can be skipped, but the last points 7 and 8 are quite important, as it describes a major difference between the US and other Western states with student activism and The Netherlands, where the universities in fact were handed over to the student activists in 1971:
As it happens, I am the son and grandson of Amsterdam communists heroes of the Dutch resistance: My father and grandfather were arrested in June 1941, by Amsterdam collaborating municipal policemen, in the context of the February-strike, and convicte, by Dutch collaborating judges, to concentration-camp sentences, that my grandfather did not survive; and my mother spread the illegal communist paper "De Waarheid" and worked for Jews in hiding, but was never arrested or betrayed. This is materially relevant for my position in the University of Amsterdam:
As it also happens, I remigrated in 1977 to The Netherlands to study in the municipal University of Amsterdam, a city where I also was born, and had given up marxism, communism and socialism when I was 20, because I disagreed with much of the prose and tenets of the CP, and had discovered that analytical philosophy and mathematical logic were far more interesting, less ideological and more scientific.
Within ten days of my arrival in the University of Amsterdam I had found out, what I had not known before, that the university was firmly in the hands of leftist students, mostly from the CP, that they had entered since 1970 in considerable amounts because that had turned fashionable in the wake of The Sixties, and that someone like me, who said he had a higher opinion of Peirce than of Marx, therefore and thereby convicted himself in the eyes of the vast majority of my fellow-students of philosophy as "a fascist", which was what I was qualified as, with great assurance and a display of moral offendedness, when I said I preferred Peirce over Marx, without saying what my background was.
Because my parents were still alive and members of the CP, I did never indicate my background, because I expected trouble for my parents and myself (as "a renegade") but was soon asked to help start a student-party by a minority of students and members of the staff who were not communists or socialists - where the socialists / social democrats enter because most members of the staff of the university, and its Board of Directors, were - and still are, ever since 1971 - members of the Dutch Labour Party.
I was removed in 1978 from the university because my grants were not paid; in 1982 because of a complicated conflict with the university that I won in court in 1985, when it was too late to help me; in 1984 because my grants were not paid; and in 1988 for giving the speech "39 Questions", and inbetween did not study for several years because my then wife and I had fallen ill in January 1978 with a mysterious disease, that was diagnosed in 1989 as ME, and that left me far less energy than I had had before.
What I thought I saw since 1977 in the University of Amsterdam, and indeed in the other Dutch universities, that all were "democratized" in 1971 by an act of parliament, that handed the power in the universities to university-parliaments that were yearly elected from students, staff and personnel of the university on a "1 man/woman, 1 vote" basis, was a nearly complete ruining of the universities as they had been traditionally, that was replaced by something like a party-school for members of the Dutch socialist and communist parties to get trained in the party ideologies, where the best propaganda-workers also would get professorships or lectureships for life, for Dutch academics are all employed as state bureaucrats, and it is virtually impossible to fire a state bureaucrat.
What the reader should keep in mind, whether Dutch or not, is that the situation in the Dutch universities between 1971 and 1995 was for the two mentioned reasons - "democratized" universities ruled by university-parliaments where the majorities were leading members from the Dutch communist or labour parties, and academics who were not employed as free lance intellectuals, but as state or municipal bureaucrats - quite different from the universities in other countries.
The basic differences between the postmodern outlook and the scientific (realistic, rational) outlook have been outlined tabularly in my "Scientific Realism versus Postmodernism" and with many links in Morningstar shines a bright light on postmodernism: This concerns everyone, because everyone's interests, except for fanatics and political revolutionaries, are best served by real science: See my "39 Questions", for the reading of which I was kindly not crucified, but instead simply removed from university, as was no other Dutchman since 1945, and with due acknowledgement by the Board of Directors that I did have already then a serious disease: "As long as the patient will suffer, the cruel will kick." (Rev. Sidney Smith)
Now to Searle's The Storm Over The University, from which in this Nederlog I only quote from part 1 from 5, in the order that the quotes appear in the text. The quotes are indented and blue; my remarks are below them and in black:
- I cannot recall a time when American education was not in a "crisis."
As with taxation and relations between the sexes, higher education is essentially and continuously contested territory. Given the history of that crisis rhetoric, one's natural response to the current cries of desperation might reasonably be one of boredom.
I suppose that is so, and indeed much of it was rhetoric and little else, and namely for a perfectly good political reason: In the US, unlike The Netherlands, the student activists did not get a formal, legal and factual toehold in the universities, except in some departments, such as literature or sociology.
Consequently, most nominal crises of the university were mostly verbal, and with little influence on the course of the universities, and this also applied to whatever movements were active in the US in The Sixties: They were mostly outside the universities, indeed until former student-activists had entered them as staff-members from the early seventies onwards, where they did get considerable influence in departments of literature, sociology, philosophy and psychology, because their ideas were - still - fashionable and held radical moral appeal for many, and indeed were for the most part of a leftist, marxist, or feminist kind, that did not at all combine well with real science or with the traditions of the university, because they were explicitly political, and consciously relativistic.
Thence also the following:
- A few years ago the literature of educational crises was changed by a previously little-known professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago in a book implausibly entitled The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students. To me, the amazing thing about Allan Bloom's book was not just its prodigious commercial success—more than half a year at the top of The New York Times's best-seller list—but the depth of the hostility and even hatred that it inspired among a large number of professors. Most of Bloom's book is not about higher education as such, but consists of an idiosyncratic, often original, and even sometimes profound—as well as quirky and cranky—analysis of contemporary American intellectual culture, with an emphasis on the unacknowledged and largely unconscious influence of certain German thinkers, especially Weber and Nietzsche.
I saw and read Bloom's book first 1989, when I also reviewed it in Spiegeloog:
I agreed more with it than not, but did not much like Bloom's style of writing nor was I much impressed by his philosophy, in so far as I could make that out, for which reason much of my review was taken by a quote from another book, that I found more to the point, namely from Orwell's "1984".
And it was for me almost completely new in the sense that I had hardly heard similar things from Dutch academics and intellectuals, with a few partial exceptions (*), which I had found quite amazing ever since I returned to Holland in 1977: Most academically employed persons paid lipservice to leftist ideals and ideas, and to feminism, activism, and radicalism, in part because a considerable proportion felt like that, and in part because that was the safe conformist course to take in the Dutch universities, governed as they all were by university-parliaments in which radical students had almost always the majority.
Searle mentioned that Bloom's book triggered a spate of similar books, in titles or in outlook, or indeed sometimes in titles but in opposite outlook, for we are still well before the Sokal-affair, that exploded much of the mystique of postmodernism, for which see e.g. Morningstar shines a bright light on postmodernism:
- One difficulty with the more alarmist of these books is that though they agree that the universities are in a desperate state, they do not agree on what is wrong or what to do about it. When there is no agreement not only on the cure but on the diagnosis itself, it is very hard to treat the patient. Another weakness of such books is their sometimes hysterical tone. There are, indeed, many problems in the universities, but for the most part, they tend to produce silliness rather than catastrophe. The spread of "poststructuralist" literary theory is perhaps the best known example of a silly but noncatastrophic phenomenon. Several of these books try to describe current threats to intellectual values. How serious are these threats? Right now we can't tell with any certainty because we can't yet know to what extent we are dealing with temporary fads and fashions or with long-term assaults on the integrity of the intellectual enterprise.
Here I must partially disagree with Searle, and specifically with "The spread of "poststructuralist" literary theory is perhaps the best known example of a silly but noncatastrophic phenomenon": It did not appear like that from my point of view from within the University of Amsterdam, where the power was firmly in the hands of important members from the Dutch communist party and/or the Dutch labour party, and the whole university was politicized from top to bottom, with the verbally firm and outspoken support by the Board of Directors and from most professors (who did not want to loose their research fundings, nor loose their job: Professors who upset student-activists could get a very hard time).
And writing now 21 years later than Searle did, it seems to me that postmodernism was a catastrophic phenomenon for the Western universities and indeed all of education, not because it was literally implemented, but because it created a climate of opinion and a standard of discourse (relativist, PC) that did become very popular, of which the key ideas were that truth and morals are relative; that real science is a species of oppressive fascism/machism/patriarchism and anyway a rightist ideology that cannot be founded on solid knowledge; that all human beings are thoroughly equal and equivalent (**); and that all there is, in the end, consists of texts or discourses (***), that in effect have only value as propaganda for or against some cause.
One reason this got very popular outside universities was that it tied in very well with what many journalists thought and with how they worked, while it was presented inside universities as important and deep (post-)modern philosophy with great moral, social and political importance: See Scientific Realism versus Postmodernism.
In brief, it was a species of nihilism that appealed to very many who were not extreme leftists or activists because it seemed vaguely plausible, and because its spokespersons invariably insisted that they were morally justified and acting for the best, and favoured feminism, equal chances, environmentalism and the like, that were popular in those years anyway.
Back to Searle, who still is in the beginning of his essay:
- I have selected two books from the current flood, because they take such strong and opposing stands on just this issue. On the side of tradition is Roger Kimball's Tenured Radicals, and opposed are most of the articles included in The Politics of Liberal Education, a collection of essays originally given at a conference sponsored by Duke and the University of North Carolina on the subject "Liberal Arts Education in the Late Twentieth Century: Emerging Conditions, Responsive Practices."
These will be Searle's texts in his essay, in the sense that most that he will say is motivated or triggered by quotations from these books.
Now Searle sets the scene:
- Consider what would have been taken to be a platitude a couple of decades ago, and is now regarded in many places as a wildly reactionary view. Here it is: there is a certain Western intellectual tradition that goes from, say, Socrates to Wittgenstein in philosophy, and from Homer to James Joyce in literature, and it is essential to the liberal education of young men and women in the United States that they should receive some exposure to at least some of the great works in this intellectual tradition; they should, in Matthew Arnold's overquoted words, "know the best that is known and thought in the world." The arguments given for this view—on the rare occasions when it was felt that arguments were even needed—were that knowledge of the tradition was essential to the self-understanding of educated Americans since the country, in an important sense, is the product of that tradition; that many of these works are historically important because of their influence; and that most of them, for example several works by Plato and Shakespeare, are of very high intellectual and artistic quality, to the point of being of universal human interest.
Until recently such views were not controversial. What exactly is the debate about?
Indeed, that is the point of view that I had arrived at myself in the early 1970ies, when I had found that there are much more interesting and capable philosophers than Marx, and that I care very much more for real science than for politics or political activism, and indeed also came to the conclusion that the instrument of human emancipation and progress is real science.
Searle will show and discuss below "What exactly is the debate about?", but I can here immediately lift a tip of the veil: Verbally, the debate was especially about truth, that the postmodernists held to be relative or non-existent; about politics (leftist politics, to be sure, but that was mostly taken as a matter of course) that the postmodernists held was "more socially relevant", as they called it, than science, and therefore strongly preferably to it; and about levelling, for the postmodernists were strongly against anything that requires real talent or that seemed to go against their ideal that everyone is equal and equivalent. Factually, nearly all of the debate, especially the postmodern part of it, was about power and propaganda and jobs: The postmodernists wanted to take over the universities and recast them after their own desires, and they wanted jobs in the university, since that was easy - in such fields postmoderns typically graduated in: literature or a soft "science" like sociology, psychology, pedagogy etc. - well-paid, and with lots of status and media-appeal.
Back to Searle:
- To approach this question, I have selected the proceedings of the North Carolina conference not because they contain any notable or original ideas—such conferences seldom do—but because they express a mode of literary and political sensibility that has become fairly widespread in some university departments in the humanities and is characterized approvingly by some of the participants at the conference as "the cultural left." I doubt that "the cultural left" is a well-defined notion because it includes so many altogether different points of view. It includes 1960s-style radicals, feminists, deconstructionists, Marxists, people active in "gay studies" and "ethnic studies," and people of left-wing political persuasion who happen to teach in universities. But on certain basic issues of education these groups tend to agree. In describing the North Carolina conference in his concluding statement Richard Rorty writes:
Our conference has been in large part a rally of this cultural left. The audience responded readily and favorably to notions like "subversive readings," "hegemonic discourse," "the breaking down of traditional logocentric hierarchies," and so on. It chortled derisively at mentions of William Bennett, Allan Bloom, and E.D. Hirsch, Jr., and nodded respectfully at the names of Nietzsche, Derrida, Gramsci, or Foucault.
The second paragraph of this quote - with terms like "hegemonic", "discourse", "logocentric" and "hierarchies" is typical of the university-"discourse" that reached me ever since the mid-1980ies. (Somewhat interestingly, perhaps, Rorty is former marxist who turned to analytical philosophy presumably for money, but turned relativist and linguistic as soon as this was fashionable. The reason former marxists are very prone to relativism, by the way, is that then they cannot be refuted, and their propaganda becomes as good as any real science, besides being far more morally pretentious than almost any real science.)
- Here are some typical passages:
Mary Louise Pratt, a professor of comparative literature at Stanford, writes,
Bloom, Bennett, Bellow, and the rest (known by now in some quarters as the Killer B's) are advocating [the creation of] a narrowly specific cultural capital that will be the normative referent for everyone, but will remain the property of a small and powerful caste that is linguistically and ethnically unified. It is this caste that is referred to by the "we" in Saul Bellow's astoundingly racist remark that "when the Zulus have a Tolstoy, we will read him." Few doubt that behind the Bennett-Bloom program is a desire to close not the American mind, but the American university, to all but a narrow and highly uniform elite with no commitment to either multiculturalism or educational democracy. Thus while the Killer B's (plus a C—Lynne Cheney, the Bennett mouthpiece now heading the National Endowment for the Humanities) depict themselves as returning to the orthodoxies of yesteryear, their project must not be reduced to nostalgia or conservatism. Neither of these explain the blanket contempt they express for the country's universities. They are fueled not by reverence for the past, but by an aggressive desire to lay hold of the present and future. The B's act as they do not because they are unaware of the cultural and demographic diversification underway in the country; they are utterly aware. That is what they are trying to shape; that is why they are seeking, and using, national offices and founding national foundations.
Pratt laments "the West's relentless imperial expansion" and the "monumentalist cultural hierarchy that is historically as well as morally distortive" and goes on to characterize Bloom's book as "intellectually deplorable" and Bennett's To Reclaim a Legacy as "intellectually more deplorable."
Ms Pratt - coincidentally well-named - still is a professor, perhaps now emeritus, and the same applies to most of the men and women who destroyed the universities and higher education: Once you're part of "Our Kind Of Academics" you have arrived - that is, as long as you lie with the choir, and keep up with the fashions amongst (would be) intellectuals.
The opinions Ms Pratt formulates here is especially interesting because it consists of projection: She wanted, like all the academic postmodernists, to come into social and academic power with teachings that were to function as "the normative referent for everyone, but will remain the property of a small and powerful caste that is linguistically (..) unified", namely by PC and as the pomo leaders of universities and university departments; she wanted, like all academic postmodernists, "to close " (..) "the American university, to all but a narrow and highly uniform elite " of PC postmodernists, who actively imposed their values, ideas and ideals on all students, in the name of morality and "multiculturalism" and indeed "educational democracy", as existed in the Dutch universities since 1971 till 1995: A continuous "plenary meeting" as in the Sorbonne in May 1968, where all votes counted as one, regardless of qualifications, concerns, interests, abilities; she and the postmodernists were filled with "blanket contempt "for the country's universities", in so far as these did not play by the postmodern PC agenda; she and the postmodernists were "fueled not by reverence for the past, but by an aggressive desire to lay hold of the present and future"
It was, in brief, all about power and propaganda, and it put power and propaganda explicitly first in everything - as is consistent with the point of view that all morals and all truths are merely relative, for then there is no rational argument, since there are no rational standards, and all that matters to get one's way are power, propaganda, and such violence as one can organize in the streets.
Here is another one, that 21 years on, according to Google, still is an American academic, and again it is an eery and frightening kind of projection, if it is honest:
- Henry A. Giroux, a professor of education at Miami University of Ohio, writes:
In the most general sense, Bloom and Hirsch represent the latest cultural offensive by the new elitists to rewrite the past and construct the present from the perspective of the privileged and the powerful. They disdain the democratic implications of pluralism and argue for a form of cultural uniformity in which difference is consigned to the margins of history or to the museum of the disadvantaged.
It were persons like Giroux and Pratt who were engaged in "the latest cultural offensive by the new elitists to rewrite the past and construct the present from the perspective of the privileged and the powerful" - and they were the advance guard of those "new elitists", in the name of equality and multiculturalism.
Then there is a Mr Graff, also still a US academic after 21 years - who has the somewhat rare merit of being comparatively clear and honest, for one of his type of pomo-ness:
- One of the conferees, Gerald Graff of Northwestern, writes:
Speaking as a leftist, I too find it tempting to try to turn the curriculum into an instrument of social transformation.
He goes on to resist the temptation with the following (italics mine):
But I doubt whether the curriculum (as opposed to my particular courses) can or should become an extension of the politics of the left.
Indeed, the first position, "Speaking as a leftist", was already articulated by the German leftist studentleader Rudi Dutsche in 1967, who announced "The Long March" - like Mao's Long March - "Throught The Institutions", that is, he advocated that leftist radicals and revolutionist tried to take over the social institutions, starting with the universities and the schools, since that is were the youth is, and were they can be reformed into "New Men" c.q. in PC "New Persons".
This was also the position of the communist and socialist (social-democratic) parties, at least in Holland, in the 1970ies and 1980ies, and indeed the reason why their parliamentarians had agreed in 1970-1 to effectively hand over the universities to the students, staff and personnel through the modicum of yearly "democratic elections" for the "University-Parliaments" (in fact called in Dutch "Universiteitsraden", i.e. soviets, in Russian), and that also because at the time they were sure to have the majorities in the universities, and there were many posh and soft professorates to be gotten for one's political comrades and friends.
As Searle points out about the second quoted statement of Mr Graff
It turns out that he objects to politicizing the entire curriculum not because there might be something immoral about using the classroom to impose a specific ideology on students, but because of the unfortunate fact that universities also contain professors who are not "leftists" and who do not want their courses to become "an extension of the politics of the left"; and there seems to be no answer to the question, "What is to be done with those constituencies which do not happen to agree...that social transformation is the primary goal of education." What indeed?
That is, the only reason Mr Graff could see for not teaching from Mao's Red Book or from Greer's collected works was that there was no majority to be found that was willing to do so.
And the answer to the question Searle cites, as I experienced that in the university politics, was very simple: Such "constituencies" are to be removed from the universities as "not socially relevant", as the PC phrase was: As far as the leftist students in the University Parliament was concerned, physics, chemistry and other real sciences were best abolished, as "not socially relevant" and as "elitist".
Back to Searle, who gives a very good summary of what was involved in postmodernism:
- I said earlier that it was difficult to find a succinct statement of the objections to the educational tradition made by the so-called cultural left, but this is largely because the objections are taken for granted. If you read enough material of the sort I have quoted, and, more importantly, if you attend enough of these conferences, it is easy to extract the central objection. It runs something like this: the history of "Western Civilization" is in large part a history of oppression. Internally, Western civilization oppressed women, various slave and serf populations, and ethnic and cultural minorities generally. In foreign affairs, the history of Western civilization is one of imperialism and colonialism. The so-called canon of Western civilization consists in the official publications of this system of oppression, and it is no accident that the authors in the "canon" are almost exclusively Western white males, because the civilization itself is ruled by a caste consisting almost entirely of Western white males. So you cannot reform education by admitting new members to the club, by opening up the canon; the whole idea of "the canon" has to be abolished. It has to be abolished in favor of something that is "multicultural" and "nonhierarchical."
This is a good summary, and it should be clear that the whole passage from "the history of "Western Civilization" till "almost entirely of Western white males" is political, possibly moral, and hardly factual, since it reduces everything to some leftist political tenets, that moreover are rather typically "Western", at least originally (as e.g. Marx and Lenin were "Western white males"), and also quite "elitist", since in fact only a benighted minority of the academically educated believes such things, in some fashion, that they never can clearly articulate, because it is intrinsically unclear, and consists of political prejudice presented as if it were radical political philosophy.
Indeed, Searle saw quite clearly what the underlying opposition was, namely political - and even that is giving too much credit, often, as I explain after quoting the passage:
- With few exceptions, those who defend the traditional conception of a liberal education with a core curriculum think that Western civilization in general, and the United States in particular, have on the whole been the source of valuable institutions that should be preserved and of traditions that should be transmitted, emphatically including the intellectual tradition of skeptical critical analysis. Those who think that the traditional canon should be abandoned believe that Western civilization in general, and the United States in particular, are in large part oppressive, imperialist, patriarchal, hegemonic, and in need of replacement, or at least of transformation. So the passionate objections that are made by the critics to Allan Bloom often have rather little to do with a theory of higher education as such.
This is so, but the postmodern leftists of this ilk that I met and read in the 1980ies in Amsterdam were quite clear that the above indicated political plan can only be put into practice after a social revolution, and that in fact what they were competing for and about were positions of academic tenure - that is, in Holland: High positions in the Dutch bureaucracy - in the universities for themselves, their leaders, or their comrades: They attacked "capitalism" and "imperialism" so as to get the best and softest positions available under "capitalism" and "imperialism". They spoke in terms of "equality and justice for all", in order to get themselves a place at the social top. They lied and postured to make a personal career, and saw no problem in destroying the very foundations of civilization that are good universities and good schools. See my "Whores of Reason".
And as Searle remarks, and as I had myself found, reading my eyes out since fifteen to acquire real knowledge and understanding:
- There is a certain irony in this in that earlier student generations, my own for example, found the critical tradition that runs from Socrates through the Federalist Papers, through the writings of Mill and Marx, down to the twentieth century, to be liberating from the stuffy conventions of traditional American politics and pieties. Precisely by inculcating a critical attitude, the "canon" served to demythologize the conventional pieties of the American bourgeoisie and provided the student with a perspective from which to critically analyze American culture and institutions. Ironically, the same tradition is now regarded as oppressive. The texts once served an unmasking function; now we are told that it is the texts which must be unmasked.
Indeed - and the underlying reason or motive is not very hard to get, as I explained also in the 1980ies in "Mandarins with an IQ of 115": The vast majority of the leftist luminaries were simply not the fit material for being scholars, scientists, or intellectuals, and had gotten access to Western universities mostly because of the baby-boom and the effective collapse or partial collapse of the universities, especially as regards entry-conditions relating to intelligence for and interest in real science. They were too stupid for high civilization, and therefore sought to abolish it, from resentment and envy mostly, and from a total lack of real understanding of what real science is, or how societies really work.
Back to Searle and yet another pomo light of yore that still thrives academically - and it should be noted that Mr Hirsch who is mentioned was then a favorite whipping boy for the pomos of Ms Smith's ilk:
- In a savage attack, Barbara Herrnstein Smith quotes Hirsch as saying that his project of cultural literacy will result in
breaking the cycle of illiteracy for deprived children; raising the living standards of families who have been illiterate; making our country more competitive in international markets; achieving greater social justice; enabling all citizens to participate in the political process; bringing us that much closer to the Ciceronian ideal of universal public discourse—in short, achieving the fundamental goals of the Founders at the birth of the republic.
To this project, she responds:
Wild applause; fireworks; music—America the Beautiful; all together, now: Calvin Coolidge, Gunga Din, Peter Pan, spontaneous combustion. Hurrah for America and the national culture! Hurrah!
Why the hysterical tone of opposition?
The answer to Searle's question is that Ms. Smith, at least then, thought and felt like a totalitarian, like a Maoist, like a Leftist Revolutionary, and these must abhor and look down on any attempt of fair sharing that does not accord fundamentally with their own totalitarian tenets.
And now Searle arrives at what seems to me one of the cruxes of postmodernism, as indeed also brought out by Sokal (who described himself as a leftist, but is an intelligent professor of physics, rather than a dimwitted but very radical professor of pomo "science of literature"):
- But what about the question of intellectual excellence? The very ideal of excellence implied in the canon is itself perceived as a threat. It is considered "elitist" and "hierarchical" to suppose that "intellectual excellence" should take precedence over such considerations as fairness, representativeness, the expression of the experiences of previously underrepresented minorities, etc.
Quite so: In the University of Amsterdam I have been called "a fascist" equally and equivalently in both the departments of philosophy and of psychology only because I quite politely and friendly insisted that some are more intelligent than others ("elitism"), just as some are taller than others, and that I personally believed most of this was innate rather than acquired ("fascism: nature over nurture"), which I personally believed excused many human mistakes ("arrogance", "elitist").
At the same time, the feminists who screamed at me that I am a fascist because I hold that the largest part of one's intelligence is innate, had all taken exquisite care of their own personal make-up and clothing, so as to outshine as many women as they could in the field of female looks.
Next, we come to something Searle didn't get quite right, in 1990, it seems to me, also in the US:
- One curious feature of the entire debate about what is "hegemonic," "patriarchal," or "exclusionary" is that it is largely about the study of literature. No one seems to complain that the great ideas in physics, mathematics, chemistry, and biology, for example, also come in large part from dead white European males.
That was perhaps factually so, at the time, and then simply because most academically tenured postmodernists had posts in what they called "literary science", but in Amsterdam since the late 1970ies at the latest, the radical students and the radical staff members quite clearly meant to impose their modes of thinking on the whole university, and were in fact much in favour of strangling e.g. physics by cutting its research funding (as "not socially relevant": What was "socially relevant" then and there was the study of Dutch literature, and that mostly because there one could graduate by reading Marx or taking part in politcal or environment demonstrations or in squatting: Sanders over de jaren 80).
The following Searle did get quite right:
- To understand this difference you have to understand a second fundamental, but usually unstated, feature of the debate: in addition to having political objections to the United States and Europe, many members of the cultural left think that the primary function of teaching the humanities is political; they do not really believe that the humanities are valuable in their own right except as a means of achieving "social transformation." They (apparently) accept that in subjects like physics and mathematics there may be objective and socially independent criteria of excellence (though they do not say much about the sciences at all), but where the humanities are concerned they think that the criteria that matter are essentially political.
Quite so: The pomo leftist students and staff were in real fact not at all interested in science, civilization, or personal intellectual emancipation: They were revolutionaries, at least in their own minds and social postures, and thought quite like Che Guevara, whose poster they usually still had on their walls: "El deber de todo revolucionario es hacer la Revolución."
And according to nearly all of them this extended to all of the sciences, and all of the universities, indeed for political and totalitarian reasons: "Who is not for us, is against us".
The pomo academic Giroux briefly encountered above figures again:
- Notwithstanding its opaque prose, Giroux's message should be clear: the aim of a liberal education is to create political radicals, and the main point of reading the "canon" is to demythologize it by showing how it is used as a tool by the existing system of oppression. The traditional argument that the humanities are the core of a liberal education because of the intrinsic intellectual and aesthetic merits and importance of the works of Plato, Shakespeare, or Dante is regarded with scorn. Giroux again:
The liberal arts cannot be defended either as a self-contained discourse legitimating the humanistic goal of broadly improving the so-called "life of the mind" or as a rigorous science that can lead students to indubitable truths.
That is, in other terms: Whoever does not like our politics and whatever does not conform to our politics is immoral, and a lackey of imperialism (as the phrase is, that also was stuck on me in university politics: Remember I had said I preferred Peirce over Marx. This was then explained as meaning that I "supported American imperialism", namely by "admiring an US bourgeois".)
And Searle again had something quite right:
- So the frustrating feature of the recent debate is that the underlying issues seldom come out into the open. Unless you accept two assumptions, that the Western tradition is oppressive, and that the main purpose of teaching the humanities is political transformation, the explicit arguments given against the canon will seem weak: that the canon is unrepresentative, inherently elitist, and, in a disguised form, political. Indeed if these arguments were strong ones, you could apply them against physics, chemistry, or mathematics.
In fact, in Holland at least "the underlying issues" did "come out into the open" rather often, but mainly because the pomo-radicals had the effective power in the universities, by way of the university-parliaments, and they did apply "these arguments" already around 1980 "against physics, chemistry, or mathematics". Indeed, the reason these were "tolerated" - as the Dutch favourite term is - was that the government was supposed to stop subsidizing the universities if these subjects were terminated. Apart from that, the pomo revolutunaries all felt these were very "elitist" studies, and therefore quite immoral.
Searle sums up his first section with an excellent summary of his position, which is also mine, and was so since I entered the university in 1977, and indeed before, because that is why I wanted to study: To make the best of my and do the best possible with my very good intelligence:
- From the point of view of the tradition, the answers to each argument are fairly obvious. First, it is not the aim of education to provide a representation or sample of everything that has been thought and written, but to give students access to works of high quality. Second, for that very reason, education is by its very nature "elitist" and "hierarchical" because it is designed to enable and encourage the student to discriminate between what is good and what is bad, what is intelligent and what is stupid, what is true and what is false. Third, the "tradition" is by no means a unified phenomenon, and properly taught, it should impart a critical attitude to the student, precisely because of the variety and intellectual independence of the works being taught, and the disagreements among them. Fourth, of course the humanities have a political dimension at least in the sense that they have political consequences; so does everything else. But it does not follow from the fact that there is a political dimension to the humanities—as there is to music, art, gastronomy, and sex, as well as mathematics, philosophy, and physics—that the only, or even the principal, criteria for assessing these efforts should be political ones.
Indeed - and to spell it out: What the pomo radicals insisted they believed (whether for real, or as a propaganda trick in the hunt for status and tenure) was that "to discriminate between what is good and what is bad, what is intelligent and what is stupid, what is true and what is false" was impossible, at least on rational grounds, for all these things are "relative": What makes one "good" are not one's efforts and talents, but one's belonging to a certain ethnic and cultural group and gender, and perhaps one's sexual orientation as well: In Amsterdam, notably, one was "good" especially if one was black, from foreign descent, a woman, or a homosexual, and apart from that, one was "good" when one talked PC like a pomo, and scorned everything that required intelligence ("elitist") or that did not belong to the hallowed pomo-traditions.
(*) The only ones I can recall, who protested as tenured academics, are W.F. Hermans, who as a result left Holland; J.P. Guépin; and Rentes de Carvalho, originally Portugese. Nearly everybody else collaborated with the parties and persons who had the power, while at the same time insisting in public that they, personally, were revolutionaries, non-conformists, individuals, yea, the modern pomo equivalent of Resistance Fighters.
It was all a strange and to me morally and intellectual quite sickening combination of wishful thinking, role-playing, hypocrisy, and careerism, which showed that the vast majority of human beings lives a life made up of mostly conscious lies and impostures, also in states like Holland, that is for most inhabitants more free and comes with more riches than almost anywhere at almost any time.
(**) I write "equal and equivalent" because in Holland the preferred term was not "equality" but "equivalence" - "gelijkwaardigheid" - that was introduced and popularized by the Dutch communist parliamentarian Marcus Bakker in the early 1970ies, when the idea was so popular that the Dutch parliament agreed in vast majority that every one is and ought to be treated and regarded as equal.
Having known Bakker superficially in person, I never believed he meant it, though he got very much praise for it, and he still lives on in Holland since he died, in having Dutch parliamentary rooms and streets called after him: He knew that e.g. communist resistance fighters, like my father and grandfather, and unlike him, strongly disagreed with being made "the equivalent" of those who had tortured them or had run Nazi death camps.
I think Bakker lied knowingly andd played some sort of ironical game that was and is very popular in hypocritical Holland, but this notion that "every human being is the equivalent of any other human being" got immensely popular in Holland - as a posture, as a saying: "We are all equivalent (and don't you dare deny it or we call you a fascist!)" - very probably because (i) only a small minority of Dutchmen (and men: see ordinary men) has sufficient self-respect, individuality, character and intelligence to dare to have individual values and ideas and to stand out as one individual person and (ii) having so little self-respect it was so very pleasant to think and say by implication that absolutely no other person could be better than oneself in any respect, for "we are all equivalent" (and so I am at least as good as you or him).
If not, here is my translation of Multatuli's explanation:
Pygmee was of small stature and loved seeing others from above.
Which he rarely succeeded in doing because he was so bitterly small.
He went voyaging looking for people that were smaller than him but found them not. And his desire to look down upon others became more and more strong and fiery.
He came in Patagonia where the people are so tall that a child, immediately after birth, looks down upon his father.
This did not please Pygmee... in someone else. But in his desperation to find human beings smaller than him, he thought of a means. He invented a virtue that prescribed as first principle : whoever is greater than Pygmee, must bow down till below the line of sight of Pygmee, and this new value found acclaim. All Patagonians became virtuous. If anyone sinned against these "first principles" by standing straight, he was punished in a peculiar manner. Everyone bowed down and virtuous jumped the sinner around the neck and pulled him down, until his head had reached the level of Patagonian correctness. And who carried all of Patagonia on his shoulders without becoming virtuous, was put on view with a sign around his neck on which was written a Patagonian word that really means: this man stood in the way of Pygmee.
Human degenerates - the majority of the conformist stupid and ignorant - are so vain of their own conformist excellency that they look down upon all form of pride and selfrespect that do not derive from being a chauvinist conformer:
One must be much advanced in the study of morality to be able to distinguish between pride and vanity. The former is lofty, calm, highminded, tranquil, unshakable; the latter is base, unsure, shifty, restless and changeable. The one makes men great, the other inflates them. The former is the source of a thousand virtues, the latter gives rise to nearly all vices and every form of deceit. There is a kind of pride that comprises all the commandments of God, and there is a kind of vanity that comprises the seven deadly sins.
The only "pride" such naturally low born - the conformist stupid and ignorant - approve of is the vanity of group chauvinism as in "gay pride", "black pride":
Then suddenly mock humans who have handed in their personal guts and balls to the local authorities as heartfelt honest proof and pledge of their loyalty to Our Leaders are publicly applauded for doing a group performance for bland conformist onlookers that generally stresses precisely those charicatureistically denigrating features attributed to the group that insists on public chauvinistic displays of group chauvinism and correctness falsely called "pride". (American example: Al Jolson and his corksooted crew). (*)
(***) Derrida: ' "there is nothing outside the text" (il n'ya pas de hors-texte) ' (quoted from Wikipedia) : precisely what a propagandist, liar, born collaborator would want to insist on - and see my Scientific Realism versus Postmodernism.
P.S. Corrections, if any are necessary, have to be made later.
-- Apr 6, 2011: I added a number of links, two notes, and a bit of text
On Searle's "The Storm Over The University" - 1
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