The mainstream goes university

I love academia.  What’s more, I suspect that a very large fraction of the Orthosphere’s readers are connected to the university system in one way or another.  (Hopefully, we’ll have our next installment of the reader survey soon to test this suspicion.)  So it has long pained me to see the universities so strongly associated with the forces of evil.  Sociologist Neil Gross even argues that the perception (which in this case very accurately reflects the reality) of academia as a Left-liberal bastion is doing a great deal to discourage young conservatives from pursuing academic careers.

In fact, it is time to reevaluate this perception.  While it is as true as ever that the faculty, administration, and campus culture of universities are monolithically liberal, they are no longer distinctively or abnormally liberal compared to the rest of society.  Back during the Cold War, there was a striking difference between the universities and ordinary America; the professors wanted the commies to win, and the uneducated didn’t.  With the end of the Cold War, the differences became less sharp, and they are continuing to fade.  The mainstream has moved radically to the Left, while the professoriate has changed very little.  Roger Kimball once called them “tenured radicals”, but the professors I know (excluding myself, of course) seem to hold what are now blandly mainstream views.  Anti-white demonization, sexual nihilism, gender egalitarianism, and the cultural Marxist reading of our past history are as taken for granted in the business world, in popular fiction, in both political parties, and in most of the churches as they are in faculty meetings.  Consider the implications of the last presidential election; for the first time, the winning candidate felt no need to move to the center.  He embraced sodomitical “marriage” and picked a fight with the Catholic Church over a new nonnegotiable imperative of universally subsidized sexual immorality, and he did this during an election time because he realized that it would win him more votes than it would cost him.  This tells us more about the electorate than it does about Obama.  (Indeed, the President has since been working on compromises to the HHS mandate.  As a statesman, he wants an arrangement everyone can live with, which makes him actually more moderate than the populace that elected him.)

Universities were also once known for their Orwellian speech codes and Maoist indoctrination programs.  These still exist, of course, but they’re now as common outside the university as inside it.  Are HR departments in corporate America so different from their university counterparts?  Sure, someone known to believe that homosexuality is immoral could probably not get tenure in one of our universities, but by now we’ve all heard enough stories to know that such people will be penalized–and often fired–in any line of work.  In fact, we have arguably reached the point already that there is more resistance to the sexual revolution on campus than there is in the military.  To take just one more example, someone who wanted to criticize an official victim group could hardly fare worse inside academia than he would outside of it.

So to our young readers, if you feel a calling to do academic work, go for it!  There are many, many beautiful things in the universities, as anyone who’s taken a class in statistical mechanics or differential geometry will well know.  For myself, I can’t imagine a happier life than the one of research and teaching.  Yes, it’s controlled by the Left, but they control everything else, too.

18 thoughts on “The mainstream goes university

  1. While the mainstream and academia have definitely converged, as have the two major parties, there still are significant differences between them. In the mainstream, you can actually get, say, a radical feminist fired, as we just saw with the recent Adria Richards brouhaha. It’s also true that Obama kowtowed to the radical left on the HHS mandate before the election, because he needed them to turn out, but his move to the centre on this after the election shows that the electorate as a whole hasn’t gone for that sort of thing. I’m not saying this makes the mainstream isn’t really bad, nor does it mean that the conservative parties in the West are worth much support, but there are still real differences between them and the left left.

  2. Be careful with this advice. If I remember correctly, you’re some kind of physicist, so it may well be that your particular field in academia is mostly about real honest science that offers a genuine sense of accomplishment and intellectual satisfaction. But in many other fields, the worst problem is not the institutional imposition of leftist ideology. The real problem is that the intellectual work itself is done within a frightfully corrupt, mendacious, and absurd system — a system in which one can’t possibly be successful, sane, and happy if one is psychologically incapable of withstanding and displaying the required mendacity, or perhaps too naive to figure out in time the real rules of the whole corrupt and Kafkaesque game.

    It’s clear why this is so in fields that are inherently ideological, like humanities, economics, or various social “sciences” — nobody but the very naive would expect anything else in a society as heavily ideological as ours, or in fact in any society where the academia is seen as an official monopolist on “scientific” truth on every question. It’s less clear, however, that this is so in many technical fields as well, where the subject matter is completely non-ideological, and where you’ll rarely encounter any leftist nonsense being pushed on you even in non-technical aspects of your work. My own stint in academia was in one such field, and while I never found the leftist nonsense a big problem — it was limited to occasional propaganda that was easy to ignore, and never required any active affirmations — the whole institution struck me as a nightmarish hybrid of a medieval guild, Kafkaesque bureaucracy, and mafia.

    The roots of this problem are not in the kind of modern leftism that has openly dominated the academia since the sixties. They are mostly in the older, New Deal-era expansions and reforms of the academia and government that destroyed the old semi-formal honor system in which science was the domain of a genuine natural aristocracy of intellect, and replaced it with the present bureaucratic monstrosity that rests on mendacious competition for government grants and political influence, absurdities such as peer review, and so on.

    Overall, in my experience, for those seeking honest and intellectually challenging work, the industry is still a much better bet, particularly in fields that are abstrusely technical and in businesses that don’t have a large public visibility. Academia maybe wins if your field is in some area of math or physics that’s still ruled by the old-fashioned honor system, but not in many others outside of that. Certainly, if you have any opinions a mainstream leftist would find seriously objectionable, I’d never recommend any academic field whose subject matter has the slightest whiff of ideological controversy — you may be lucky to find some rare contrarian niche that can accommodate you, but the odds are overwhelmingly against it.

  3. Well, I teach in the humanities (or what’s left of them). Within a narrowly defined sphere, I am free of course to state my interpretations of literary, historical, and philosophical ideas that are part of what I teach, but even there I find that I have to be very careful not to offend coiled-and-ready-to-strike campus orthodoxies. When it comes to social or religious issues, I feel much freer to air my views off campus than on, in spite of the academy’s risible claim to being a “marektplace of ideas.” Sometimes I let an indiscreet barb slip about about “campus group think” or Herbert Spencer’s choice description of “herds of independent thinkers” and am curtly reminded of the long-standing feud between my former department chair and Chomsky over the validity of “universal grammar.” I just have to roll my eyes. Compared to the big questions that affect life and its study through the humanities, arguments about universal grammar are piddling. I have no doubt that when it comes to their fundamental views of life, as well as their opinions on a vast range of social and cultural issues, Chomsky and my former chair are right in bed together. I remain unimpressed with what is often trumpeted as examples of diversity of thought in the modern academy. I’ll take those arguments seriously when it is possible, say, to criticize feminism openly without having measures taken against you that would do the yakuza proud.

    • I was fortunate enough to get my Ph.D. in linguistics at a university where one of the leading members of the department was profoundly anti-Chomsky. He had the temerity to speak his mind, and the intellect to do so extremely well, and as a tenured (full) professor, there wasn’t much that could be done to him. As it turned out, this did not affect him within the university, but he had fewer publications than he might have had because of it.

      Despite this internal atmosphere, I noticed the lock-step nature of the field by observing trends in my specialty: every five or so years, a new theory came out, and everyone jumped on board. Only those who first proposed the now-out-of-fashion theories kept working in those frameworks; everyone else was exploring the “insights” of the new theory. The worst part of that, of course, is that if your latest paper isn’t written using the new theory, it has almost no chance of getting published. The speed of the change was surprising. There was always room for a new theory–it might be the next One True Way–but almost none for “outdated” ones. The same was true for Chomsky: whatever he trotted out as “new”–often built on the work of someone else but without reference to that work–became the new Chomskyite orthodoxy, and the old Chomskyite orthodoxy was flushed down the memory hole.

      My other specialty was free of that hidebound rigidity. It was nice to find that not all sub-specialties are enslaved to the latest trends.

      After graduation and bouncing around a little, I found a teaching job that does not really reward research–it’s not even necessary–and now I am outside the confines of academic dogma. I am not, however, free of liberal tyranny in my current position, with its mandatory training sessions in all kinds of politically correct folderol.

      So yes, pursue academia if it suits you, but be prepared for what Vladimir wrote about.

  4. Wait a minute: My reasons for advising young people to be careful about planning for a career in academics are not primarily about the leftism in academics, though that might be so depending on the specific field they were considering. (English literature, for example, yes, I would emphasize ideology and its bizarre intersections with one’s scholarship.) However, the major problem is the near-impossibility of getting a good job with a humanities PhD. This is very, very serious, and it’s important that we warn young people about it. “Do as I say, not as I do” is relevant, because the model of the university in the humanities is changing very rapidly, so a young person who admires a professor of a previous generation or even half-generation (say someone fifteen years older) has an increasingly dismal chance of imitating his success. Worse still, a humanities PhD or even MA takes years of one’s life and can make non-academic businesses reluctant to hire you, so it’s not like you can just do a “do over” and go out and try readily for a non-academic career at the age of twenty-seven after failing to get a job with your humanities PhD.

    • This, this 1000 times.

      I think a successful career is possible (at least according to the statistics) but it will require a Doctorate from a Tier One University. Which means you must truly be the best in the business.

    • Well, yes, there’s the whole employability thing. I would warn someone wanting to go into academia that it’s very competitive, that most people who try fail, and that you’re not secure in a position until you’re about 40. For example, I’m 36 and I’ve still got a 50/50 chance or so of washing out.

      (My 3rd year review application is with the provost now, by the way. Wish me luck!)

      • Wow…your only 36?!
        I had you pegged to be in your 40s…or 50s even!
        I think part of the reason is that you just sound older (I mean that in a good way). That plus I thought I read something by you once where you refered to yourself as being an ‘old man’ or ‘old guy’ or something like that, maybe it was just a “30” joke or something that I didn’t get at the time.

      • I’ve fashioned an internet voice that I think makes me sound older than I actually am. That said, I actually may be one of the older Orthosphere contributors–I have reason to believe that Svein and Proph are younger than me.

      • My, my, both Bonald and Proph sound (read?) significantly older! I am amazed. At the same time, it’s understandable. Though still 19, I’m often taken to be 25-ish (in person) because of my “demeanor.”

        Also, being a university student, I have a lot to say on this topic. In sum, I detest it. I believe we should seriously form a separate community. I’ll get back to you on that soon . . . once I finish my homework. 😉

  5. I think the scariest of all leftist corruption is in the law schools. Students are taught total legal positivism and are very little concerned with real Constitutional Law. A right way of thinking is definitely enforced.

  6. While it is as true as ever that the faculty, administration, and campus culture of universities are monolithically liberal, they are no longer distinctively or abnormally liberal compared to the rest of society… the professors I know (excluding myself, of course) seem to hold what are now blandly mainstream views.

    What a great, original point, one that rings true based on my university experience (also in science). I sometimes think, in those alternate-career-of-the-week daydreams, that I should have become a geology professor.

    • What a great, original point

      Although it occurs to me that I was thinking about something perhaps analogous recently, having to do with this business of the “same-sex marriage” debate raging down south. The worse things get down there, the better, and less apologetic, I feel about being Canadian, and the more I feel like I might as well work at reforming the country I’ve got instead of looking for hope from somewhere else.

      • That’s something that I’ve been thinking too. There is really no longer any reason to regard the United States as a more conservative country than Canada, France, or pretty much anywhere else.

  7. Dear Bonald,

    Is it possible that although Continental Europe is traditionally seen as “to the left of” the US and economically it is actually so, culturally it is no longer the case? Living in Vienna, I have the impression that everything you talk about did not happen here to the same extent.

    (Or maybe there is another causal factor at work.

    The whole HR department thing in the corporate world set of problems is very much unintelligible to me, and my other hypothesis is that somehow people are simply less social and more reserved in everything over here. For example here people believe that sexuality belongs to the box private life, they don’t talk about their private lives at work, and everybody dresses and behaves according to standards that are called “professional”. Religion, political issues are similarly belonging to the private sphere, not to be discussed at work. So in Vienna plain simply nobody knows either that Hans is gay or that Jürgen has a problem with it. Both are entirely hidden behind a professional way of talking, dressing, not talking about private matters, and keeping a social distance, not talking about private, personal matters other than those 1-2 lines of chatting that is a barest necessary minimum as a social lubricant: “Bad weather, eh? Had a good weekend? Good, so, now, about this project we started last week…”

    It took me 2 years to get to know that the guy sitting at the desk accross mine is a single dad. And even this was entirely by chance.)

    • Hi Shenpen,

      That is interesting; more reserve would make it easier for homosexuals and gender essentialists to live together. I would expect there to still be clashes over whose idea of normal gets to determine what gets taught in public schools, though.

  8. Pingback: Academia or the military: who is less hospitable to conservatives? | Throne and Altar

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