A guest post by Richard Cocks:
There is a pathology responsible for many seemingly unrelated problems besetting higher education: liberalism. Once we understand the liberal mindset, we can identify the cause of the problems and what can be done about it.
One problem involves standards. Less and less is expected of students. So many different things contribute to this that it may be regarded as ‘over-determined;’ i.e., any one of these things might be enough to have the same result. The liberal mind, however, doesn’t even have the necessary tools to address the problem. For many liberals the idea of a canon itof great works is anathema. It is seen as elitist. The canon typically gets replaced with books regarded as politically, not literarily, worthy – designed to highlight issues of gender, class and race. Thus, students are not primarily being asked to understand difficult, challenging books that provide a source of cultural literacy, but mostly to parrot back the liberal political views of their teachers.
Even though it is Western culture alone that was responsible for recognizing the problem of racism and provides the tools for discussing it, Western culture comes under fire as, for instance, being the reason poor countries are poor; or for being patriarchal, sexist and racist.
If they see Western culture as evil, liberals are hardly going to see it as their job to teach it to their students. Instead, they see it as their job to teach liberalism, and liberalism is hostile to standards because standards rest on differences, rankings and hierarchies – all antithetical to the liberal.
The good news is that liberalism represents a stage in development. Its problems can be solved if its adherents climb beyond it. Clare Grave’s MEME theory points the way. Clare Graves was an American psychologist and developed his theory in the 1950s. He did it by asking people to describe their conception of a successful person. The result was a developmental hierarchy consisting of an indefinite number of levels. The levels involved particular ways of looking at the world, with which we are already familiar. Beck and Cowan color coded the resulting levels in their book aimed at business people called Spiral Dynamics.
Beige is the first level. Survival is the main focus here – sex, food and shelter. It’s basically animalistic. A successful person is a survivor. Purple MEME goes beyond mere survival and introduces storytelling and dance: human culture and a magical animistic worldview. Red MEME views the successful person as strong and courageous. He overcomes obstacles and can play the role of protector. Blue MEME is the lawgiver and law-follower. If one follows the rules, the true believer will go to heaven; the others, to hell. One gets a Manichean division between the saved and the damned. Orange MEME is the scientific materialist; rational and meritocratic in principle. All men are created equal. Our founding fathers would be primarily Orange. Green MEME is the liberal.
The notion of Green MEME is helpful for understanding the liberal mind. The good intentions of the Green MEME can quickly turn rancid and persecutory. Its chief characteristic is an interest and concern with equality. Men and women are equal. The races are equal. This commonly becomes a hostility to the existence of differences.
The key to understanding all the permutations of Green MEME is its antipathy to hierarchy. Because it is false to claim that someone is superior or inferior merely on the basis of skin color, Green MEME tends to imagine all notion of hierarchy is evil. So, the liberal mind tends to respond to every question with the same answer – what can be called ‘leveling.’
Once this disease has been diagnosed it makes liberals painfully predictable. What do you think about the notion of a canon of great works? It’s elitist. How about the professor teaching his students? I learn as much from my students as they learn from me. We are a student-centered campus. Are some people better looking than others? Beauty is a social construct and we all differ in what we find attractive. Are cultural habits to blame for some minorities failing while others succeed – in fact out-performing the majority? The notion of cultural habits is a stereotype and all cultures are equal. Is a stone-age preliterate culture with slavery and ritual cannibalism, where people die at thirty as good as literate post-industrial cultures? Yes. You weren’t paying attention were you?
Even when it comes to truth, the extreme post-modern liberal mind claims there are ‘different ways of knowing,’ all of equal validity, including a committee of elders for deciding matters of fact. When I was told that by one head of department I wondered if she would continue to espouse this view if she got cancer and was trying to decide upon her course of treatment.
Once one understands the game, all the liberal’s answers are predictable. One doesn’t need to take the class in post-colonial studies to know what is going to be taught or where blame is going to be assigned.
The good news is that there is a solution to Green MEME. It teeters on the edge of Yellow – the first second tier MEME. As second tier, Yellow is the first MEME that doesn’t see itself as the pinnacle of human cultural evolution; that knows there is further to go and doesn’t have all the answers. Yellow does not demonize all hierarchy. It can embrace the notion of a canon and that some cultures are better than others. It can try to understand men and women without insisting on the answers in advance.
I myself, my friends and family have all moved from following many of the Green MEME’s values in our youth to Yellow or beyond in our maturity. Thus, I have empirical proof that it is possible.
The bad news is that there is a special feature of Green MEME that makes it hard to transcend. This feature is its hostility to hierarchy and thus development. All development implies hierarchy. Like all first tier MEMEs, Green insists that it represents the peak of human development, while also maintaining that development does not exist. Hence, Green is often a path back down to things like magical beliefs to be found in New Age religion. Education is the major route to further development but liberals are hostile to standards and requirements that push students to do better. Green MEME short-circuits the educational process and because it is so conformist, hiring and promotional decisions are based on adhering to Green MEME tropes. The more we hear of ‘diversity,’ the more conformist and predictable we know things are getting.
Green MEME liberalism represents the average level of development of college professors. Moral support is necessary to step beyond the norm. Articles like this one contribute to that moral support but one’s paycheck speaks pretty loudly too. It’s unfortunate that the Green MEME has special characteristics that make it so hard to transcend by individuals at institutions like colleges.
The ultimate ground for hope is that most Green MEME liberal assertions are false or contain woefully partial truths. Green mostly does not care about truth if it seems to run counter to liberalism and even denies the existence of truth in its post-modern variant. But the definition of truth is what is the case regardless of what we think. We can continue to hope that reality must ultimately prevail one way or another. We should continue to offer that moral support missing from the academy and hope for the best.