I love reading the AJC Opinions section – it’s always a 50/50 toss-up as to whether I’ll agree wholeheartedly or want to throw the article out the window, but either way it’s always an interesting read. Today’s guest column by Mary Grabar was no exception.
While I have never attended a Tea Party rally m’self (and honestly, I don’t see it happening), I have read many stories similar to this one. Stories of uncommon Tea Party advocates who defend the honor of the movement and counter the claims made by liberals of the rabid, racist, and vapid following the Tea Party garners.
In all honesty, I believe it. I’ve posted here a few times before about the inherent pattern the universe at large follows – that of a bell curve. Specifically, there are always going to be Tea Party-ers who are civil, intelligent, and open-minded. There will always be advocates with a sublime yet tangible sense of duty whose motivations are pure. There will also always be followers who are there because someone (who can’t possibly be wrong!) said “Obama is a terrorist”, and that’s enough for them!
Same on the other side of the spectrum. There will always be liberals who, during their protests, yell and scream and make a huge show, and then leave heaps of trash behind. There will also always be reasonable, rational, and agreeable liberals are simply looking to debate ideas based on their merit, rather than be sucked into mudslinging competitions because someone exercised their freedom of speech and disagreed.
This is all well and good. I personally don’t like the Tea Party – I think the best thing that could happen to this country’s political scene is for the Tea Party to pull off the conservative Republicans and Democrats to create a salient third party, so the Republicans can go back to being reasonable and this country can go back to running itself (so long as no Tea Party-er ever reaches the Oval Office). I respect that it, along with the liberal side, has its crazies (MoveOn.org? way too extreme), and both sides have their virtues as well; mine just happen to align more smoothly with the liberals.
But then Dr. Grabar said this (emphasis and citations mine):
A major flaw of the Enlightenment heirs, the Liberal Elite (as Harris calls them), is that as a privileged class they are far removed from experiences of real people.1
In academia I’ve seen them spin their grand theories, cite each others’ theories, and then claim that their work has been “peer-reviewed.”2 Their intellectual circle becomes smaller and smaller, their language more specialized as it obscures the paucity of real learning.
And because they have controlled education and the media, they simply instate like-minded, intellectually intolerant peers.3 They award each other graduate degrees, tenure, editorships and awards. They dumb down educational requirements. They mislead their audiences and students through censorship, while fooling them that they have their best interests at heart.4
That a certain group of people sees through this charade indicates their knowledge of history and human nature.5 They are rightfully leery of a celebrity politician who promises to “spread the wealth.” They educate their kids at home, teach them Latin and Aristotle’s rhetoric — the hard subjects that have been eliminated by these supposed intellectuals in charge of education.6 And as this month’s elections show, they are having an influence through the electoral process — and not as modern-day mobs of pitchfork-carrying peasants.
Talk about ruining what was otherwise a thoughtful and well-written article. To say these are stale and stereotypical right-wing talking points would, itself, be stale and stereotypical. So rather than dismiss them outright, I’ll try to address them here.
1: A privileged class far removed from experiences of real people. I cringe at the use of “real people” here, as if pursuing one’s dreams of cutting-edge research and expertise in a particular field of study made one less of a person. True, they don’t call academia the “Ivory Tower” for no reason, but how does this make academics any more “privileged” than anyone else? Unless we’re drawing a line between blue-collar and white-collar jobs, in which case I’d like to direct your attention to the years of undergraduate and graduate study, living off loans or a research stipend that barely qualifies as not-poverty, working anywhere from 60-90 hours each week to publish or die; not so different from the typical blue-collar profession. I’m sure Dr. Grabar is familiar with this process, but why she felt it necessary to denigrate her own background is perplexing.
2: Peer review process. I’m not really sure what to say here; the whole point of the peer review process is to give your peers the opportunity to critique your research, to make sure your own innate assumptions and biases have not skewed your research conclusions. However, experts in the field are really the only ones qualified to critique expert work in that same field. I’m not sure what Dr. Grabar is driving at here, since I wouldn’t want politicians reviewing my research for its merit any more than I’d want my piano instructor troubleshooting my desktop computer. Of course academia has its faults like any other institution on this planet, but far more often it’s incredibly difficult to get truly remarkable research published in a respectable journal.
3: Control of education and the media breeds more ingrates. I’m not sure where “control of the media” comes from (other than “left field”), so I’m leaving that one alone for the moment. But control of education? This is similar to my point from #2: if academics are not in control of academia, then inherently, whoever is in control isn’t going to know the ins and outs. Isn’t it a chief complaint among conservatives that President Obama doesn’t have the experience and credentials necessary to do the job well? Why, then, would they want anyone but the best-qualified people to run the show? Academia isn’t for the faint of heart. As for like-breeding-like, well, guilty as charged; just look at how parenting works. There will always be bad professors – and they will always be outnumbered by good ones – but I think Dr. Grabar gives students too little credit here to think for themselves, particularly if they are pursuing graduate studies. Well-developed independent thought is a prerequisite.
4: Dumbed-down education and ulterior motives. This hits a nerve, as I have noticed the trend in both undergraduate and graduate studies losing their edges across the United States. I will give Dr. Grabar the benefit of the doubt here and assume she is not aligned with the morons in Texas or anyone else who swoons at the prospect of the Theocratic States of America. Having attended my M.S. graduation this past May, I had to say goodbye to all my classmates, all of whom were from India. These are among the brightest scientists I have ever known, and none of them are sticking around – most are heading back home to seek employment. This is a far cry from even a few decades ago, when academic institutions in the United States played permanent host to the most talented researchers in the world, people who stuck around and contributed the their respective fields long after receiving their degrees. Now we’re suffering a major brain drain, primarily due to how turned off these burgeoning scientists and researchers are to the movement in this country toward a close-minded, extremely-right-wing view on creation, history, and politics. Doesn’t leave a lot of room for creative thought, does it? As for ulterior motives, may I direct you to the Texas Board of Education.
5: Some people have penetrated the cloud of lies! Or perhaps this new movement in the United States, saying “it’s cool to be minimally educated”, is simply pointing to those who have dedicated decades of their lives to furthering their fields of research (which ultimately drives corporation innovation, by the way) and saying in a single, unequivocal voice: “Because we don’t understand your work, you must be a haughty individual.” Not only is this sentiment guilty of more fallacies than I can list, it’s horrifying that the pursuit of knowledge has suddenly become worthy of contempt. As I mentioned, there will always be academics who abuse their knowledge. There will also always be “real people” (to use Dr. Grabar’s term) who are afraid of and lash out at what they don’t understand.
6: Home schooling, Latin, Aristotle, and vehement rhetoric. I have nothing against home schooling; if this is what you have chosen for your children, more power to you. Some of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met went through their entire gradeschool and high school careers being homeschooled, though I would argue that the social skills learned from attending school are invaluable and cannot be taught at home. Still, yanking your children out of college because you view the entire educational institution as a giant conspiracy by the Liberal Elites is narrow-minded and, frankly, dumb as hell. Latin and the works of Aristotle are still taught at every major university and easily available to anyone who wishes to learn more; my youngest sister is still proficient in Latin after taking the AP version in high school, and while my philosophy courses through college only covered the “modern” era (Hobbes onward), I am still very much a fan of the work of Aristotle, as well as his teacher Plato, and his teacher Socrates.
As an aspiring researcher, scientist, and academic, I do recognize that singularly devoting oneself to a lifelong vocation can, in some sense, make everything else fall by the wayside. This is true for any endeavor; there’s always a balance to be struck to ensure your pursuits do not consume you. But Dr. Grabar’s final paragraphs were very unexpected, and very incorrectly applied to the academic community at large. I’m trying not to speculate as to the why, since she has been through the wringer, too. But the statements reek of ignorance, and falls in the same category as the mindless rabble that so characterizes typical right-wing talking points.
After all, it’s rather difficult to engage in a thoughtful, constructive discussion when one is labeled a Liberal Elite from the onset. Not because of their ideas, but because of their profession.