Why it is Impossible to Reason with the Academic Left

Or, How Modern Higher Education Destroys the Human Mind

In the course of searching for something on the Internet, I happened upon some comments on the movie Avatar on a website aimed at a strongly academic, “postmodern” audience. I will reproduce the comments below. The author called herself an American expatriate living in Europe.

Actually, I agree that her question is an important one. Why is an anti-Western, anti-American movie so popular in America? And, in a sense, her answers, despite the ponderous academic jargon, are as good as any. They are fumbling to understand the almost indescribably strange and unreal quality of our popular culture, which simultaneously condemns and degrades everything we are and have been, while “de-familiarizing” what they portray so that we feel we are outside of, or above, what is being condemned.

Sadly, the sophisticated “theories” she learned in college and graduate school, far from helping her to understand what is happening to her country, have made her egregiously, probably irredeemably, blind to that reality. I am afraid that this is the sort of American who will continue to feel white guilt even as her throat is being cut.

I just got back from seeing Avatar. Great movie! Sure, the Na’vi are portrayed in stereotyped, “Orientalist” terms, and the plot is just another version of the old story of someone who “goes native” – think Lawrence of Arabia or Dances With Wolves. But Cameron obviously intends these “natives” to serve as a symbol of the various indigenous peoples who have been victimized by America throughout its history, from Native Americans to the people of the Philippines, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

I’ve been living abroad for some time, so maybe I’ve lost touch with life in the American Empire. How can such an anti-imperialist film be so popular? Have the people become Marxist-Leninists? Or have they turned the other way, to Rush Limbaugh isolationism?

Could it be an example of “incorporation,” as the Marxists call it, where the dominant ideology takes a dissenting position and emasculates it and makes it safe for the masses? Or is this an example of the “carnival” Bakhtin theorized about, where a temporary inversion of the conventional moral values enables the catharsis of the tribe’s suppressed fears?

Maybe the general public is too bloody stupid to notice the extremely obvious political message behind the special effects. Even many of the more astute critics totally missed the point, interpreting it only in the hackneyed language of race.

I wonder if anything like this has happened before. Can you imagine Germans in the Nazi era watching films portraying Germans as the bad guys, and Jewish Communists as the heroes? What about in ancient Rome, Imperial Japan, the British Empire, the Umayyad Caliphate? Normally, collective self-punishment takes place after everything has collapsed. Does it ever happen before that, when things are still going pretty smoothly?

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21 Responses to Why it is Impossible to Reason with the Academic Left

  1. Dr.D says:

    “…the various indigenous peoples who have been victimized by America throughout its history…”

    Ah, yes, all of those countries where we have established colonies, extracted the mineral wealth, worked the locals to death in the mines and factories and on our plantations, where our royal governors have lived like princes over the peons. What were those countries again? Phillipines, Viet Nam, Afghanistan, and Iraq? No, that does not quite fit the description. The US has spent vast amounts of treasure and American lives fighting in those countries, but never with the intent of subduing those people to be our colonies. Those countries have cost us an immense fortune, but as a profit making empire, they are a complete bust. Maybe it is just that we don’t know how to manage an empire, ya think? Perhaps we need to check with the Brits for some pointers on that.

    “Normally, collective self-punishment takes place after everything has collapsed. Does it ever happen before that, when things are still going pretty smoothly?”

    This writer is truly out of touch with reality to think that “things are still going pretty smoothly.” The US government has never been more totally blocked up by naked partisanship with clearly no regard whatsoever for the good of the country as what we have today in Washington. People speak of “bipartisanship,” but what they mean is, “be reasonable, do it my way.” The will to power has completely trumped any willingness to come up with ways for everyone to come away at least partially satisfied. I’d say that in some senses the collapse has already occurred. We just have not seen the whole structure come down to the ground yet, even though it is is falling even now.

  2. Dr.D says:

    One other point:
    “Maybe the general public is too bloody stupid to notice the extremely obvious political message behind the special effects.”

    Notice the arrogant condescension. This is extremely typical of academics (I say this as a retired academic, so I have heard a lot of it). The implication is, “We bright people all understand this, but those ordinary people are probably just too dumb to get it.” Well, sure, that’s why we all have PhDs and they just hold down jobs and do the work that makes the world keep on running. Don’t ask an academic to change a tire or put together a piece of furniture from Ikea; it is likely to prove too embarrassing for all concerned.

  3. stephenhopewell says:

    Dr.D, I wonder if people in Europe imagine things are still going “smoothly” in the U.S. Maybe it’s a comfort to them to think we’ll always be there, just as it’s a comfort to us to think that France, England, etc. will always be there. I’m sure most Americans living in Europe take the terminally apologetic position about their country.

    Yes, the arrogance of academics slips out sometimes. (They don’t realize it; they think they are supporters of the oppressed of the world.) The scary thing is, education in the humanities these days essentially consists of learning to think like this.

  4. Dr.D says:

    Most Europeans seem to think that the US is in worse shape than they are in many respects. They see us as a very violent society, with murder on every street corner.

    You may have heard about the young female biology professor at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, when denied tenure, up and killed three of the other faculty? This was without a doubt a violent response, and as we learn more about it, it seems that this same woman murdered her brother many years earlier. I bring this up only to add a comment that I saw from an English faculty member. He said that at least he could go to a faculty meeting without fear of being murdered by his fellow faculty members. I was an academic for many years, and I never once feared physical murder in a faculty meeting, although character assassination was routine, as I am sure it is in England also. I don’t think America is so much a hope for most Europeans as it is a whipping boy.

    Isn’t it strange that the humanities, the studies that supposedly emphasize those things that are humane, have turned to focus on the inhumane? The study of what was great about humankind has turned instead to what is grotesque, brutal, and dehumanizing. It has been stood on its head entirely. Great and noble art has been replaced by graffiti, the profound music of Bach and Beethoven has been pushed aside for rap, the search for truth in philosophy has been displaced by a complete lie and the denial that truth exists, the use of language has been perverted from clear communication to dissimulation, and the understanding of man as made in the image of God has been replaced by man as an accident. Small wonder that people feel lost, depressed, hopeless when they have been taught this load of lies from their earliest days. We have the modern humanities to thank for all of this.

  5. The film Avatar had generated enough buzz to give me a vague idea that I ought to see it sometime, though I had no idea what the film might be about other than from an unappealing still image of an fairy or insect-man or something in the film’s advertising. I think that your and Dr.D’s remarks will now deflect me from the mistake of watching this film.

    Shall I comment along a personal tangent? In the past twenty years, it so happens that I have purposely walked out of or deliberately shut off exactly three films. The first of the three was Stargate, a film lots of people seem to have loved but somehow I just didn’t get the point of (the surprised theater manager refunded my money on request when I left halfway through the film, which I thought was decent of him to do, a courtesy I still remember). The second was Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, probably the single most offensive film I have ever seen and the only film that has ever led me to complain in writing to the movie studio (Disney’s outrageous fagophile Michael Eisner, with typical discourtesy, never replied). The third was Contact, based on Carl Sagan’s novel which I had once read and thought pretty good though I had found its premise farfetched, but which the scriptwriter had tactlessly converted into a blatant anti-Christian screed.

    I am admittedly not a big moviegoer, but of the films I have seen no other has prompted me to cut the film short—except inadvertently by falling asleep or perforce by lack of time. Judging by your tale, Avatar would likely have been the fourth such film for me.

    Has a movie ever flushed you or Dr.D out of the theater?

  6. This sentence, if pondered too closely, is enough to break one’s heart:

    Great and noble art has been replaced by graffiti, the profound music of Bach and Beethoven has been pushed aside for rap, the search for truth in philosophy has been displaced by a complete lie and the denial that truth exists, the use of language has been perverted from clear communication to dissimulation, and the understanding of man as made in the image of God has been replaced by man as an accident.

    Every single clause of that is true. The last three clauses—on philosophy, language and man—are intimately connected, but one needs an acquaintance with Aristotle to understand why. Such acquaintance has grown rare.

    Which leads me on another tangent. Unlike Dr.D, I am young enough to have read C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia as a child. It was only a generation later, however, hearing my wife read Lewis aloud to my own children, that I realized how much of Aristotle was in Lewis’ Chronicles. I suppose that Lewis expected that his young readers would go on to learn Aristotle and thus grasp the allegory, but how many of his young readers today ever will?

    The good news is that Aristotle has been around for 2300 years and isn’t going anywhere. He can no more permanently be forgotten than Columbus or Newton can. He’ll be back—and maybe with him Beethoven and Bach? One can hope.

  7. Dr.D says:

    Very interesting comments, Howard.

    I can only think of one similar incident, although I very rarely (actually almost never) go to movies. Sometime, back around 1982, I took my young family, including my five year old twins and their 13 year old sister, my wife and myself to a movie that was described as some sort of a Sherlock Holmes tale; I forget the exact title. I turned out to be a porn movie. After about 5 minuets, as things were beginning to get going, we grabbed the kids and headed for the exit. I stopped at the box office to tell them my thoughts on the matter, but the simply smirked. There was never any though of refunding our money or any such consideration. I don’t know when I have ever been so disgusted in my life.

    I was always a big Sherlock Holmes fan, having read him a lot while I was in college during final exams. This was a diversion to avoid getting all hyped up at that crucial time. It never entered my mind that someone could pervert Sherlock to make porn!

    Howard, do you think I am as old as Lewis? Let me remind you that he is dead and I am still here, for the time being at least. But yes, I very definitely do remember when he was alive and with us.

    Are you familiar with the Roman Catholic scholar Peter Kreeft? He is a great student of C.S. Lewis and has written much about him, and Kreeft is very much alive. He is at Boston College (or is it Boston University?) He writes very profoundly and lucidly.

  8. Dr.D: No, I did not think that you were as old as Lewis, but somehow I had a notion that your military-aged years might have fallen in the gap between Korea and Vietnam, since you seem the military type but have never mentioned combat service. Extrapolation infers that you’d have been a bit too old for Lewis’ kids books when they first appeared. I’m happy to be corrected!

    Are you in fact a Vietnam veteran, if I may ask? An infantry officer, maybe? Just curious.

    As long as I’m abusing Stephen’s hospitality by taking his thread off-topic, shall I ask what the best films of the past twenty years would be? If so, my list:

    Fireproof
    That Thing You Do
    Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith
    K-19
    Premonition

    The list is backloaded toward the 2000s because 1990s films in general were pretty poor: films have relatively improved a little. Several other films, like Cinderella Man and the Tolkien films, come close, but that’d probably be my list of the best of the past twenty years.

    Howard

  9. Dr.D, forgot to mention: I had not known of Dr. Kreeft and am most pleased to learn of him now. Thank you.

  10. Liam says:

    Howard J Harrison

    Out of interest, can I ask what your objection to “Stargate” was? I vaguely recall watching it at a friend’s house some years ago, but the only thing I recall was that it was a confused, incoherent mess. Mind you, I was a lefty at the time so maybe any political or cultural allegories passed me by.

    Fascinating comments re the Narnia chronicles. My knowledge of Aristotle is very scant, but I’ll make an effort to look into the comparison. My nine year-old daughter has just finished The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and is now hooked, with a trip to the school library for “Prince Caspian” high on the agenda next week.

    Sorry for the tangents Stephen.

  11. Hannon says:

    While I tend to agree with the conservative deconstruction I have read of Avatar, I wonder if too much of it may be an abuse of its status as an emblem of modern liberalism. It is first and foremost a for-profit venture and this goal had to have dwarfed any ideological message that might have been engineered into it deliberately. In this it has been wildly successful. [Here I am reminded of the consistently misleading statistics we hear about movies: box office revenue, etc., that is never given on a per capita basis. I would not be surprised if some movie from the 1930s were the top-grossing of all time if compared in this way].

    Cameron is capitalizing on the lingering anti-Iraq War and Afghan War sentiment, merely a cold calculation. And yes, I think this does tie-in with the relativist or revisionist history lessons prevalent in the public schools. Yet the political message of the film overall, while repugnant and disingenuous on some level, is not especially powerful. Think of The Manchurian Candidate and others. Avatar is commercial fluff. Although I did not see it in 3D I was not as impressed as everyone seems to be with the graphics. They are intriguing but not amazing, and the natural history elements are out of a fairy tale rather than a science book (in spite of his bragging about various technical consultations). Avatar is not designed to engage critical thinking and ultimately does not deserve serious critique on any level.

    I suspect this film is important in the sense that it has provoked its share of thought and response from the right. Any effect it has had on the Left may be negligible. The question is whether it helped push anyone from the center in either direction.

  12. stephenhopewell says:

    Great discussion while I was “gone”! I haven’t seen most of the movies mentioned by Dr.D and Howard. I like the experience of seeing a movie at the local art theater, though naturally the messages of many are politically repellent to me. I don’t think I’ve ever walked out of one, though.

    Two great international movies I can think of from the last few years – The Lives of Others, and Departures.

    I second Howard’s praise for Dr.D’s tragically apt description of our cultural decline. I look forward to reading Howard’s ideas about Aristotle.

    Hannon, you make an excellent point about Avatar (really all Hollywood movies) being primarily about profit. But isn’t that the interesting thing? How avaricious, even predatory profit-maximizing practices are combined with a liberal ideology as radical as Marxism?

  13. Liam: My view was identical to yours. I had no objection to the film Stargate that I recall, only “that it was a confused, incoherent mess.”

    Stephen: The two films you name are unknown to me. I shall add them to my film-queue. Thanks.

  14. Dr.D says:

    Here is a URL for a somewhat fanciful, but very heartwarming 20 minute film:

    http://tinyurl.com/kqpve7

    It is particularly interesting in that all of the characters are White, except for a brief segment when a black man and his son are intruded to make the obligatory bow to diversity. It is so painfully out of place, it sticks out like a sore thumb. Other than that, it is a rather uplifting short movie about America of perhaps 85 years ago.

  15. stephenhopewell says:

    Dr.D, it is a nice piece. I have only seen half so far, due to streaming problems.

    I have a quibble with the initial scene, which portrays the cruelty of the freak-show audience in a stereotyped way, as if to say “look how awful everyone was to the handicapped before we became enlightened by liberalism.” I suppose these shows could indeed be cruel, so I accept the story, but there’s something about it rings not quite true.

    But I’ll watch to the end before saying anything else!

  16. Dr.D says:

    I’m sorry Stephen, but I think the scene is fairly accurate. I have seen things fairly similar to that happen in my own life when I was a child.

    Handicapped people were often pretty badly abused when I was a child. Things have improved somewhat, although I’m not sure that motives have improved at all.

  17. stephenhopewell says:

    Dr.D, point taken. Some of our “progress” really has been progress. It sure wasn’t like this when I was growing up, though I knew little punks who would have been quite capable of that kind of cruelty if given a chance.

  18. icr says:

    “I wonder if anything like this has happened before. Can you imagine Germans in the Nazi era watching films portraying Germans as the bad guys, and Jewish Communists as the heroes? What about in ancient Rome, Imperial Japan, the British Empire, the Umayyad Caliphate? Normally, collective self-punishment takes place after everything has collapsed. Does it ever happen before that, when things are still going pretty smoothly? ”

    How incredibly clueless this girl is. Anti-American American movies have-of course- been common since the late ’60’s.

  19. Karl says:

    [The bird-brained HELLywood shmucks affect even our Kansas birds – the HELLywoodized ones with their blaring boombox “mating calls” which scare our little feathered ones. So I am sharing this with all non-shmucks. Karl]

    Our songbirds here in MitcHELL County, Kansas want
    to give the following update on the insane boombox noise here:
    “The noisiest kid over in the city of Beloink drives an older white sedan with license number 178-BJW. Our owner’s friends in Beloink have told the police about him several times, but it never dawns on the Keystone Kops there that they could use an unmarked car to verify the noise; the kids have cell phones and can warn their friends when they see a marked patrol car coming.
    “And it never dawns on the anti-social psychopaths (who may be making up for the lack of noisy rattles in their infancy) that their unlawful noise may be harming a sick baby or someone whose night job forces him to sleep days – or even some veteran who can get “flashbacks” of battlefield cannon booms!
    “It’s obvious that many Kansas kids are no longer Christians, or patriotic Americans, or even human because they have been slowly brainwashed and mentally enslaved by leftist, anti-family, perverted, unAmerican, Jesus-bashing, Marxist shlemiels and shmucks in HELLywood who exercise their first amendment rights by dangling every known vice before Kansas farm kids while secretly viewing them as red-state “hicks”! After America falls we’ll be able to blame the buyers of HELLywood’s videos and devil music as much as the HELLywood devils themselves!
    “If you think such music doesn’t create devils, why do little piggy Beloinkers blast quiet neighborhoods even on Sunday mornings during church time? Do those paranoids really think everyone is out to get them and they have to have growling tailpipes for the same reason a dog growls? Since we don’t get to democratically vote whether we want to hear their music or any music, will those “dictators” be happy when God responds in kind by letting America be taken over by a big dictator who will likely ban all “dirty capitalist” noise! Until then, maybe a tornado – or even a nuclear war – will cover up at least some of the noise!
    “Many other places (like Albuquerque and Reno) have huge fines for boombox noise and even impound offending cars! How can high-crime, gambling towns have better “Kansas values” than a north central Kansas town?
    “Have the little piggies here heard of headphones? We don’t care if they’re smoking pot and fornicating in the middle of our road at 3 a.m. as long as they’re quiet! North Bell St. over in Beloink is the noisiest place in the county. Would the BELLies care if one of our friends is a veteran a block east of them who might go postal over the noise? As long as the cops do nothing about this, we songbirds will keep singing to the whole world about MitcHELL County!”
    See what smart birds we have?
    Karl (in Karl’s Kastle)

    [Want more? Google “David Letterman’s Hate, Etc.”]

  20. Karl says:

    FOR NOISE HATERS

    Well, our noise hating songbirds here in MitcHELL County, Kansass have another update on the boombox plague nearby.
    They tell us that the No. 1 day-and-night boombox champion way over there in the city of Beloink is Aaron Adams in his white 1989 Merc, license no. 178-BJW. (We’ll be happy to publicize any other lowlifes also and also notify their parents.)
    I wonder if the folks supervising Aaron (when he has on his blue nurse-like clothing) are aware of his great impersonation of someone with neurotic – or worse – impulses! Sometimes it’s hard to tell doctor look-alikes from patients.
    Speaking of doctors, if any doctor will verify that the No. 1 noise-maker and law-breaker over there in Beloink has caused substantial injuries to at least one person, the city of Beloink and its Keystone Kops, who are well aware of erring Aaron, may soon be sued for damages if they can’t put the clamps on Aaron!
    PS – The “values” in Kansass are now no better than the “values” in New Yuck or Hell-A !

    (from Karl in Karl’s Kastle in MitcHELL County, Kansass)

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