The academic left is in much worse shape than I even realized. We can see how bad it has gotten in the read of the day: a fearless academic immersed in the world of New York City higher education calling out the shallow groupthink that characterizes political discussions in the ivory tower.
Frederick deBoer is newly-minted PhD in English working at Brooklyn College in support roles (“Academic Assessment Manager”; “WAC Coordinator”) lacking the crucial word “professor” in his title. His blog post titled, “condescending, certain, and incoherent” is drawing a lot of attention, including a link on heavyweight Instapundit.
The picture deBoer paints is of people who seem to be in a collective trance. Their assumptions are mistaken for facts, and are never enumerated, much less discussed. They remain hazy, varying from person to person, because those assumptions are never challenged:
…the internal contradictions and lack of clear theoretical footing were packaged with the aggressive presumption that the conclusions were obvious.
This is a constant condition for me: interacting with liberals and leftists who affect a stance of bored impatience, who insist that the answers to moral and political questions are so obvious that every reasonable person already agrees, who then lack the ability to explain the thinking underlying their answers to those questions in a remotely compelling way. Everything is obvious; all the hard work is done; only an idiot couldn’t see what the right thing to do is. And then you poke a little bit at the foundation and it just collapses. I suppose the condescension and the fragility are related conditions, the bluster a product of the insecurity at the heart of it all. You act like everything is obvious precisely because you can’t articulate your position.
If you read the whole thing, you will see that while deBoer enjoys challenging assumptions, he is no conservative. His conclusion lays out the hazards the academic Left is inflicting upon itself with the trance (my word, not his) they remain stuck in:
Few things are more deadly to a broad political tendency than a (sic) eye-rolling assumption that there is no work to be done. You combine that with the way challenging questions have come to be seen as themselves offensive, particularly in academia, and you have a left-of-center that cannot do the work of figuring out what it is and what it stands for at precisely the time its mission is most important. Our opposition’s taken control of everything, so how do we respond? Race OR class or race AND class? Neoliberalism or socialism? Identity or economics or both? Wonk autocrats or the grassroots? I know what I prefer. But I don’t know what broad movement will emerge when everyone is so busy being certain about the answers that they cannot articulate or justify.
The stark contrast between the scholarly duty to consider all possible explanations before reaching a conclusion and the inability of so many academics to think through their own assumptions, much less defend them, demonstrates fundamental corruption. The very legitimacy of higher education is in peril, particularly the humanities and social sciences. When there is no possibility of a bridge falling down, and when similarly leftist colleagues are the sole judges of academic merit, a cultural spiral toward the extreme probably is inevitable. It’s how you get attention from a like-minded crowd.
Unless people like deBoer can yank the leftists out of their political trance, they will be digging their own political graves. At least 70% of the country laughs at the extremes of campus leftists. Political strategies based on a shared fantasy have a poor chance of success.