Friday, October 12, 2007

I have to stop being shocked by her

Calling blacks lazy remains her nadir, but it honestly seems as if Megan's work is getting worse, difficult as that is to believe. This is about one step from David Horowitz.

Faced with overwhelming evidence that there is a massive, massive underrepresentation of conservatives at the elite level, almost none of them even considers, in passing, that there might be some sort of structural problem. No, clearly the reason that conservatives don't make it into the academy is that . . . they're inferior.
Business schools, law schools, economics departments, and many poli sci departments are not a part of academia, it would seem. Megan's trying to be funny. Unfortunately, her jest is about the sum of it. Of course, there actually are plenty of conservatives in academia. I'm in grad school for philosophy, and there's a wide range of ideological diversity in my program. Yeah, of course there's a tendency towards liberalism, but that comes with having a mindset oriented towards an informed, accurate, expansive world view. Movement conservatives today take ignorance and a closed mind as virtues. The respective natures of higher learning and movement conservatism are currently in opposition. But I'm just being tribal.
It's not as if we're talking about a severe shortage of fly-fishers either. One would think that a committment to diversity would start with a committment to diversity of thought. But then, having thoughts that disagree with the thoughts that academics have probably means there's something wrong with you, doesn't it?
Megan, people who provide demonstrably, empirically, incorrect arguments and demand equal voice in a school shouldn't get it. Besides, you cannot pretend Economics departments are full of hippies, or that Hobbes isn't taught in Philosophy departments anymore. What Horowitz and the like do is focus on, say, Women's Studies departments and whine about how there's no one trying to defend wife beaters. But the following shows that Megan fundamentally misunderstands the teacher's mindset.
Don't get me wrong: I don't think there's any sort of conspiracy against conservatives in the academy. I think, rather, that a combination of more subtle factors erects a wall that it's harder for conservatives to climb over. Unless they are really, really brilliant, academics, like everyone else, need personal connections to help them up the academic ladder, from recommendations to mentors to advisors. Those personal connections are always much easier to make with people you agree with. Nor would I discount the possibility that, just as women's work can be subtly dismissed because we know women aren't as bright as men, academics who think that conservatives are stupid would factor that into their assessment of someone's intelligence--and then factor that assessment into their assessment of someone's work. And of course, one's ideas are to some extent socially constructed; simply by virtue of the arguments and information we hear, even if there is no social pressure to conform, being surrounded by a political culture will tend to drag our ideas in their direction.
The truth is the exact opposite. A good teacher encourages the student who disagrees with them, provided that disagreement is couched in solid reasoning. Of course there are bad teachers in the world, but Megan is talking about the "elites", not part time adjuncts to the Dance dept of Midwest State Tech. But it's still all tribal.
And the idea that academia exerts no pressures to conform is spectacularly hilarious to anyone who's ever spent any time at all around academics. Perhaps the funniest sight I have ever witnessed is the spectacle of a sociologist cruising straight past the analyses of power relationships and group norms that they apply to every single other facet of human existence, and insisting that the underrepresentation of conservatives in academic [sic] could only be explained by the fact that conservatives are a bunch of money-grubbing intellectual lightweights who can't stand rigorous examinations of their ideas, and moreover are too intolerant to fit into the academic community.
A movement conservative would be spectacularly unqualified for the field of sociology. It'd be like asking George Bush to lead a seminar on self-reflection.
The sociologist, you see, is inside academia, and so able to analyze it better than outsiders. Also, the sociologist knows that neither they, nor any of their friends, is biased, so the answer must be that there's something wrong with conservatives.

It's odd, given this lack of bias, that one repeatedly hears from untenured academics who are in the closet. "Passing" is not usually a behavior one finds in a community where there is no prejudice.

Now, I think that affirmative action for conservatives would be an even worse idea than regular affirmative action; conservative intellectual life doesn't need to get any flabbier than it already is. But the Larry Summers speech should certainly give one pause. That it seems to have made so little impression on liberal academics should make the rest of us very worried indeed.
I honestly feel like I'm stealing this post from Sadly, No! The bullshit and strawmen are so thick this could be a Peggy Noonan column. What's odd to me, Megan, is that there's no tenured profs that "we", in the unsourced, unfounded, anecdotal sense, are "hearing from" on an anti-conservative bias. As you probably like to whine about tenure, Megan, being the closet conservative you more and more clearly are, and how hard it is to fire someone who's earned it, you'd expect some of those who "passed" to come out of the closet once they made it.
The ironic thing about this post of Megan's is it provides a wonderful example of why movement conservatives don't do well in academia. She whines about how unfair something is, but her entire argument rests on anecdote, which does not correspond to the reality experienced by trained professionals. Therefore, the entire field of trained professionals is wrong, and she is right. This, Megan, is very poor logic.
And, of course, Megan's next post is titled Blogging will be light
I'm on deadline, and also have to give a speech to some MBA students. Go interact with that "real" world I keep hearing so much about.
Good thing you're a glibertarian and not a conservative, Megan, else you'd just have anecdotally disproved your own thesis.

3 comments:

Fishbone McGonigle said...

Oh. My. God.

Where to even begin? I'm wrapping up my Ph.D. work these days, and all I can say is that if this is an accurate portrayal of Megan's idea of how academia works, she must have slept through grad school.

Unless they are really, really brilliant, academics, like everyone else, need personal connections to help them up the academic ladder, from recommendations to mentors to advisors. Those personal connections are always much easier to make with people you agree with.

Errrrm, this may be true in fields like sociology or anthropology (and I am in no way conceding that it is, only that it's possible), but it certainly isn't true for my field (a different social science). Further, it does nothing to explain a lack of conservatives in the "hard" sciences - at what point would one's personal politics even enter into a physics dissertation, for example?

Nor would I discount the possibility that, just as women's work can be subtly dismissed because we know women aren't as bright as men, academics who think that conservatives are stupid would factor that into their assessment of someone's intelligence--and then factor that assessment into their assessment of someone's work.

Unless someone's work is explicitly political, a hiring committee would generally not know of an applicant's personal politics, nor would they care. Ultimately, they are looking for two things in a potential hire: the ability to bring in grant dollars and the ability to get along with their colleagues. That last doesn't mean "agree with their colleagues on every conceivable political issue." What it means is considering whether a particular candidate is likely to be an obnoxious dick. Megan seems to be conceding that one cannot be a conservative academic without being an obnoxious dick, but I will allow that this might be a misunderstanding stemming from her shortcomings as a writer.

And the idea that academia exerts no pressures to conform is spectacularly hilarious to anyone who's ever spent any time at all around academics.

She's right about this. Having spent a significant amount of time in an economics department, I can tell you that faculty who do not hew a generally conservative (or neo-liberal) line are generally disregarded and dismissed, and often have a great deal of difficulty getting recognition for their work.

Oh, wait - she was talking about bias against conservatives? Sorry, never mind.

brian said...

Yeah, of course there's a tendency towards liberalism, but that comes with having a mindset oriented towards an informed, accurate, expansive world view. Movement conservatives today take ignorance and a closed mind as virtues. The respective natures of higher learning and movement conservatism are currently in opposition. But I'm just being tribal.

Ya think? Dumb as a box of rocks would work, too.

brad said...

Re: Brian's biting wit; *insert Paul Reuben's death scene from Buffy the Vampire Slayer here*