Tuesday, July 11, 2017

GOP Distrusts College? What Manner Of Numskull Inhabits This Party?

Above: Loyola freshman Theology class, ca. 1964.

When I first arrived on the Loyola University (New Orleans) campus on scholarship, it was perhaps the headiest experience of my life up to then. Not only in terms of the new found freedom (from overly solicitous parents) but the sheer exposure to so many novel ideas in the courses. Apart from that, in the fall of 1964, there were the 'bull sessions' when opinions and ideas were exchanged with other students in the dorm (Biever Hall).

The college experience, then, was one to open a mind and also to excite it to plumb new depths. For this Loyola had the good sense to sponsor intellectual debates and lectures through the 1964-65 term, including one involving the French Existentialist, Jean-Paul Sartre.  That exposure, in fact, began my path to atheism after reading his book ('Being and Nothingness') available at the Loyola Bookstore.

No one at that time, certainly not me or even the conservatives attending Loyola as well (most of whom were backing Barry Goldwater in fall of 1964) could conceive of college being a 'bad thing' or causing "negative effects".  Yet that is exactly what the case seems to be now with the Republican Party's perception.

new Pew Research Center poll released on Monday revealed that there is one U.S. institution perceived through a larger partisan divide than even the media: It’s college.

This is nothing short of astounding, especially given - for the first time ever- a majority (58 percent)  of Republicans believe  "colleges are having a negative effect on the way things are going in the country", according to Pew.

Specifically, the poll found that positive or affirmative views of college for Repubs under the age of 50 sunk by 21 percentage points from 2015 to 2017. This is nothing short of breathtaking. Even more flabbergasting, given conservos since William Buckley always strongly advocated the intellect,  65 percent of ALL identified conservatives now say colleges and universities have a negative impact on the country. (Positive  views of college even among Repub college graduates have declined 11 percent in the past two years.)

What gives here? What's going on? I suspect there are two primary perceptions at work: one is that colleges and universities are almost exclusively the preserve of the "left".  The other is that they are preserves of "political correctness" and all the academic theories the Right has come to hate, e.g. anthropogenic climate change, Darwinian evolution etc.

The former is more a pathetic excuse given most conservos have always been more interested in making money than the world of ideas.  Or teaching ideas.  Hence, they've leaned to business, becoming Wall Street big shots or CEOS, or running their own companies - not plodding the lecture halls of colleges with pay about one tenth what a banker earns -- so the whining rings hollow.

The second might have slightly more heft, but not much. This is because much of the Right reads into anything that isn't outright in the face as "politically incorrect".  Also, their opposition to highly intellectual theories have been known since the year  dot.

In his book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life,  Richard Hofstadter delves into the reasons that intellectuals – mainly on the Left – have been historically detested  by the American Right. The reasons often aren’t pretty, or even comprehensible,  and in fact are often downright puerile and smack of envy, i.e. that the Right simply detests the brainpower of the nation’s liberals.

One of the best examples is provided in Hofstadter 's account of how Adlai Stevenson was relentlessly skewered ca. the 1952  presidential campaign. (pp. 221-22). This included barbarous and savage verbal assaults in the media(p. 225), portraying Stevenson as "a Harvard lace- cuffed liberal who trilled his speeches in a fruity voice.".  As Hofstadter notes (ibid.) Stevenson's wit was also detested even more than his intellect. Of course, wit often functions in the service of intellect, to amplify intellect's intent and render its goals more efficacious. Or to smooth the delivery of information related to weighty issues.

Fast forward to 2014 and one finds a National Review story by Charles C. W. Cooke entitled “Smarter Than Thou”. Therein, Cooke whined about “the extraordinarily puffed-up ‘nerd’ culture that has of late started to bloom across the United States.

Then there  Fox host Greg Gutfield who, during one panel exchange on the news 'Cosmos' series,, burped out:

"I hate this guy! I remember hearing Chris Hardwick on a podcast talk about Neil deGrasse Tyson and he was just salivating. White liberal nerds love this guy so much, he could defecate on them like Martin Bashir’s fantasies and they would dance in the streets.”

This, spoken by a confirmed moron who isn’t fit to lick the soles of Tyson’s shoes. Which brings us to Cooke’s polemic against Tyson in the National Review.  We pretty well know what’s coming as we eye an illustration of Tyson on the cover, drawn to look like a self-satisfied Elite who looks down his nose at any and all crackers.  This despite the fact Neil deGrasse Tyson hardly gives off that vibe in real life. He's an affable gentleman who's accepting of all and that trait carried over into his Cosmos appearances.

The actual article (it’s more like recovered anti-intellectual dreck from the 1950s)  more than lives up to the cover art’s promise of the “green-eyed monster”, as Cooke expands his attack beyond one of the country’s pre-eminent scientists to include policy-oriented journalists, economists, other scientists, and “anybody who conforms to the Left’s social and moral precepts while wearing glasses and babbling about statistics.” (Cooke also drags in economist Paul Krugman and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, neither of whom he considers the real deal. Instead, he argues that the emphasis by liberals, on things like evidence, rationality, and empiricism is purely insincere,  adding it’s “nothing more than a way to signal that you are better than southern, politically conservative, culturally traditional” types.)

If one critically reads much of the Right polemics against climate science or evolution, one finds the same sort of tawdry, two bit attacks. It is then but a small step to generalize the animus to the sources of funding and intellectualism that harbor such "nerds": Colleges and universities!

Sadly, with these latest Pew survey results the Repubs have merely shown even more convincingly they are the new "Whigs" - a party bereft of ideas and solidly anti-intellectual. Just look at their god-forsaken "health plan".

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