July 22, 2011

An abstruse argument for keeping the politics in the higher education classroom.

From sociology professor Michael Brown:
This disparagement of politics and of those who take society seriously as a shared project is characteristic of certain currents of the “right,” but not necessarily of conservatism as such. It is important to recognize that there is a logical connection between this disparagement and attempts to describe “republican virtues” according to an extreme individualism, to assert a morality whose primary function is to distinguish the good “us” from the bad “them,” to define “freedom” as “freedom to own.” Perhaps most important, it can be seen in the attempts to demonstrate that the very notions of society and government are essentially “totalitarian.”

Such an attitude easily shades into a dread of “change,” hence the misuse—by those who identify themselves with today’s radical right—of the label “conservative.” This is not a fear of change as such; it is a fear of the sort of change that encourages rethinking basic assumptions about the social world and moral principles.
Read the whole thing, if that is possible. Points to anyone who can paraphrase concisely.
The humanities bring to the forefront of thought the existence of society, disclosing the necessity to recognize the politics that comes with collective life.
I'm afraid, and I don't know why.

150 comments:

edutcher said...

Maybe it was the use of the word, "change".

I think we've all had enough change for a long time.

Alex said...

The simpler explanation is left-wing politics will stay in the classroom until we expunge it.

Jeff said...

In the military, I always got miffed by the shops/missions that would obfuscate wildly to justify their existence and funding. It always reminded me of Sociologists writing 8 page papers that could be expressed in 8 paragraphs. I suppose learning how to write like a moron was an education in itself, as was being exposed to the contortions a person will go through to justify his paycheck...

Triangle Man said...

I don't know what abstruse means, but I sure don't understand that guy's argument.

Royce D. said...

Keeping their politics in the higher re-education classroom.

MikeR said...

I remember when Richard Feynman described trying to read a sociology paper. It was so complicated, with such big words... Eventually, he decided to buckle down and just translate one sentence. It turned out to say, "People read newspapers." The next one said, "Some people listen to the radio." Etc.

Maguro said...

This paper gets a D- for overuse of quotation marks.

Scott M said...

Such an attitude easily shades into a dread of “change,” hence the misuse—by those who identify themselves with today’s radical right—of the label “conservative.” This is not a fear of change as such; it is a fear of the sort of change that encourages rethinking basic assumptions about the social world and moral principles

Bullshit. I don't fear change. I fear the unintended consequences of poorly-conceived and even more poorly executed public policy. If I were a black man, I would be livid about such "change" given what it has wrought on the black community in this country.

LarsPorsena said...

Explain to me,just why do we need sociology professors?
In the past they used to be acute observers of the obvious; now they spew cant. The only thing more useless are anthropology profs.

Royce D. said...

Departments to eliminate:

Sociology
Anthropology
Anything ending with "Studies"

edutcher said...

"This disparagement of politics and of those who take society seriously as a shared project is characteristic of certain currents of the 'right,'"

Not sure, but I think he just said it takes a village.

"It is important to recognize that there is a logical connection between this disparagement and attempts to describe 'republican virtues' according to an extreme individualism,"

How dare I not want a lot of people who get their ideas out of the New York Times telling me how to live

"to assert a morality whose primary function is to distinguish the good “us” from the bad “them,” to define 'freedom' as 'freedom to own.'"

We need to spread the wealth around. For the sake of fairness.

Curious George said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex said...

Notice that nothing in the hard sciences & engineering ever ends with "studies". Engineering students always laughed and mocked the sociology majors.

traditionalguy said...

The smooth talker sounds like government power is only a set of categories that we can move around at will.

But that is radical.

Asking people to ditch their beliefs and their morality is not possible without asking for destruction of social order and ending the lives of opponents.

He counsels suicide. But he wants to run that activity from academia far above the fray.

The answer to him should be "you go first".

Ann Althouse said...

"bring to the forefront of thought the existence of society"... that is, reading literature is supposed to make us think not in terms of individual human beings but the supposed greater reality that there is a larger organism: society. We are part of a whole, and that whole lives and is real. Throw off the illusion that you are an individual.

That's the scary thing.

chickenlittle said...

I'll bet Michael Brown earnestly loathed Hemingway's style in college.

Michael K said...

Michael E. Brown
is a professor of sociology at Northeastern University. His most recent book is The Historiography of Communism.


I'll bet that is a page turner.

I seriously believe that student loans should be restricted to science and business majors for undergraduates. We are turning out an entire generation of people who are almost unemployable, especially now that Borders is closing 400 stores.

There is precedent for this. In 1960, I applied for a student loan in the new National Defense Student Loan program and was turned down because I was a pre-med major. I had switched from engineering. I reapplied as an English major and was approved. I was told that pre-med students were not given loans because most of them couldn't get into medical school.

Alex said...

Ann - we are the Borg. You will be assimilated. Resistance if futile.

Ann Althouse said...

Brown doesn't intend what I take from his scribblings, which is: Don't go to college to study the humanities. If politics is a necessary part of the subject you're thinking of studying... study something else.

Unless it's law (and you want to be a lawyer).

TMink said...

"attempts to describe “republican virtues” according to an extreme individualism, to assert a morality whose primary function is to distinguish the good “us” from the bad “them,” to define “freedom” as “freedom to own.”

He should intercourse his straw men. This is either a lying socialist or an ignorant progressive to so deform conservative beliefs.

Nothing to see there.

Trey

MayBee said...

If people thought the way I wanted them to, the world would be amazing. Stop fighting it, wingnuts.

Jube said...

The summation is all an answer to the second sentence:

"Is it even possible to defend the humanities without placing the debate in an abiding political context, whether we like it or not?"

He's saying it isn't possible, but trying to do so in such a roundabout way that no one will be able to clearly call him on it.

Patrick said...

"This is not a fear of change as such; it is a fear of the sort of change that encourages rethinking basic assumptions about the social world and moral principles."

No, it is fear of change for it's own sake without clearly and soberly considering the consequences, and considering the possibility (nearly 100%) of unintended consequences. that is, conservatives do not oppose change because it is change, they just distrust man's capacity to forecast how good the change will ultimately be.

Patrick said...

It appears that ScottM beat me to the rejoinder

madAsHell said...

"Words...just words"

Ignorance is Bliss said...

As with many liberals, he can't conceive of society as something that extends beyond government

flenser said...

Points to anyone who can paraphrase concisely.

"We should pay more attention to John Rawls, and teach him in humanities classes".

Also read his previous essay, Saving Education From the Right, which I think boils down to "For-profit colleges are evil".

BarryD said...

"We are all alone, born alone, die alone, and -- in spite of True Romance magazines -- we shall all someday look back on our lives and see that, in spite of our company, we were alone the whole way. I do not say lonely -- at least, not all the time -- but essentially, and finally, alone. This is what makes your self-respect so important, and I don't see how you can respect yourself if you must look in the hearts and minds of others for your happiness."

Hunter S. Thompson

I.e., the very notion of "the collective life" is a lie. I was unaware that Thompson is a radical right-winger.

Erik said...

The left loves to tell conservatives (and libertarians, to a different extent) what we're really thinking. We don't disagree for good reasons: we're fearful of change. We don't dislike income redistribution because of a commitment to private property, we're actually racist. It gives them a way to argue without actually engaging a critique of their policy prescriptions. Basically, the entire thing is one long ad hominem, and should be dismissed as such.

rhhardin said...

Apparently he doesn't own a dog.

Tank said...

He wouldn't write like this if he just ate more onion rings. Or fried butter.

Henry said...

Let me paraphrase (all italics are direct quotes):

I think of the humanities as a general challenge to ideological thinking. Politics is the most obvious active form of our recognition of society. Anyone who disagrees with me is extreme and radical. Let me now quote John Rawls.

For all Professor Brown's critical thinkingand reasonableness, he really never gets beyond opaque restatements of his utterly banal premise: that any discussion of the humanities starts with the “liberal constitutional democracy” that underlies most prominent theories of justice. All his words are flies on that turd.

rcocean said...

The author also wrote a book called:

"The Historiography of Communism"

Currently, 2,539,432 on the Amazon Best Seller list.

gerry said...

Explain to me,just why do we need sociology professors?

They give the Psychology professors somebody to look down on.

rhhardin said...

Erving Goffman is great, just so you don't think every sociologist can't write.

Start with Asylums.

What I have online:

Analysis of a Merry-go-Round

Excerpts of Asylums

Coldstream said...

Paraphrasing: My job is important! It has real meaning! So continue to pay me!

sorepaw said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sorepaw said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rcocean said...

He seems to be saying that:

-The Humanities deal with society and life
-Politics are part of society and life
-therefore the Humanities must address politics (in the correct Left-wing way of course).

Terry said...

Some academics in the humanities believe that it is part of their mission -- maybe the most important part of their mission -- to criticize existing social arrangements.
I don't know where they got this idea.

dick said...

Seems to me that the whole idea of "change" applies more to the "liberals" than it does to the "conservatives." The beliefs of the liberals of today are surely a far cry from the beliefs of the liberals of long ago as are the beliefs of the progressives of today compared with the beliefs of the progressives of long ago. When you look at what the various groups believe, then I think that the conservatives come a whole lot closer to the liberal beliefs than today's liberals do.

From Inwood said...

He seems to be saying something like the docrtor in your stick-in-the-head post earlier:

"It sounds counterintuitive, but it's important to leave the usual Left/Liberal politics in place in the higher education classroom."

rocketeer67 said...

I can't believe no one's said it yet:

tl;dr

Geoff Matthews said...

TLDR

ic said...

I'm afraid, and I don't know why.

Because : it's "an extreme individualism, ... to define “freedom” as “freedom to own.” (implying "freedom to own" is an extremist idea), and "collective life" (implying "collective" trumps "individualism").

Unsaid: re-eduaction camps preferable to summer camps, party line trumps First Amendment.

Geoff Matthews said...

Darn it, missed it by that much.

rocketeer67 said...

We are part of a whole, and that whole lives and is real. Throw off the illusion that you are an individual.

Why, that sounds very like an act of faith. Does he even realize he's proselytizing for a submissive religion?

How does he feel about Christians, I wonder?

Paco Wové said...

"Leftists imagine that they can somehow get all-inclusive community, where everyone sings "Kumbaya," but it hasn't happened..."

...because of those damned "radical rightists" and their us-vs.-them thinking!!

Chip S. said...

You misspelled "obtuse" in your post header.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

When the humanities operate within the frame of reference of a general challenge to ideological thinking,...

If they operated as a general challenge to ideological thinking then few people would argue with including them in the classroom. The problem is that they mostly challenge one ideology while reinforcing the other.

...they open the door to the sort of doubt and rethinking essential to a politics that, unlike certain libertarian currents and even mainstream conservatism, does not decide against society in advance.

Neither libertarians nor conservatives decide against society. They often decide against certain government activities, when they believe that those activities are not in the best interests of society. While such decisions are sometimes made in advance, they would be better described as a rebuttable presumption against government involvement.

Paul said...

"The humanities bring to the forefront of thought the existence of society, disclosing the necessity to recognize the politics that comes with collective life."

'Collective life'? Sounds like COMMUNISM to me! Yea so that's the way they lean, right?

MayBee said...

"Leftists imagine that they can somehow get all-inclusive community, where everyone sings "Kumbaya," but it hasn't happened..."

...because of those damned "radical rightists" and their us-vs.-them thinking!!


That's why sometimes you gotta bomb some stuff the righties like to get to the more natural state of kumbaya.

Ambrose said...

I only read the excerp but it seems the author is going to lengths to "distinguish the good “us” (liberals) from the bad “them”(those wo misappropriated the term "conservatives"' and also fears "the sort of change that encourages rethinking his basic assumptions about the social world and moral principles."

But what do I know?

John Lynch said...

Paraphrase-

"Libertarians are wrong, and we should be able to tell our classes why they are wrong. And we will do it by speaking an incomprehensible language that we believe cloaks us in an air of scholarly righteousness."

I'm not real big on libertarians myself but I'm still very suspicious of power and very, very suspicious of anyone who wants to limit debate.

The Left in universities can't survive an open debate so they do everything they can to stop it from happening. When you have an ideology that pays lip service to free speech but is actually about suppression of dissent the result is doublespeak.

Giacomo said...

It is important to recognize that there is a logical connection between this disparagement and attempts to describe “republican virtues” according to an extreme individualism, to assert a morality whose primary function is to distinguish the good “us” from the bad “them,” to define “freedom” as “freedom to own.”

I think Ayn Rand covered this not-so-concisely in Atlas Shrugged. The "republican virtues" are not division in terms of good individualists vs. bad collectivists, or defining freedom as freedom to own. Those virtues are that individuals hold them selves accountable, take responsibility for themselves and their own actions, and in doing so make society better in a way that group - meaning nobody's - responsibility does not.

MnMark said...

I would like to ask the writer if he thinks George Washington and the rest of the Founders - in fact, the leaders of the government up through about 1913 - were what he characterizes as "extreme individualists". I think he would have to, because none of those people would have supported the collectivist vision of society that he has. Which makes HIM and those like him the extremists. The rest of us are just normal by American historical standards.

John Lynch said...

Also, sociologists are at the bottom of the social science heap. They tend to have the worst students, too.

Sociology majors routinely do the worst on the LSAT and GRE. It's a major for people who can't hack anything else. It's also the major for Chomsky addicts.

I think that's a partial explanation for the language. The classes aren't that hard, so the language is necessary for the classes to seem hard.

Tank said...

I think Ayn Rand covered this not-so-concisely in Atlas Shrugged.

Ha.

David R. Graham said...

"bring to the forefront of thought the existence of society"... that is, reading literature is supposed to make us think not in terms of individual human beings but the supposed greater reality that there is a larger organism: society. We are part of a whole, and that whole lives and is real. Throw off the illusion that you are an individual."

He's saying nothing in human nature is inalienable or intrinsic, including "rights." There is no core, indomitable reality. Reality is what the collective (aka the closed, self-replicating professional elite) want it to be at any particular moment (cf. Lenin). Nothing is fundamental, there is no constant, no continuum, no intrinsic anything (except of course the destiny of the professional elite to run the shop).

At root it's very Darwinian as that is modernly understood. The bloodied and toothed deserve to be. Yes, scary. Even from inside the professional elite, which can always spit one out. Professional elite = clergy, teachers, doctors, soldiers, lawyers, police.

http://www.claremont.org/publications/crb/id.1852/article_detail.asp

Quaestor said...

Wow. If I may borrow Capote's most incisive snark, that's not writing, that's word processing. Wow. A DNQ effort if I ever read one. Wow.

Sociology always had a crip course reputation at my alma mater, that and Education. Jocks took a lot of courses in the Sociology department to keep their GPAs within the eligibility window, and the female Sociology majors were our typical weekend prey -- a sixpack, a couple of jays and a bareback pony ride was yours for the asking. Judging by Mr. Brown's prose I'd conclude things have gone downhill considerably since my day. Maybe he was one of those intellectually challenged ball players who took so many hours in the Soc department he decided to declare his major there. He sure threads an argument back on to itself in the inimitable athlete-scholar style.

It may be a pyrrhic victory considering the wreckage our society has endured, but if this article is a characteristic example of progressive intellectual product (and I have no doubt that it is) then we, the conservative Right, have won by default.

Ben Calvin said...

Classics (Latin, Greek, etc.) still seem relatively uncontainimated. Otherwise it becomes more difficult every day to find a worthwhile Liberal Arts programs. When the Higher Ed bubble pops, we know which departments should take the hit, but I have my doubts they will.

Curious George said...

"We are part of a whole, and that whole lives and is real. Throw off the illusion that you are an individual."

I think this is half right. Modern liberals believe that they are part of this "whole", and because they are they still maintain their "individualism". They look at all those outside their collective belief and see "sameness" and lack of individuality. This is why they can look at the Tea Party, an eclectic group if their ever was one, as being "the same"...because they all "are not one of us".

rcocean said...

"Some academics in the humanities believe that it is part of their mission -- maybe the most important part of their mission -- to criticize existing social arrangements."

That can be read as giving them too much credit. They aren't free-thinking iconoclasts who are challenging the students to think. They're just left-wingers who are criticizing those parts of society that are conservative.

Any aspect of society that is left or liberal is never challenged.

G Joubert said...

What rcocean@11:42 said.

Aristotle said politics is the master science, and "Man is essentially, or by nature, a social animal, that is to say, he cannot attain complete happiness except in social and political dependence on his fellow man."

This is a fundamental premise of political science, and I suspect where Brown is coming from.

I have no problem with including politics in curriculum if there is a true commitment to diversity of thought and ideology.

BTW, I teach political science on the undergrad level.

Paul Zrimsek said...

"People who don't want everything to be about politics don't want anything to be about politics."

Do I win the kewpie doll?

SunnyJ said...

There are those of us that want to spend our lives doing and making items that no one wants or is willing to pay for...and there are those that are productive in service, process and product that others value and purchase.

We need change and government to force you to support our personal quest for useless stuff.

The end.

Sigivald said...

I went and read over there.

When he tried to tell me that "Society" is made of "shared experience and collective needs irreducible to individual experiences", I knew he was spouting complete bullshit cant.

Because, well, what is society except the aggregation of individual experiences?

Is he seriously trying to do propose that "society" is a ding-an-sich that has independent existence?

I can't remember the last time a Professor of Sociology wasn't hilariously wrong about everything I heard him say, and this continues the pattern.

Chip S. said...

Hey now, let's not smear all sociologists just because there are a few charlatans among them. Remember the many outstanding scholars who've practiced the art of sociology through the years.

People like James Coleman, for example.

And, um....

Chip Ahoy said...

I hear this arrogant crap all the time -- that the conservative mind fears change, refuses to reevaluate, that liberal minds are more flexible and continuously question their basic assumptions, and that itself is the biggest crock of stinky poop. You are all aware of the article Deepak Chopra recently wrote for the SF Chronicle.

All too typical anecdote:

A few days ago at a gathering I sat outside with an interesting fellow. He is the chief architect who redesigned Red Rocks Natural Amphitheater. You should see it sometime, the changes he made are impressively subtle and to the rear and beneath the seating, they include a very nice interactive archaeological museum, beautiful wash rooms, an outstanding restaurant with a broad open patio, and tasteful gift shop. We could have talked about that, but instead within moments out there in the yard at the party he delivered an orbiter dicta pathetically non sequitur to the discussion at hand so extraordinary it signaled the presence of a disturbed and damaged mind.

"Well, I hated Bush for eight straight years from the very beginning."

Hate is a powerful and mutilating emotion. This is the sort of thing one whispers in a confessional, or admits on the sofa to one's therapist, but here it is out in the open as if it establishes right off one's liberal creds, and I heard this before, but not from anyone reasonable.

"The very beginning?"

"Yes. From the beginning. He stole the election and I hated him ever since."

"Stole. You really want to go with that?"

"Yes. He stole the election."

"So Bush is clever enough to steal an election."

"No! Well, the Republicans. The whole bunch of them. With all their money. They bought the election."

"The Republicans bought the election."

"Yes."

"From whom?"

"Look at the Supreme Court ruling. Straight down party lines."

He switched from Bush stealing the election to Republicans buying the election, now Partisan judges ruled along part lines.

"You read the ruling, then."

"Well, no. I didn't have to. All I need to know it they decided straight down partisan lines."

"Conservative justices and liberal justices are equally politically activist?"

"Yes! Certainly, they are! Of course they are!"

Well, the man knows what he knows and there will be no changing any of that. The man is still animated thirty months after these things had any relevance, wearing his hate on his sleeve, projecting it forward in front of himself proudly inappropriately at a party that was so far from politics that it's actually sad. Here we are eight full years + 30 additional months and the man never once questioned his conclusions much less his premises or else he wouldn't have sounded so ridiculous, while his id takes full expression, his soul shrivels to something unrecognizable, and his heart hardens to coal. This is one example among many, and yet I keep reading in big fat $10.00 words and contortionist sentences the exact opposite is true.

Old Dad said...

Skip the mumbo jumbo and just go read Emerson's "The American Scholar."

Robert Cook said...

"I think we've all had enough change for a long time.

7/22/11 10:57 AM"


Unfortunately, we've had scarcely any change at all, and that, primarily cosmetic.

ajcjw said...

To Chip S., Althouse didn't misspell "obtuse". I think she picked "abstruse" on purpose. Abstruse means difficult to understand; obtuse means dull and stupid. Although you could make the argument that Brown's essay is both abstruse and obtuse.

chrisnavin said...

Dick, if you're correct, then American liberalism has gotten increasingly Continental, and European, far afield in and away from the "classical" liberalism most on the right would like to see.

On this view, there existed some classically liberal elements we've gotten away from (pro-property-rights, pro rule of law American liberals) They were shields against the dangers of the communitarians, the Statists, and others who defined liberty as as a positive,the British Hegelians, the Rousseauian general will followers, the actual socialists etc.

Some conservatives are religious, and find freedom in God's will and teachings and the moral obligations found therein. Some believe in Natural Law and some in a form of a constitutional republic (Lockeans especially...securing individuals in life liberty and the pursuit of happiness only ). Most want the positive definers of liberty off their backs and to live outside of their plans.

People like say Allan Bloom (via Leo Strauss), put a lot of blame on the 60's as a period of excess, a lack of individual responsibility (and morality), and the replacement of religious morality with the creep of Continental European historicism, relativism, and eventually the political "sciences," or anyone pretending their discipline can attain the level of a science merely by copying the methodology of the hard sciences, but was really just a way of importing the same European line of thought.

There are some problems with Strauss, but he explains well arguments like this one: a man apparently unable to discern between his discipline and the larger raft of "rights," using politics as a vehicle if necessary to attain those rights...and to further his discipline.


Sorry for the long post.

n.n said...

There is one fundamental principle, which is either axiomatic or an article of faith (depending on your perspective): individual dignity; which establishes that involuntary exploitation and loss of liberty are immoral.

As for society, there are compromises to be made in its establishment and development. American conservatism represents the middle between left and right extremes of controlling behavior and redistribution of our labor's product.

While it will be necessary to revisit our policy describing involuntary redistribution, it is unlikely that adjustments to our behavior will be either necessary or merited.

In any case, it is imperative to consider individual dignity when accepting any adjustments and further compromises to policies controlling involuntary redistribution and behavior modification.

Robots, Bitches

There are aspects of this new reality which are already present; however, I'm not convinced that it is sufficiently ubiquitous that it would require the wholesale changes proposed by even moderate elements of the left. However, even if it is, it will still be necessary to control progressive corruption of individuals and society, which is especially problematic when redistribution occurs through involuntary exploitation.

rocketeer67 said...

ajcjw,

Could you look up "sarcasm" for us? Thanks.

Werehawk said...

Well the self justifying righteusness just drips off that entire screed. he obviusly hasn't taken the time to consider the logical results of what he advocates.

Michale Brown would be right at home working as educator in a classic fascist state or stalinist state.

DADvocate said...

When the humanities operate within the frame of reference of a general challenge to ideological thinking, they open the door to the sort of doubt and rethinking essential to a politics that, unlike certain libertarian currents and even mainstream conservatism, does not decide against society in advance.

A general challenge to ideological thinking, unless it's left wing thinking. Essential to politics that, unlike certain libertarian and conservatism, has decided in advance how society should be structured, that the whole is more important than the individual, where war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength.

A bullshit argument tyring to justify his political beliefs, practices and his chosen profession.

Chip S. said...

@ajcjw,

Q.E.D.

bgates said...

a fear of the sort of change that encourages rethinking basic assumptions about the social world and moral principles

I find this compelling. For instance, I used to be the sort of fearful reactionary who held as a basic moral principle that a guy who wrote this sort of drivel ought not to have the entire surface of his body set on fire and then extinguished at 30 second intervals for days at a time. But after reading just that excerpt....

...no, sorry, still a basic moral principle of mine. Didn't even rethink it, really. Though I suppose he only really wants me to rethink those basic moral principles that I don't share with him.

The Crack Emcee said...

Scott M,

If I were a black man, I would be livid about such "change" given what it has wrought on the black community in this country.

Whew. I feel so much better now,...

$9,000,000,000 Write Off said...

"I have witnessed, in my day, the discovery, enthronement and subsequent collapse of a vast army of uplifters and world-savers, and am firmly convinced that all of them are mountebanks"

HL Mencken

Titus said...

Being an intellectual I have pondered this exact same thesis.

I have developed an hypothesis.

My thesis expanded my hypothesis.

And then I pinched a loaf the size of a hippopotamus.

thank you.

Chip S. said...

@bgates, Rethinking basic principles is really important. But there are so many, I feel that we should all specialize in a few. I, for example, rethink every morning the proposition that I should drive on the right-hand side of the road.

From his approach to policy-making, I infer that Obama came to accept this same view during his extensive studies in college.

Joe said...

"The humanities bring to the forefront of thought the existence of society, disclosing the necessity to recognize the politics that comes with collective life."

The humanities make us realize that society exists (as if that were in doubt), and that we all need to get along (another novel insight).

timmaguire42 said...

Points to anyone who can paraphrase concisely.

Only conservatism is a bias, liberalism is just plain common sense.

timmaguire42 said...

My father-in-law is a retired former sociologist with a long distinguished academic career and he freely admits that sociology is a useless discipline. He'll even admit that he couldn't tell you what a sociologist does.

Henry said...

In the punchy manner of timmagquire42

Points to anyone who can paraphrase concisely.

How can we not be political when our funding is at stake?

Conserve Liberty said...

I was taught the critical thinking process in High School.

I gathered all information.
I discarded non-factual information.
I weighted the factual information.
I inventoried my assumptions.
I challenged my assumptions.
I compared my assumptions to the weighed facts.
I re-affirmed my original conclusion.

Freedom and Dignity outweigh collective need.

I failed the assignment.
I told the teacher; "challenge does not mean deny.".
I failed the course despite completing all work within prescribed guidelines.
I had come to incorrect conclusions.

This guy can fuck off, too.

Chip S. said...

Points to anyone who can paraphrase concisely.

[Points to Henry.]

DrBerkeley said...

What is this guy saying? Such obtuse writing.

DrBerkeley said...

What is this guy trying to say? A further indication of how some academics are detached and detaching themselves from everyday Americans.

Michael said...

The fear of change is most stongly felt in the academy. As well it should because people have ceased to read this kind of writing and describe it as anything other than what it is, which is crap and nonsense. It is a two minute argument packed into an hour of bullshit.

caplight said...

Paraphrase: Bullshit.

Did I win?

yashu said...

What Ambrose said. Once again, inveterate projection from the left, so obvious it seems like a parody.

In the very sentence, at the very moment in which he denounces the right for "a morality whose primary function is to distinguish the good 'us' from the bad 'them'," all that lofty-sounding verbiage is doing nothing but that: deploying the usual leftist morality/rhetoric "whose primary function is to distinguish the good 'us' from the bad 'them'." As Erik commented, for the left, political argument is always ad hominem.

grackle said...

I'm afraid, and I don't know why.

Ballad of a Thin Man:

Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Lem said...

1984

Triangle Man said...

GEORGE: So concerned was he, that word of his poor tennis skills might leak out, he chose to offer you his wife as some sort of mediaeval sexual payola?

JERRY: (explanation) He's new around here.

GEORGE: (hopeful) So, details?

JERRY: (walking away) Well, I didn't sleep with her.

GEORGE: Because of society, right?

JERRY: (weary) Yes, George, because of society.

Phil 3:14 said...

I read the Stanley Fish piece that this responds to. So Michael Brown read Republican talking points from Fish's piece.

I didn't.

I interpret Brown's response as "Hell yes we're going to talk politics in class. No right wing conspiracy is going to stop us!"

And the unspoken message of Brown wordy response is "As matter of fact, yes we are all liberals. Deal with it!"

Tyrone Slothrop said...

"We're smarter than you, so shut up"

Phil 3:14 said...

Also read his previous essay, Saving Education From the Right, which I think boils down to "For-profit colleges are evil".

Ironic since Fish wasn't overwhelmingly supportive of such "trade schools" either.

n.n said...

Here's something else to consider as we [periodically] revisit the topic of individual vs superior or exceptional dignity:

By what criteria do we judge the fitness of our species?

By what objective criteria do we define and distinguish a human?

One prominent example is: When evaluating the merits of normalizing abortion to any degree, we should consider its contribution to devaluing human life.

Since we are incapable of distinguishing between origin and expression, the only objective standard for assigning dignity to a life is at the moment when its development begins. With respect to humans in particular (since we assume an individual and unique dignity) that assignment should occur at conception.

I would suggest people carefully review all factors which contribute to progressive corruption, including normalization of involuntary exploitation, totalitarian policies (replacing moral knowledge), and deviant behaviors which do not positively contribute to the fitness of our species, especially those which devalue human life.

There are some behaviors which should be normalized, there are some behaviors which can be tolerated, there are some behaviors which should remain the rare exception, and there are some behaviors which should be rejected outright.

Left-wing ideology, especially the kind realized in America, has always been in the service of establishing monopolies in order to consolidate wealth and power. Their apparent affection for redistributive change is designed to build support for their policies, which individuals of dignity would otherwise [eventually] reject.

If the axioms we define and accept are correct, then we are more likely to choose the right compromises and at the time when they are merited. Of course, there will be individuals who reject our common perspective and we will be required to adapt and counter the perturbations they introduce into the system.

TosaGuy said...

Of course the Michael Brown's think they will benefit immensely in their proposed world. Naive.

Peter said...

I think this is an obfuscated way of saying that conservative viewpoints are not valid (because they disagree with his view of what is fair and right).

Therefore, it is reasonable that students would have no right to express conservative viewpoints in Michael Brown's classroom. Why should they have a right to define "Freedom" as "freedom to own"?

Further, since politics cannot be separated from the formulation of "morally decent principles of right and justice," he is fully justified in blackballing any conservative sociology candidates (assuming such can be found!) for open faculty positions.

At least, that's what I think he means- since everything is political and politics is all about power, therefore whatever he does to promote his conceptions of freedom and justice, and suppress those who disagree, is acceptable.

But his writing is so bad that it’s hard to tell for sure.

Humpty Dumpty: "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

Alice: “The question is, whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

Humpty Dumpty: “The question is: which is to be master – that’s all."

roesch-voltaire said...

What counts as political? Probably the most radical challenge to what it means to be an individual comes from the biological view point expressed by Lynn Margulis. I recommend "dazzle gradually- reflections on the nature of nature, for a thought provoking read that will not be assigned in many classrooms.

Innovation rules said...

I have read some Peter Berger, but I have never met a sociologist who does not at heart discount the individual and choice.

I believe it is inherently structural in their research of culture as a product of socioeconomic forces.

I am much more surprised that psychology is so predominantly left leaning, since its origin would seem to naturally celebrate ones ability to self-actualize and by implication choose.

As to Mr. Brown's assertions, I believe he gets it exactly wrong. Change is not brought about by bureaucracy and hierarchy. In fact that story's ending is as old as history.

Change comes from thinking far from the madding crowd, which of course is only possible in cultures with great economic freedom, the very anti-thesis of collectivism. Mr. Brown advocates for the very thing that would surely stall change; the word 'progressive' is an oxymoron.

Mr. D said...

"We should pay more attention to John Rawls, and teach him in humanities classes".

Yep. Although we'd be better served paying more attention to Lou Rawls.

Kirk Parker said...

You know, folks...

As a former working (field) linguist and anthropologist, I find the blanket denunciation of sociology and related fields rather troubling. Just because these fields have currently been taken over by doctrinaire leftists, doesn't mean the fields themselves are illegitimate, any more than the fact that some criminals misuse guns in their trade means that we should therefore prohibit civilian ownership of firearms.

Innovation rules said...

@Kirk Parker

Well said sir. I agree with you.

And it pains me to listen to the 'genius' anthropologist Bones on TV utter so much drivel that only a slope-headed revisionist leftie could mistake for science:)

Bob_R said...

Brown's "big lie" is that he promotes change. He is in fact in favor of one change one, one time. The fight isn't over until he wins. After than nothing will be allowed to change - ever. On the other hand, those who promote individualism are promoting dynamism (whether they realize it or not). Brown uses a lot of language to disguise a lot of vicious, power hungry thinking. Hope he stays at Northeastern forever. Buyer beware.

Michael said...

As a former working (field) linguist and anthropologist, I find the blanket denunciation of sociology and related fields rather troubling. Just because these fields have currently been taken over by doctrinaire leftists, doesn't mean the fields themselves are illegitimate, any more than the fact that some criminals misuse guns in their trade means that we should therefore prohibit civilian ownership of firearms.

But what would you conclude, as a scientist of course, if the use of all guns was by criminals? Cant speak to linguistics or anthropologh in their intended forms but i am pretty sure that sociology is a quarter step above education as a field of study.

Kirk Parker said...

Innovation,

Well, I solve that problem (Bones) and many others by simply not having a TV.

poppa india said...

Kirk, most people who support civilian ownership of firearms oppose criminal misuse of them and support law enforcement against those criminals. Where are the sociologists/anthropologists who are publicly opposed to the doctrinaire leftists?

Kirk Parker said...

poppa india,

Hiding out in the third world, mostly.

Chip S. said...

Gotta say that I've heard a few defenses of sociology before, but have never seen it likened to a powerful weapon that is highly dangerous if used for the wrong purposes.

Food for thought.

Emile Durkheim, badass.

rcocean said...

I was never able to discover the "science" part of "Social science".
Maybe they should rename it "Social Kinda Science".


BTW, NPR just called Freud a "scientist" - which would have been news to Freud. He got the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Chip S. said...

@rcocean, Your comment got me thinking about the rule of thumb that says fields of study that end in "-ics" are generally more respectable than those that end in "-ology."

I never appreciated the power of this insight until just now, when I took the word "scientist" and added an "olog" before the "ist".

flicka47 said...

Kirk Parker

"some criminals misuse guns in their trade"

Now, not everyone working for the ATF is a criminal...

(now since you're a linguist, couldn't you please translate that pile of goop?)

Don said...

Hmmm...not much different that what I got when I inserted "politics in education and society" here:
http://www.essaygenerator.com/

sorepaw said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fred Drinkwater said...

Summary: My way or the highway.

WV: prenvi - the jealous feeling that some else got there before you did

Kirk Parker said...

(now since you're a linguist, couldn't you please translate that pile of goop?)

Nope; my skills don't extend to injecting meaning where none currently exists.

sorepaw said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Synova said...

Gonna read the comments to see if anyone tried it.

I think that the "fear" you feel, Althouse, might be related to the abundant use of "scare quotes".

Synova said...

I registered for classes today. I'm going full time at UNM this fall.

Anyone know a source for "Save us Zombie Reagan" t-shirts? I need college clothes.

;-)

Synova said...

"Brown doesn't intend what I take from his scribblings, which is: Don't go to college to study the humanities. If politics is a necessary part of the subject you're thinking of studying... study something else.

Unless it's law (and you want to be a lawyer).
"

Unless I'm mistaken, the one fellow in our orientation small-group (our leader said he wasn't going to do the "clapping" part) who said he was planning on law school later was taking economics as his undergrad major.

murgatroyd666 said...

As a former working (field) linguist and anthropologist, I find the blanket denunciation of sociology and related fields rather troubling. Just because these fields have currently been taken over by doctrinaire leftists, doesn't mean the fields themselves are illegitimate, any more than the fact that some criminals misuse guns in their trade means that we should therefore prohibit civilian ownership of firearms.

You had a legitimate field of inquiry and scholarship. Then you let his kind -- the people who know that they are superior to the proles because they're smarter, they're morally superior, and they alone possess the Revealed Truth -- take over your field and turn the fount of knowledge into a cesspool. Did you do anything to prevent this?

In an earlier era, Michael Brown would have been an enthusiastic underling to Tomás de Torquemada, cackling with righteous glee as he tortured another villager into confessing his sins and proclaiming the True Faith, knowing that he had done the poor sinner a favor by enabling him to gain Eternal Life.

Leftists are people who know that if they're breaking thousands of eggs, they must be making a huge, delicious omelet.

rcocean said...

"I never appreciated the power of this insight until just now, when I took the word "scientist" and added an "olog" before the "ist".

Good one.

Don M said...

"If I say "Us" a lot it justifies stealing, by government coercion from "you", and giving the money to ME.

Fat Man said...

Drain the swamp. Cut off all of their funding.

Don M said...

Lysenko was repudiated by Biologists. Hitler and Stalin are repudiated by politicians.

We are waiting for the leftists to be repudiated by anthropologists and sociologists.

Eric Falkenstein said...

I wonder if he realizes that freedom without property rights is basically what they had in Stalinist Russia. 'Freedom to own' is only bad in naive conception of utopia. If you don't own things, all you have freedom towards is your thoughts, just as people in jail have.

If my kids ever say they are going for a degree in sociology I'll tell them they are paying their own way.

Fearsome Pirate said...

You asked for a paraphrase, here it is:

Every person with a brain understands that socialism is where things are going and where they should go, and why won't all those dumb Tea Baggers shut up already?

Synova said...

I heard quite a bit today about spending my money (or my parent's money) to go to school. In reality, even the loans students (like me) take out are subsidized with other people's money. As expensive as it all is, the bulk of a college education is not paid for by the student at a state school. The school itself is mostly paid for by tax money. People paying with their own funds would not pay for all the things other people think are necessary.

Would people paying with their own money willingly pay for the mandatory diversity classes? Would they pay for the duck pond? Would they pay for the Student Union with the movie theater and bowling alley?

The "market" is so distorted by how heavily university is subsidized that a student pretty much shrugs and pays without too much thought about where the money is coming from. It is what it is.

Consider the university professor.

The entire enterprise is an oasis of what sort of good things happen when you take other people's money. The duck pond can evaporate an inch or more of water per day during a drought and someone just turns on the spigot. Who even notices next to all the water it takes to keep the lawns and gardens lush and green? It's a beautiful place to live and work and be. And lucky people get to stay in that place year after year after year.

What does the "freedom to own" mean to someone living in that oasis? Could a person believe in the "freedom to own" without some notion that their own lifestyle was a result of the confiscation of property?

Foobarista said...

Here's my paraphrase: "We keep you alive to serve this ship. Row well and live."

caseym54 said...

I'm tempted to put that last quote on a bumper sticker.

caseym54 said...

Not Foobar's, Brown's.

Ken said...

As near as I can translate, it reads "It is necessary to teach socialism because we who teach the humanities produce such a poor product that no one would pay for it in a capitalist system."

Chubfuddler said...

Actually, it was a sociologist, Philip Rieff, who wrote a brilliant and prescient book 40 years ago about the consequences of the intrusion of politics into the classroom. It's called "Fellow Teachers," out of print now, but well worth tracking down if you're a teacher or just interested in the issue.

Kirk Parker said...

chubfuddler,

Here ya go.

Douglas said...

Perhaps this has already been successfully done by previous commenters, but here is my attempt to succinctly paraphrase Dr. Brown's blog post.

Paragraph 1, Sentence 1 - Hell no, we should not agree with Stanley Fish
Paragraph 1, Sentence 2 - No, it's not possible
Paragraph 1, Sentence 3-5 - Politics is interested in us, and some politicians don't share our interests.

Paragraph 2, Sentence 1 - The humanities are the source of critical thinking, no matter which theory of justice (liberty or equality) you subscribe to.
Paragraph 2, Sentence 2 - Stanley Fish is a wuss who can't stand the heat, and should thus get out of the kitchen.

Paragraph 3, Sentence 1 - Not all conservatives are wusses like Stanley Fish.
Paragraph 3, Sentence 2 - Wusses like Stanley Fish have this perverse attachment to individual liberty and ownership, and are thus not with the program.
Paragraph 3, Sentence 3 - People who have this attachment to liberty and ownership are insane.

Paragraph 4, People who agree with Stanley Fish are insane little wusses.

Paragraph 5, Sentence 1 - Conservatives and libertarians are knuckle-dragging morons
Paragraph 5, Sentence 2 - Admit it, you don't know who John Rawls is, do you?

Paragraph 6 - We're going to protect our rice bowl. What higher education bubble?

Paul Zrimsek said...

The Stanley Fish article deserves a concise paraphrase as well: "The purpose of higher education should be whatever best justifies the privileges of professors."

Bill Dalasio said...

Can someone please tell me what the difference is between a historiography and a history?

Seeing Red said...

rethinking basic assumptions about the social world and moral principles.



Unfortunately, history doesn't agree with him.


Progressives do not understand the nature of man


or basic econ.


6000 years of recorded human history and absolute truths are still "assumptions."

It'll work this time!

gutless said...

Trying to read this gave me a Bachmann sized migraine. At least I've identified a new trigger. I've got to go lie down.

Sue D'Nhym said...

It is important to recognize that there is a logical connection between this disparagement and attempts... to define “freedom” as “freedom to own.”

Without the freedom to own, any other freedoms are mere illusions.

Trochilus said...

Are you "afraid" because your disagreement with the premise of his argument might lead to a fight?

Like this one? . . . from the "Abstruse Goose.

Or, are you afraid because of a recongnition of the potential for ascendency of such fundamentally totalitarian arguments within the academy?

You did say you are you afraid and you don't know why . . . isn't that rather a case of "anxiety" -- fear of the unknown?

Secondly, abstruse can mean obscure and,/or hidden, i.e., recondite . . . or, it can also mean obsolete.

In which sense (if either) did you mean it?

Orwell46 said...

Did anyone notice the complete and total abstractess of Dr. Brown's set of words? Not a single object or person or place or thing appears. Nor does he define any of his ideas. He is therefore saying nothing. Alsolutely nothing. This set of words amounts to a squirt of fog from a hiding cuttlefish. It's aggression against the reader. Hilariously incompetent writer, this Doctor Brown is.

caradoc said...

I took the time to read the whole thing, it's intentionally overly verbose in an attempt to sound intelligent through the use of convoluted phrasing. It's actually very poorly written and the points could have been made clearer and more easily but deliberately weren't. Anyway, here is the response I posted over there, my "analysis" of it for thhose wo are interested.
As a white man I'm not permitted to have an opinion on race, supposedly because I can't understand it because I'm not black. I'd like to suggest that Mr. Brown has no business writing about conservatism because, as a liberal, he has no idea what it means.

Conservatives DO acknowledge society as a shared endeavor. By claiming they don't he sets up a typical strawman and proceeds with the usual, and usually deliberate, misinformation and false claims of conservative ideals. Contrasted neatly to idealized interpretations of liberal ideology.
The irony of him claiming conservatives as dividing people into a good us vs. bad them as he proceeds to do just such division is apparently lost on him..

All in all, this article is a waste of time -- by misrepresenting conservative ideals the article leaves the realm of analysis and enters the realm of polemic and propaganda. Mr. Brown would do better to stop writing about conservatives and start learning about them.

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