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Tom Wolfe on intellectual freedom

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This seems like a good time to quote Tom Wolfe again,  in his interview with Carol Iannone, against barking mad pc rubbish invading scholarly disciplines. If only the sciences were immune – but fat chance, so here goes:

People in academia should start insisting on objective scholarship, insisting on it, relentlessly, driving the point home, ramming it down the gullets of the politically correct, making noise! naming names! citing egregious examples! showing contempt to the brink of brutality! The idea that a discipline should be devoted to “social justice” is ludicrous. The fashionable deconstructionist doctrine that there is no such thing as truth, only the self-serving manipulation of language, is worse than ludicrous. It is casuistry, laziness, and childishness in equal parts. Sociology in this country didn’t start with Max Weber. It started with an act of pious charity on the part of Protestants concerned about life in the slums. Today the discipline, if it can still be called that, has returned to sheer sentiment. Only this time the pious are from the puritanical order of political correctness, preying with the rhetoric of Rococo Marxism, which means steering clear of the by-now totally discredited “vulgar Marxism,” all that tired old business of the proletariat, the peasants, the capitalists, the bourgeois elements, the infantile leftists, since all they really care about is preserving Marxism’s greatest joy: the Manichaeistic take on life. Everything is light or darkness! Black or white! No irksome middle grounds or shades of grey! How much simpler the taxing stone-hard task of analysis becomes! He good! He bad! That’s the right idea!  

Note: The Canadian edition of this post here offers promising intellectual freedom updates.

Manichaeism is the perfect word to describe “postmodernism,” or more appropriately rear-guard modernism. All theory, beginning with Plato, is Manichaeistic, and we live in a distinctly Manichaeistic age. Theory is attractive because of its dividing power. It simplifies things. This process appeals to what Hegel called the “unhappy consciousness.” People who are drawn to theory tend to be unhappy with being and its complications and are therefore seeking simple answers. For Plato, this meant dividing being between intellect and matter. For him, the advantage of the dividing sword of theory was that it produced something called “pure intellect,” at first blush a transcendent value, since the Greeks believed that intellect was the essence of God. More acquaintance with his theory of ideas led to an awareness of its limitations, however, since pure intellect negates the value of sense. Plato’s concept of “the good” lacks substance; even the supposed perfection of abstract circles is said to be merely metaphorical. But metaphors are thin gruel for the human spirit to feed on. Readers will of course be reminded of Thomas’s famous observation that Plato’s dividing method leads to “nothing but metaphors.” Fast forward to our own time, and the metaphors are ubiquitous. We have the “tree of life,” a clever metaphor if there ever was one, since the winsome simplicity of the image deceives us into imagining that the gaps have somehow been filled in. We have “natural selection,” the most successful metaphor of the modern age; truly a comparison between two unlike things, since nature has no discretionary power and cannot “select” anything. Natural selection reveals the problem with theory as it runs afoul of microbiology. The complexity of being exposes the limitations of the theory’s simplifying power. The just-so narratives devolving from natural selection are discovered to be woefully inadequate to describe observed reality. The old divide between real and ideal raises its head once again, this time in unexpected ways. allanius

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