Friday, July 02, 2004

When to stop reading 

Our usual rule is to stop at the point where somebody starts comparing a politician or writer to Hitler. In the process of trying to skewering David Horowitz, Donald Lazere goes for the Hitler analogy in the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscribers only -- don't worry, I'm sure this will appear in full somewhere soon.)
Conservative intellectuals, of course, insist that they are the true defenders of liberal humanism against its abuses by tenured radical and Democratic Party demagogues; Horowitz publishes a magazine titled Heterodoxy. But they are caught in a contradiction between this claim and their complicity with both corporate philistinism, which dumbs down culture to maximize profits, and the Republican Party's time-tested policy of reducing political rhetoric to Manichean sound bites, epitomized by Richard Nixon's advice to his speechwriter William Safire, "We sophisticates can listen to a speech for a half hour, but after 10 minutes, the average guy wants a beer."

Horowitz himself, in The Art of Political War (2000), offers advice to conservative politicians that could have come out of Mein Kampf: "When you speak, do not forget that a sound bite is all you have. Whatever you have to say, make sure to say it loud and clear. Keep it simple and keep it short -- a slogan is always better. ... With these audiences, you will never have time for real arguments or proper analyses. Images -- symbols and sound bites -- will always prevail. Therefore, it is absolutely essential to focus your message and repeat it over and over again."

"Could have come out of." Clever. It has been also noted:
The people you�re trying to reach have been raised in the sound-bite culture. They�re used to professional politicians, admakers and entertainers getting to the point in a matter of seconds. You need to do the same. You can�t expect people who only listen to their president for a few seconds to listen to you for an hour and a half.
That would be, like, Hitler? Oh, sorry, that's not Horowitz. That's Carville and Begala.

K.C. Johnson (archives bloggered, go to 6/30 post) didn't stop reading, and observes this about the end of the Lazere article:

Then, however, comes Lazere's major claim: that, in the end, students who complain about classroom bias are, to put it bluntly, dumb. "Perhaps," he notes, "the major source of cognitive dissonance is not liberal ideas versus conservative ones but complex ideas versus simplistic ones." For most students, Lazere contends, "their conservatism is in direct proportion to their self-admitted, near-total ignorance of politics, history, geography, economics, and academic modes of reasoning." Once they have been "educated," no doubt, they will abandon their conservative beliefs and embrace the need for revolution.

This contempt for the academic abilities of the students that they teach is common among critics of the academic freedom movement. It appears consistently, for example, in the publications of the most powerful organization devoted to curricular indoctrination, the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Lazere concludes his essay with the tale of a student named Richard, for whom Rush Limbaugh served as the sole source for the history of the American Revolution. When Lazere asked the student to consider other interpretations, Richard responded that "his last English professor taught that there is no objective truth and that texts have whatever meaning readers want to find in them. So he's entitled to believe Rush and his parents if he wants, and I'm not entitled to force any contrary evidence on him."

Essays like this one provide some of the most powerful commentary on why groups like Students for Academic Freedom are needed -- and why they should keep up the good work.
So far, no response from SAF.

Hat tip: Dave Huber.