Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Cleverly wrong people 

I was skimming blogs and stopped by J.V.C.'s place last night, where I found his post on dangerous intellectuals. He refers us to Rose at No Credentials, who wrote a wonderful essay with this sentence that hits you like a 2x4.
The real danger of radical monothink is that it weakens society's faith in the quest for intellectual truth�more specifically, in the academics who've been, not without some skepticism, entrusted to take part in that quest.
I sent this on to Scholar Jack, who wrote back to me this morning.
After almost 35 years in the academy (yes, 35 � shit) I�ve come to think that one really can�t be too skeptical about intellectuals and their truth/s. It�s a bit different over in your world and (Scholar) David�s � you guys have real stuff to study � money -- that touches human existence in a tangible way. My crowd � literature, language, philosophy, constantly-revised history � touch nothing tangibly real and are terribly ego-ridden and consequently mostly wrong, in very insidious ways; there�s few things worse than people who are cleverly wrong.*
Jack, as he often does, refers to Thomas Sowell's Visions of the Anointed. There is of course something to the fact that those in the physical sciences or in professional education (which increasingly contains economics, alas) have yardsticks beyond the academy. J.V.C. points this out himself:
One of the benefits of being a two-course-per-year adjunct is that my academic opinions comprise only a tiny portion of my identity. You see, being wrong (or even challenged) in the classroom doesn't threaten to expose my scholarly career as a sham. It can't; I don't have a scholarly career. And I'm a better teacher for it.
I think that puts the finger closer on it: If you are in a field where your only references to success are other academics, you are more likely to echo their sounds, their thoughts. It begins in graduate assistantships, continues to adjuncts who want to be more than adjuncts, and ends only when, like J.V.C. or Erin, one gets a life outside.

Call them not clever, but questioningly right people.

*Jack dropped me a second note after I posted this:
My only real argument is [Rose] thinks lefties might weaken faith in the intellectual endeavor, and I think lefties exist and rule because it had already been weakened; actually it was pretty near death and they merely came to feast on the carcass. I spent a little time looking at intellectual optimist from the Enlightenment on; those folks look pretty happy and na�ve now. But it�s inevitable death was pretty clear by WW I. The Lost Generation saw it, and then the existentialists around WW II. Us folks from South Dakota only figured it out in the 80�s. In short, I thinking watching it die was part of making me pay attention to the mystics, who smile more and more broadly as we implode.
I need to buy him a beer soon. I'll smile broadly -- he can guess whether I'm a mystic or just a guy with gas.