Inside The Ivory Tower

Several months ago I noted that the American historian Gertrude Himmelfarb had pointed out in one of her many books that much that happens within the Ivory Tower has an impact on much of what happens  in what people like to refer to as “the real world.” The obvious example is “P.C.” that started within the Tower and has permeated our culture at present, especially the halls of corporate America where lawyers earn big fees making sure no one says anything to anyone the might get someone into trouble — or, more to the point, drag the corporate body into court. One might mention the postmodern attack on truth and factuality which has reared its ugly head outside the Ivory Tower in the form of “Alternative Facts.” In any event, all of us might want to pay attention to what those folks behind those ivy covered walls are up to.

Of greatest concern, in my view, is what is called “Identity Politics.” This movement started in the mid 70s in our academies of higher learning and has mushroomed into a full-out assault on everything once considered sacred, including much of the subject matter that comprises the bulwark of Western Civilization. In any event, the mantra in the Ivory Tower these days is that we must trash the detritus of Western Civilization — all of it bad — and care about, if not care for, the chronically disadvantaged, the marginal folks who have been long ignored in academia, and without. This has resulted in a spate of courses in such things as “women’s studies,” “black studies, “native American studies,” and the like. I have blogged about such courses before, but the main point is that these courses are important in their own way, but they are narrow in scope and have wrongly displaced the core of liberal courses that espouse a broad approach to education and also have the goal of putting young people in possession of their own minds, not the minds of their politically motivated instructors. “Studies” courses tend to be dogmatic and confuse education with indoctrination. The defense, when there is one, is that education has always preached and it is now “our turn.” But this a mistake of the first order. Education is not about preaching at all, regardless of what the message happens to be.

In any event, there are those who say that our institutions of higher education have become nothing less than therapy clinics designed to make sure that all who enter will never suffer the slings and arrows of bigotry or insult. This, too, is not a bad thing  — up to a point. We need to be sensitive to the concerns of those who have been marginalized and who might suffer from disguised attacks on the values they hold most dear in the form of language they find hurtful. But at the same time, higher education is supposed to prepare young people for the world outside the Ivory Towers and pain is part of life, as is racism and bigotry. And all ideas are deserving of consideration regardless of how unpalatable they might be. These young people might be better off in the long run if they confronted their fears and suspicions in a place where such things can be discussed in a rational and coherent manner, rather than pretending life is all skittles and beer and finding out later it is not so.

As far as the influence of identity politics outside the hallowed halls of academe is concerned, it has been said of the liberals who lead the growing numbers of folks within the academy in their collective outrage against all things Western that their influence is bringing about the demise of the Democratic Party. I have seen it argued that it is precisely the concern with marginalized people and the concomitant ignoring of “Mainstream America” that is destroying the Democratic Party. Instead of bringing America together, separateness is the word of the day. The connection here is liberals within the walls and liberal politicians without. And this despite the fact that Hillary Clinton, in the recent election, collected three million more popular votes than did her opponent — what’s-his-name. The logic I must say, leaves me a bit confused, but the point may be worth considering. It seems unwise to ignore the major players in the game of politics, the folks that could win or lose an election.

The Democratic Party has historically drawn its strength from the mass of men and women who have been ignored by the wealthy fat cats who control the strings of political power. The Democratic Party, it has been said, cares about people, the Republican Party  cares only about profits. Simplistic, I would agree. But perhaps not entirely wrong. In any event, it might be wise for the Democratic Party to take a long hard look at the people it seeks to draw into its house. Just pause and consider the loonies the Republicans have recently invited into theirs! Should the Democrats be concerned only about marginalized people and ignore entirely those who sweat and strain to make ends meet in “Mainstream America,” those folks who have traditionally been the backbone of the Democratic Party? It is a question worth pondering.


7 thoughts on “Inside The Ivory Tower

  1. Hugh, very subtle and thought provoking post. The Democrats should be applauded for focusing on issues of the disenfranchised. There are so many voices who do not have a place at the table.

    Yet, they must guard against where they should focus their energies. One can still advocate (as I do as an Independent), but I would urge them to focus on issues that effect us all, but especially those who are disenfranchised. Some examples might help illustrate is point. Focusing on affordable health care helps us all, but especially the poor. Focusing on equal opportunity, pay and rights for women actually helps us all as it more ideas flourish and diversity of thought enlightens. Focusing on the environment and renewable energy helps us all as jobs are rapidly growing and the poor are more harmed by environmental concerns – water, ash sites, chemical dumps. Focusing on issues facing African-Americans help us all as equality for all us who we are and a thriving African-American community helps everyone’s economies, especially the currently blighted areas.

    The issues can unify us, so I hope this is the focus. Keith

      • Hugh, one thing Trump did do successfully, he reached out to an audience that is disillusioned and suffering. Now, what they fail to realize, he was telling them what they wanted to hear and blaming others, but he did reach out. If HRC spent more time visiting people in these settings, rather trying to run up the score in Arizona, she could have carried the day. She actually had plans in place to help folks rather than just provide fingerpointing which is a skill of the President. Keith

  2. That’s what I liked about the Sanders’ platform. For instance, take the $15 minimum wage. It would help all groups of disenfranchised people. If demand-side economics makes sense to you, higher wages also help the middle-class (more sales, more jobs to fill).

    No division among the people, when a good policy works for all.

    Yes, Bernie had to adapt his message in order to assure special groups they were included under his policy umbrella. Because like you say, identity politics seems to be the norm, and what people are used to hearing.

    With Bernie, I would not fear the loonies. If we would only ‘stand together’ loonies would be a small, insignificant percent — receiving the same basic benefits as everyone, whether they like it or not. 🙂

    Thought provoking post, Hugh.

  3. I found your post very timely, having today completed training on sexual harassment. The focus of the course was how to protect the company from lawsuits, not the damage that can be inflicted by an offender. Ironically, I encountered a small group afterwards making crude jokes about the training. Obviously, the training wasn’t so effective.

    The PC culture has tried to control workplaces and campuses by shielding protected classes (dare I say constituencies?) by oppressing others. This has only had the appearance of necessity due to a general lack of decency caused by an overly permissive culture. What a tangled web we weave.

    As for the Democrat party, I am not very optimistic about the future. Whatever you think of the Clintons and their corruption, Bill was successful in portraying himself as a moderate champion of the little guy. We are now witnessing the Clinton faction of the party being discarded in favor of cultural Marxists. This folks certainly don’t represent mainstream America.

    • Very well said! I couldn’t agree more with your comment: “The PC culture has tried to control workplaces and campuses by shielding protected classes (dare I say constituencies?) by oppressing others. This has only had the appearance of necessity due to a general lack of decency caused by an overly permissive culture.” I have tried to say some of these things in my halting way and you hit the mark dead center.

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