Sunday, July 03, 2005

The bully pulpit

R Koons has an interesting post at Right Reason, in which he makes a point that I can't seem to make often enough. His topic is conservatives reproducing via biology and liberals reproducing via communications media, and how this affects worldview and future prospects. Koons writes:
which worldview is more likely to represent cognitive attunement to reality: the viewpoint of those most directly involved in the indispensable processes of human life -- making and selling things, raising and nurturing children - or the viewpoint of those whose business consists primarily in simply talking to each another, whose livelihood depends entirely on the autonomous assessment of their peers? In the first case, the constraints of reality ensure that thought cannot deviate too far from the truth, since success in supporting and raising viable and competent human beings depends on genuine knowledge of human nature and the natural environment. In the second case, there is nothing to prevent the entire system from becoming dominated by sheer fantasy, since it is ultimately the opinions of one's peers, and not the verdict of reality, that determine the success or failure of academics and other New Class wordsmiths.
If you're sympathetic to the views I put up here, hang tough. This is not a situation that can stand forever.
What has happened over the last quarter of a century and will continue to happen more and more is that serious scholarship is being taken up by independent scholars, outside the higher education system. Consider, for example, the remarkable demand on the part of the reading public for non-politicized, classically-oriented works in history, such as David McCollough's books on American history, books of a kind that are rarely written these days by academics. Consider, too, the remarkable success enjoyed by the classical scholar Victor Davis Hansen, who recently resigned his post at a California state college and who now supports himself entirely through his writing and his web site. Many of the conservative students who are won over to liberalism by professors... will eventually be won back to conservatism by independent scholars.
I can think of more examples too: Not all of these are academics who have abandoned the ivory tower. In fact, most of them have not. The point is that the revolution in publishing that blogging represents is bound to have an impact on the the role of the university. I don't think it can continue to claim to be the arbiter of all that is good and reasonable for much longer. Dennis Mangan points to this thread, highlighting how there's more involved in hiring than who you studied under. Issues like that drive people to minimize the risks of education - most of which involve cost. Good reading can lead to a good interview at a much lower cost. Rest assured the snobs will just tell us we're too dumb to lift ourselves from the muck. They'll continue to work under the assumptions Koons outlines. What makes me happy is that their bully pulpit is shrinking and that will make it harder - not easier - to put empty, ugly, ideologically and jargon ridden crud up and say, well if you don't get it... *sniff*. Sub groups like that (and much, much worse) will continue to exist, of course. They won't have the same stature they have now, and that will be worth something.

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