Yesterday’s post generated a good bit of interesting reader e-mail. As a sports fan, I particularly enjoyed this analogy regarding the intellectual decline of university teaching and scholarship:
Think of it this way — imagine if the talent of NBA basketball players declined to the point where players routinely dribbled the ball off of their feet, botched layups, threw up airballs and the slam dunk became extinct. Disgusted conservatives have stopped watching the games, while liberals have simply tried to re-label “bad basketball” as “good basketball.”
But not all the mail was quite as good. Almost as soon as I drafted my post, I thought to myself, “I bet real money I’m going to get a response about creationism.” And like clockwork:
I think there’s a difference between the sort of criticisms that Phi Beta Cons levels at the excesses of the academy and the anti-intellectualism that Brooks and others see in the Republican Party. You’re criticizing particular ideas (deconstruction, postmodernism, etc) whereas anti-intellectualism is the rejection of complex ideas in general. Brooks’ point, I believe, is that the rejection of (allegedly silly) liberal ideas in academia has led to the rejection of academic methods. It seems to me that this is the feeling of more professionals than just those associated with literary theory. Physical scientists (and engineers) tend to share the “conservative” view that a lot of what goes on in the humanities is bunk, but they too feel attacked by large swathes of the Republican base. Creationism is a particular sticking point here; non-biologists recognize biologists as scientists, and they close ranks when they feel that their own are being unfairly attacked. It’s hard to call the creationist/ID movements anything but anti-intellectual.
There’s a lot there — and this is a blog post, not an essay — so I’ll be quick. First, I would agree with the e-mailer that academic methods have been rejected, but not by conservatives. In fact, much postmodern scholarship depends for its very viability on the notion that traditional academic methods are illegitimate (one professor at my law school dismissed traditional standards of scholarship as “the white man’s tools”).
Second, few “threats” to science have been more over-hyped than the “threat” posed by the creationism/intelligent design movement. Given that it’s actually illegal to teach creationism in public schools, given that the one recent effort to mandate the presentation of intelligent design in high-school biology classes resulted in one of the more crushing legal defeats in recent memory — complete with a seven-figure attorneys’ fee award the electoral defeat of the entire school board — given that there is no more than a mere handful of publicly “out” ID professors in secular university science departments (of all stripes) across the nation, and given that no one (to my knowledge) is teaching ID in any public-university science classroom in the country, I have to think that the threat of this “movement” is a bit exaggerated.
In short, I’ll see your “anti-intellectual” creationism movement and raise you hundreds of speech codes, thousands of postmodern ideologue professors, a diversity cult of extreme intolerance and viciousness, and a singular lack of intellectual curiosity regarding conservative thought.
When considering relative threats, when was the last time creationists got the president of the world’s most prestigious university essentially fired for engaging in politically incorrect scientific speculation? The anti-intellectual Left can remove the most powerful man in academia. The (allegedly) anti-intellectual Right can’t even control a school board in rural Pennsylvania.