Monday, February 17, 2014

watch out what you wish for just might get it!

This blog came into being with a few provisos, one of which was to avoid the New York Times--largely because it seems like everybody else blogs about the NYT.  What could I add?

However, Nicholas Kristoff has called my profession back to...reality, engagement, whatever. Academics know all this good knowledge but, more and more, retreat into their hallowed halls for conversations amongst themselves.  GET OUT, Kristoff calls, and help out the rest of us.

Almost prophetically another blip on the blogosphere radar skewers academia's small-mindedness and disconnectedness.  One theory to rule them all, indeed.

Here's the problem: academia is arcane. Academia advances because grad students, needing to find their own niche in research, always push further the boundaries day by day.  Then of course credentialed researchers themselves do the same, and often, handily funded, do so even faster than rafts of grad students.  What does this mean?  Easy--the narrative now is "all the big questions either have been answered or have been discounted.  Find your own way."  This accelerates and intensifies the arcanity of academic language (how about that?).  You demonstrate your knowledge by mastering a language, interpretive lenses, and research results that few others can fathom.  And day by day, the academy inches away from the population it seeks to serve (and on which it relies for support, both financial and demographic).

 Thus, while I hate to betray the brother/sisterhood, it's also obvious that folks get along just fine without us.

Also:  the whole "getting academics involved with the issues of the day" meme has already seen the spotlight.  The Obama administration has been described (and criticized) as such, but it goes deeper than that.  All patriotic and/or critical arguments aside, the George W. Bush administration (another eight years, but of an entirely different character) represents the same.  Then, though, the academics involved were neo-con free-market types:  Condoleeza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, even Donald Rumsfeld reflected a certain theoretical approach to his duties as Secretary of Defense (which, unfortunately, didn't match the realities he faced, but that's a post for another day). 

So what to do?  Well, not engaging is always an option.  Mark Shea, among others, represents the Catholic blogosphere's willingness to abstain from voting, and there are others.  However, is that really the Catholic approach?  The Church's social justice tradition makes it clear that the stereotypical American left-right spectrum leaves much to be desired.  It should be--but unfortunately isn't (yet another blog post-to-be)--by now known that the Church, staying true to its Gospel call, at times tracks to the American right (on abortion and sexual morality) while at other times tracks to the American left (immigration, economics, and, apart from the Obama administration's bullheaded attempts to coerce compliance, health care).  But as New York's Governor Cuomo recently stated, many public squares just don't want a Catholic voice--or really any dissenting opinion--participating.  The debates are scripted so the self-selected and self-congratulatory choir sings preapproved songs.  R. R. Reno correctly targets this secularism for its desire to silence all (religious) critics.  Many of the academics Kristoff calls to help American society would only intensify this casual slide into violently monochrome public life.  Is that really what we want or need?

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