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America’s Eichmann Industry
Two months have passed since Stanford University’s celebrated student body voted six-to-one against reinstituting a required Western civilization course in its academic curriculum, generating a flurry of commentaries about the majority’s ideological orientation.
Critics didn’t have to look far, as an editorial in The Stanford Daily outlined the views of those on the six side of the equation pretty well. After introducing an excerpt from Rudyard Kipling’s The White Man’s Burden for sneering purposes, the op-ed launched into a scathing attack on Western civilization, peppered with phrases that undoubtedly would have kindled smiles by Marx, Lenin, or Stalin, along with perhaps a few tears of approbation.
Thus, for instance, Africa’s execrable backwardness was the result of Western “colonialism, occupation, and capitalism as driving forces in the creation of poverty.” Of course, understanding this requires students to “think critically,” and not be “[spoon-fed] platitudes from the Western colonial canon.” Stanford students need courses that will “force” everyone to face the “realities of these histories” of Western dominance. For this reason and others, the university needs to hire “more queer and trans faculty, indigenous faculty, and faculty of color.” After all, they’re the ones who have had first hand experience with the exploitations in question and are thus best equipped to mentor American students.
The essay’s conclusion is worth quoting more fully: “A Western Civilizations series would explicitly entrench the idea that the purpose of education is neither to critically question oppression, nor even to critically deal with the problems of our time. Rather, a Western Civ requirement would necessitate that our education be centered on upholding white supremacy, capitalism and colonialism, and all other oppressive systems that flow from Western civilizations; that our education be framed as a tool to carrying out our burden to reform the rest of the world in our own, imperfect, acutely deplorable image.”
Which is a lot of split infinitives spiced by a sprinkling of “criticals” heaped onto a clutch of “critical thinkings” called for throughout the essay. Fair enough, one could suppose; then how about a little “critical thinking” applied to the op-ed itself? Naturally, one cannot develop an argument within the limited confines of a short essay, but at least a few observations can be made. One of which is this: the essay is saturated with intellectually fashionable clichés excoriating “our own, imperfect, acutely deplorable” civilization, a practice well documented by Jonah Goldberg’s witty and informative The Tyranny of Clichés.
Several additional observations are worth making here, the first of which is hardly new, because the contempt that many in American academia have for the United States has been part of our culture for at least the past two generations. Second, many academicians who loathe their country demonstrate an astonishing dearth of critical thinking, especially since they luxuriate in circumstances that could only be produced by a system they yearn to destroy. Or so they say, because if America-haters, such as the writers of the Stanford essay and those who agree with them, don’t really mean it, then it’s time for the lesson that flinging around clichés bereft of serious thinking has serious consequences. In fact, some of the consequences are hideous beyond belief.
No one understood this better than Hannah Arendt, famous for her brilliant study of totalitarianism and reflections on moral issues, and especially for her treatment of Eichmann in Jerusalem. This stunning book gave birth to “the banality of evil,” an expression that has haunted serious minds ever since and launched a scholarly industry exploring its implications. Arendt pointed out that her first impression of “man in the glass booth” was that he was “quite ordinary, commonplace, and neither demonic nor monstrous.” Hardly a view one would expect about one of history’s most notorious mass murderers in the Third Reich.
She went on to remark that “…the only specific characteristic one could detect in his past… was something entirely negative: it was not stupidity but a curious, quite authentic inability to think.” (Emphasis added.) Arendt goes on to make some extraordinary observations about this irredeemably evil man: “When confronted with situations for which such routine procedures did not exist, he was helpless, and his cliché-ridden language produced on the stand, as it had evidently done in his official life, a kind of macabre comedy.” Indeed, Eichmann’s “macabre comedy” of clichés came from a man who, like Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, “was hollow at the core.” It is Arendt, again, who has the most penetrating conclusion: “…the more superficial someone is, the more likely will he be to yield to evil. An indication of such superficiality is the use of clichés, and Eichmann … was a perfect example.”
So where does this leave us? Does the comparison made here imply that many American college students represent hordes of Eichmanns-in-waiting? For the majority, of course not; for many of them, maybe; but for all of them, the dangers of not thinking past clichés represents a sort of ever-ticking sociological time-bomb for the country that so many of them profess to hate. College students are saturated with a blizzard of cliché-infected buzzwords — colonialism, imperialism, racism, classism, homophobia, Islamophobia, sexism, white supremacy, micro-aggressions, ableism, ageism, social justice, check-your-privilege — leading many to conclude that all one has to do is to hurl the word at an antagonist to shut down the argument.
Indeed, the repetition of these hackneyed epithets resemble the bleating sheep in Animal Farm — “Four legs good, two legs bad!” — a refrain sufficient to squelch dissent whenever desired. In fact, the hordes of Bernie Sanders supporters among millennials is testament not only to their astonishing ignorance about socialism, but also to their failure to think beyond clichés, about, for instance, “income inequality,” or “the rich not paying their fair share,” or calls for a “political revolution.” Where are the arguments supporting these terms? What are the consequences of enacting policies implied by such expressions? Where else have such policies been tried, and what have been the results?
We conclude with a sickening and now familiar example of how far this process has gone in America, at a facility that practices “sexual and reproductive health and justice.” In 2015 Holly O’Donnell, a former employee for the company StemExpress, was asked by a Planned Parenthood facility to assist in removing organs from recently aborted babies. She stated, “they weren’t looking for a compassionate individual at all,” and that as a phlebotomist, she could “draw quick … They wanted someone who could get the numbers up.” She did as instructed, and ended up blacking out during the process, which apparently was not an uncommon reaction among those doing “such work,” O’Donnell was informed while lying in a hospital bed.
This description is from the Center for Medical Progress: “‘I want to see something kind of cool,’” O’Donnell says her supervisor asked her. ‘And she just taps the heart, and it starts beating. And I’m sitting here and I’m looking at this fetus, and its heart is beating, and I don’t know what to think.’” (Emphasis added.) She didn’t know what to think, she says. Perhaps it was because, for the first time, the horror masquerading as “sexual and reproductive health and justice” — the beating heart of an aborted baby — left her so stunned that, in her own words, she didn’t “know what to think.”
Neither did Adolf Eichmann.Published in Education
Here’s my take on the situation and one can’t blame me for being inconsistent:
Each and every one of those protesters needs to lose weight before I take one word from their overfed mouths seriously.
Indeed, it is a pseudo-ideology consisting of bumper-sticker slogans with no deeper thought. I’ve often thought this before but you’ve fleshed it out nicely. The Arendt connection is interesting. There’s a good film of Hannah Arendt’s life.
Yet another brilliant and perceptive essay. Well done, Marv.
Do any of these students at Stanford believe they’ve come to college to learn? Apparently not…..What’s so striking about their behavior, and the behavior of students at so many other colleges and universities, is that it simply hasn’t crossed their minds that they don’t yet know very much.
When I was at the Hoover Institution two years ago, I was told that there are more history professors at Stanford than history majors and more philosophy professors than philosophy majors. In 1965, the largest major was history. Today only 7% of Stanford students major in the humanities. Next to no one in the student body at Stanford is interested in getting an education. Their focus from day one is professional. They are looking for jobs that will make them rich. There is something strange going on — and not just at Stanford. As the rhetoric becomes more radical, the conduct becomes decidedly more bourgeois.
They have come to college to confirm the prejudices they acquired from the popular culture and from their primary and secondary educations. Learning would require them to question those prejudices and open their minds to new ideas, perhaps even some uncomfortable ideas.
In intellectual inquiry, the most interesting ideas are the ones that challenge one’s dearly-held beliefs. People with the mindset of these Stanford students are constitutional ill-suited to make any meaningful intellectual contributions. They are only capable of mindlessly repeating or recapitulating the same platitudes.
Perhaps, but the humanities and social sciences are the hotbeds of the mindless leftism described by Mr. Folkertsma. On the other hand, this lack of intellectual rigor is least prevalent in the sciences. If you doubt either of these claims, ask Milt Rosenberg; he has covered this issue in detail in several podcasts.
Worse than that, man. The students feel like they are there to TEACH everybody else about all the -isms that they are experts on. Learn? They already know everything and we have to be open-minded and receptive to their vast worldly knowledge. Otherwise, we are labelled with one of the badthink epithets like racist, bigot, sexist etc.
I do not doubt either claim. But what is studied most at Stanford is economics and engineering. The aim is not knowledge as such; it is money — and next to no one studies the humanities or the social sciences other than economics. The “mindless leftism” you speak of is not learned in the classroom. Stanford students spend very little time in such classrooms.
I’m skeptical that the enrollment in economics exceeds the combined enrollments in political science, the various “studies” programs, and the humanities. Furthermore, I’d expect the econ students to be less likely to be interested in Marxist and related ideologies than the other departments I mentioned. At the very least, the most vocal leftists are in these departments, not in economics. Among the social sciences, economics is the most grounded in rational thought.
This seems to me to be a disconnect. Are you saying that economics and engineering majors are uneducated?
If so, then you have an unrealistically elevated view of the humanities.
Especially if you consider the current low estate of the education provided in humanities programs in most contemporary universities.
The bar has been lowered to accommodate shallow intellects. It should come as no surprise that students can find a way to slither their way underneath the bar no matter how low it may be set.
Whether it be Stanford, Harvard, Yale, or wherever, professors have been more than willing to lower the bar and ensure that every student can meet their low expectations.
Can we just burn the damn colleges down now, please? They’re lost to us and we’re never getting them back. Outside of just a handful of schools, they all exist as Comintern training schools now. We should have know time was up when “studies” majors became ascendant. We’re spending money to destroy our own future. Torch ’em.
Colleges exist either for radicalism or career training now. The notion of a well rounded education based on the cherished knowledge and traditions of the past, and carrying them into tomorrow, is a dead letter. See my post above. If this is truly all “college” is now, we can do this better and cheaper simply by making glorified trade schools that only focus on their trade at what we now consider the undergrad level. Business schools, engineering schools, etc. The way things are going, we’re better off getting our kids the core curriculum through third parties like The Great Courses. It’s a lot cheaper, and they’re not lecturing me for being an evil white oppressor.
When I attended the University of Michigan (and got an engineering degree), about 20% of the hours required for graduation fell into the category of humanities – not just freshman comp, but history, philosophy, and literature. Additionally on top of that I had to take two classes in communications – technical writing and technical presentations. (These were senior-level courses.)
I got a well-rounded education. On the other hand the lit students, and most of the humanities students did not have to take science or mathematics. If you do not have a basic understanding of the physical sciences or mathematics you do not have a well-rounded education. You are just pretending you have a well-rounded education.
Michigan doesn’t have math and science requirements in their core curriculum?
I was a business major who hung around with a lot of artsy-fartsy types. I was constantly hearing from them how I wasn’t getting a “well-rounded education” like they were. Except, I was taking all the same general ed courses they were, plus accounting, management, and a whole bunch of other stuff they never touched.
All Hail Hillsdale College!!
All they’re missing are pictures of Chairman Mao.
Yes, exactly. I’m ashamed to admit I was vaguely socialist till my economics professors cured me of such nonsense. And I can’t forget Prof. Gruber’s shameful boast- “The lack of economic understanding of the American people was a big advantage to us.”
Back during the first round of Clinton scandals in the 90s I kept warning internet leftists that they could keep on pretending to be too stupid to see the wrongdoing, but that there was no guarantee that they would be able to turn their intelligence back on when they wanted to. And in many cases, that’s what happened. They became permanently stupid. I wonder if this isn’t another instance of the same phenomenon.
If all a student will get from a history degree is four years of agitprop, why not go for a professional degree?
Eichmann himself may not be the best exemplar of Arendt’s banality of evil. In Eichmann Before Jerusalem, Bettina Stangneth shows that he presented himself at trial as a mindless cog because he thought it might save his life. She has dug up an extraordinary amount of material from Eichmann’s past, particularly his time in Argentina, that shows he was in fact an ardent Nazi who fully believed that the races are necessarily engaged in a Darwinian struggle with each other, and that the survival of the German people could only be assured by the destruction of the Jews, their natural enemies. Here’s a review that summarizes the book, which came out just a few years ago.
In any event, the passage from the Stanford Daily nicely embodies the effect of “critical theory” on today’s students. This misnamed pedagogy does not teach them how to think for themselves, but only that a new set of values makes them smart, and the old set makes them stupid. Kids try to meet the standard, but they are not parrots and they cannot help but think, albeit hobbled by their teachers, and the result is incoherent nonsense.
It’s not that bad. It certainly seems that way, because stories like this are in the news so often. Remember that loudmouthed idiots tend to make the news more than students quietly studying in the library. The great majority of students are still majoring in roughly the same subjects as they always have: Here are the top ten college majors. Business is number one (not really a Comintern-endorsed field of study). Psychology is number two, which baffles me: Why would students believe there will be a demand for so many psychologists? Three, four, and five, respectively, are nursing, biology, and teachers’ education. Nurses and biologists, obviously, play an essential role in any modern society; I don’t know exactly what one studies in a “teachers’ education” degree program, but I assume those who pursue the major want to teach children, and goodness knows, that’s an honorable vocation. The rest are all useful subjects: accounting, criminal justice, English, and “general liberal arts and sciences” (is that a major? That covers everything I can think of, but I suppose it’s at least well-rounded). So the “studies” majors aren’t even in the top ten. They’re just louder than everyone else.
Here’s the most painful thing: as a parent, you’ve GOTTA want your kid to go to the most prestigious college possible. And that means you will spend like, $250,000 (if you HAVE any money or income; higher education is completely socialized—you pay that freight in part so the kids of drug addicts and convicts can go for free…) to watch your child taught to despise everything that made the existence of her chosen university possible, and the country and larger civilization to which you, and she, owe everything. It’s like that story about the midgets in Crome Yellow.
Oh, if you taught your child good manners and the ol’ parent-child bond is still intact, she’ll be polite, even kind, about your embarrassing reverence for your own culture (How quaint, to believe America has a culture! Why everybody knows it’s only OTHER nationalities, non-Christian peoples, that do!) . But there’s a stronghold of knowing skepticism. And, as you point out, a moat around her fortress stocked with flesh-eating clichés.
And you bought and paid dearly for this, begged and prayed for it, in fact, during the brutal, soul-destroying college admissions meleé.
What kind of a parent would you BE if you hadn’t?
I think psychology is one of those degrees that attract people who should have gotten a job when they left high school. I suspect half of all people who go to college are wasting their time and money.
What I am saying is that someone who has not read and studied Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Locke, Shakespeare, and, say, Jane Austen is uneducated — and I am saying that the great majority of students who graduate from Stanford have never looked at any of these. Engineering is training (hard science is something else), and economics is often little more than training. It can be more: Adam Smith was not a mere technician, and there were others after him who were on a par with him. But . . .
You are right on both counts. At most universities, at the undergraduate level, psychology is a gut . . . the sort of course where you can attend the lectures or do the reading but you need not do both.
You have a point. The humanities professors have contributed mightily to the destruction of liberal education.
But it is not as bad as you suppose. Hidden away within virtually every English and history department are a number of professors who suppose that we have something to learn from studying great literature and the past.
Maybe they look around campus and see they’re surrounded by a lot of people who are completely nuts, so assume it’s a good way to make a living?