Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Children of the Famine Queen

You've probably read the Vox article "I'm a Fussy Yuppie and I'm Scared of the Same Things as Your Racist Uncle." It's been all the rage on the interwebs, so much so that Vox published a counterpoint that is getting much less traction because it talks about labor rights among academics, rather than how the feminazis are taking over the world. Which is a shame because the rotten career prospects for academics is screwing up higher education way more than a few touchy knobs.

But that's exactly why so few people care - Americans, liberal or conservative, are always more concerned with propriety than people.

This is why "identity politics" and "political correctness" are such bugaboos of the American rightwing. As the most terminally Victorian people since the Pontifex family, they just can't abide any higher education that isn't on Jesus or "practical" things like bricks. Really, so much of rightwing criticism of academia in America boils down to "We're stoopid and we likes it!" So any sign that university culture might be bad - real or imagined - is paraded around on social media as just more proof that the world is going to Heck in a handbasket.

They're morons, but you knew that already.

But what to make of all the earnest liberals decrying identity politics in the classroom? That very earnestness is the clue - like their neovictorian cousins at Fox and Brietbart, many a white American progressive isn't so much concerned with progress as politeness. It's why they initially jumped on the PC bandwagon, not out of sympathy for those oppressed by the systemic racism of an inhuman capitalists system, but because words like "spic" and "queer" are uncouth. Not the sort of thing you want to say in a job interview.

And that's what really has Anonymous Yuppie Proff's pants in a knot - how an offended student may damage his career prospects. As Taub points out - with actual statistics - getting sacked for not putting enough trigger warnings in the syllabus is practically unheard of, despite the supposed powers of the PC students' lobby. Yet Anonyprof lives in terror of this bogeyman for precisely the same reason of any other muddling American - his career is the be-all-end-all of his existence. Not the pursuit of knowledge, not teaching waterheaded undergrads, but the comfort and security of the tenure-track.

Careerism is the unspoken, bipartisan principle of all Real Americans. That's where this united front against "PC Totalitarianism" is coming from. Much like the original Victorians, these modern Southeys are more offended by threats to their careers, to the imagined security of their dull middle class cages, than by the very real bigotry and suffering that still goes on in America. Like Tennyson traveling Ireland in a sealed carriage, desperately ignoring any sights of "Irish distress."

History's greatest monster.

As the past seven years have shown everyone, America is still a very un-enlightened place. A whole political movement was birthed out of Calvinist contempt for the poor and blatant racism. The most recent Supreme Court cases have all been about limiting access to contraception - a fight most sane people considered finished - and income inequality is fast turning the celebrated City on the Hill into Russia circa 1997.

There is certainly a lot of distress in America today. Not just in the systemic racism laid bare by one police abuse after another, but also in that the crux of Anonymous Pisser's original article is the lack of labor rights in academia. That bit should have tipped everyone off it's not the oversensitive undergrads who are the problem but rather university administrations running their schools like a business, complete with squeezing workers for more labor at less pay. That the white liberals are trying to sneak out of this particular conflict now through hand-wringing over the very "language policing" they pioneered should really come as no shock though. If they had the stomach for a real fight, they wouldn't have abandoned Marx half a century ago.

UPDATE: "I'm a professor. My colleagues who let their students dictate what they teach are cowards" by Dr. Koritha Mitchell.

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