The Critical Theory of Academia: A Companion to The Star Chamber of Stanford

This is a work in progress and the third of Rony Guldman’s trilogy. He writes: “I originally intended the content of this manuscript to form the second part of The Star Chamber of Stanford but later decided to make it a separate volume, given its more theoretical nature and The Star Chamber’s already long page count. For this and other reasons, it remains a work in progress, and so parts of it are still somewhat rough. Even so, this text can help draw out the connections between The Star Chamber and Conservative Claims of Cultural Oppression.”

Here are some highlights:

* Let us recall that Joe and Barbara had both gone out of their way to urge an academic career upon me. Barbara [Fried] anticipated that I would be easily competitive for a position in a top law school. In a similar vein, Joe [Bankman] believed that I was poised to put together a writing package that would secure me a “top flight” job in a law school. He and Larry [Kramer] both agreed that I could one day become a leading luminary of legal academia. This was why they offered me Stanford Law School’s most prestigious and remunerative fellowship in the judgment that it would advance my academic career and in the process redound to Stanford’s own prestige and prominence. Yet in the end, I failed to secure a position, not only at a top law school, but at any law school whatsoever. The mystery, then, is what could explain this astonishing failure of prediction among these otherwise competent diviners of academic career prospects. Their judgment, which we have every reason to believe is generally sound, proved to be wildly off the mark in my particular case. So where exactly did they go wrong?

* The most obvious alternative to the bad luck hypothesis may be dubbed the “dereliction hypothesis,” and it goes something like this: Here was a guy with obvious ability. But he repeatedly ignored his mentors’ advice about how to translate that ability into an actual job. Both the substance of his research and his general attitude was characterized by a career-killing aloofness from both his colleagues and the milieu in which he would have to operate.
Hoping to remedy this problem, his advisors offered various counsels the purpose of which was to better integrate him with his colleagues and their ways—e.g., apprenticing himself to Jane Schacter, writing a book review for Barbara, auditing [Mitchell] Polinsky’s law and economics seminar, posting work on SSRN, and so forth. Yet all this was disregarded in the name of some higher end. It does not appear, however, that this higher end ever really materialized.
The prodigious work ethic that defined his performance in Legal Theory and earned him the fellowship appeared to have disappeared entirely over the course of the fellowship. A mere 38 pages of fairly crude draft had been submitted after an entire year. Whether this was because his work ethic actually faltered or because he lost his way after disregarding Barbara’s warning about the futility of writing on and on in the absence of a clear thesis, the end result was the same.
He was, moreover, little to be seen around the law school notwithstanding Barbara’s express request that he show his face more. What contact he did make was generally filled with hopeful promises about progress which was always anticipated to be just around the corner but never actually materialized. Given all this, it should have come as no great surprise that he was furthermore late in plunging into the 2009-2010 faculty hiring season, and that upon actually doing so he could offer nothing beyond a set of rather lengthy and grandiloquent summarizations of work most of which his advisors had never seen. These pretensions stood in sharp contrast with his lack of documented productivity over the preceding year, during which he had ample time to produce.

* I had to be “let alone” over the course of the fellowship, not because I disdained my Stanford colleagues as people, but because this was the only avenue of resistance left open to me given the cultural pathologies of liberalism, which they were seeking to foist upon me.

* In expecting me to follow up on all or most or at least some of their advice, Joe and Barbara were expecting the concessions of politeness. They had generously offered me the fellowship, allowing me to pursue my passion and sparing me the travails of sweatshop hours in a big law firm. In exchange, they were expecting at least a modicum of deference to their superior experience, wisdom, and expertise. And this deference was indeed withheld. But it was withheld for political reasons, because such deference would have involved a political concession to the cultural pathologies of liberalism. Writing a book review and attending a seminar might not have been all that time-consuming. But they would have sufficed to instill in me a “respect for forms,” a respect for the intellectual magistrature of the sacred college of masters. By progressively immersing me in an ethos of scholarly gravitas, my advisors’ advice would have by imperceptible increments effected my subordination to the established order.

* Larry [Kramer] had asked “what’s the story?” in inquiring about my failure to submit my CV to the Stanford resume book. And the story was, as neither of us could have anticipated at the time, the story of a term paper that came to life and became three-dimensional, the story of a term paper that was first written for Joe and Larry before it had to become about them as well.
Joe described the very first draft of Conservative Claims of Cultural Oppression as “lovely, in its way.” And that caveat was appropriate indeed, because the conspirators’ ideological dispositions placed them in inexorable opposition to the existential spirit of the project even as they were intrigued by it theoretically. This contradiction was the reason why Joe’s and Barbara’s frustration with me grew and grew over the first year of the fellowship, eating away at them, eventually transmuting into resentment, suspicion, and vengefulness. Their cultural parochialism compelled them perceive my conduct through categories indigenous to their habitus, rendering it ever more difficult for them to process me accurately with the passage of time. With one misinterpretation laying the foundations for the next, some kind of snowball effect was inevitable, which was what finally took hold in September 2009. The project was therefore a ticking time-bomb from the outset. Only the timing and other details of the explosion were ever indeterminate. And this is why all the seeming accidents detailed in The Star Chamber are held together by a consistent logic, the logic of my struggle against the liberal culture of which my advisors happened to be a part.

* The political hypothesis is a secular theodicy insofar as it seeks to discover a deeper meaning in the evil which befell me and to thereby redeem that evil within the unfolding of a higher good.

* An acquaintance of mine who sat as an editor at the Ohio State Law Review once explained to me that the mere ratio of footnotes to text plays a crucial role in their publication decisions. For a minimally footnoted article is likely to get cut off early on in the selection process, and without any specific determination that it actually needed to be better referenced. I also learned from one Stanford Law professor that some law schools (not Stanford) attach great significance to the footnote counts of published articles in their tenure decisions.
Certainly, anyone on the Stanford faculty would be aghast at such shallowness. But this shallowness is merely the most vulgar, undisguised, and unashamed manifestations of a more general cultural dysfunction that expresses itself with greater subtlety elsewhere. This dysfunction was the subject of my first, eventually abandoned dissertation topic at Indiana University, On Rigor: Against the Rationalization of Intellectual Life, where I intended to argue that the ideal of sober, chastened academic professionalism disguises a primordial self-mistrust and that this self-mistrust originates in a misbegotten paradigm of intellectual rigor.

* We need only consider the contrast between the uniqueness of handwriting and the mass standardization of type—to take only the most obvious, and perhaps most trivial, among them. If we accept the sacrifice of subjective culture to objective culture as a reasonable trade-off, this is because subjective culture seems to get in the way of the productivity that now assumes a preeminent value for us. Modern machine production may not “afford the personality the widest scope for releasing all its capacities.” But this is understood to be a mere luxury in relation to the essential. Subjective culture retains a place, to be sure, but this is in leisure, religion, family, and so forth, where it will not get in the way of more serious business.

* This accumulated intellectuality or “objectification of the mind,”4 as Simmel also calls it, is easily discernible in the standardization of tone, style, and concern that now defines “serious” or “professional” academic exchange. Academic life as it has come to exist is undergirded by an extensive conceptual scaffolding known as “the field” or ‘the debate” or the “literature. Carefully crafted by known and respected experts, this scaffolding is expected to channel our mental energy more prudently and efficiently than would be possible were we to proceed in an ostensibly more autonomous fashion. This is the sense in which intellectual life has become rationalized. It has become increasingly subject to methods, procedures, and precedents that ever more narrowly circumscribe the role of individual instinct and intuition. In the life of mind as in the life of the wider society, this rationalization seems like the sine qua non of efficiency and productivity.

* It is platitudinous that we ought to think independently within this inherited scaffolding. But thinking independently of it is disdained as idle, self-indulgent, and downright unprofessional. Whereas the former is heralded as the mark of professionalism and intellectual maturity, the latter is decried as an impatient and importunate amateurism that heedlessly sacrifices circumspectness and reliability to personal expressiveness and idiosyncrasy.

* This suspicion was first brought home to me during my graduate school days by the stark discrepancy between the impressively high level of analytical sophistication that moral philosophers bring to bear on their subject matter and the often pedestrian character of their basic quandaries—for instance, whether are we morally justified in ejecting one passenger from a life raft in order to save the lives of everyone else. The banality of these examples contrasted sharply with the evocativeness of the great novelists, and seemed to bespeak a certain lack of worldliness.

* Nietzsche is asking whether it is possible to reconcile the ancient claims of philosophy, the quest a comprehensive vision of human life, with the massive proliferation of specialized knowledge—and therefore with the kind of conceptual sophistication, capacity for nuance, and sense of humility that specialized learning inculcates. Long gone are the days when a philosopher could, in the fashion of an Aristotle, make sweeping pronouncements about politics, the natural world, and literature on the strength of his observations alone. To proceed in this manner would be to risk instant embarrassment at the hands of a long procession of experts each of whom was perfectly poised to expose one or another form of ignorance, glibness, or superficiality.

* This was why I remained convinced that thinking for oneself—rather than for the purpose of “advancing” the field—possesses an inherent value that will never be rendered obsolete by the cumulative achievements of the experts and will never be outweighed by its various dangers and inefficiencies, such as the concededly real risks of dilettantism, redundancy, and so forth. The dominant paradigm of intellectual rigor cannot recognize this inherent value because it operates atop the hidden, technocratic premise that we can make valuable use of accumulated intellectuality—of the cumulative achievements of experts as embodied in the academic literature—without expending the intellectual effort of thinking for ourselves, of following a thought to wherever it is leading us.

* the cultural prestige of the natural sciences and the desire of envious humanists to adopt their trappings through their own analogues of what they supposed is scientific rigor. The dominant paradigm of rigor was being motivated by certain identitarian imperatives that precluded any rational inquiry into their own foundations. The rationalization of intellectual life pretends to endow law and the humanities with scientificity, but it actually provides them with only the social simulacrum of scientificity, a set of undeclared social understandings the function of which is to help scholars feel like scientists.

* Emerson’s intellectual romanticism may fail to deliver on its promises most of the time. But is this because of the ideal’s intrinsic bankruptcy, because an anachronistic amateurism has by now been superseded by a sophisticated, reflective professionalism? Or is it rather because those whose identities are invested in that sophisticated, reflective professionalism have a vested interest in maintaining cultural conditions under which an opposing paradigm could never come to its own and would be discredited in the very attempt?

* The operating premise is that fealty to the experts, the state of the field, and so forth is necessary to inculcate the intellectual self-discipline required for thinking for oneself…

* [Russell] Jacoby explains why:

For political science, Ricci offers a strategy, which unfortunately testifies to the power of the profession. He knows that any young academic who frontally challenges the discipline will be shown the door. “At the outset of one’s teaching career,” he counsels, “it is advisable to display unexceptional qualities of professional competence, expressing sound opinions and publishing unremarkable writings. This tactic will help young scholars get tenure.” Once the academic is established, “boldness becomes more feasible”; it might even be possible to write up “some” thoughts in “plain English.” Unfortunately, Ricci does not realize, or has forgotten, that his strategy smacks of age-old advice—and suffers from the age-old failing: nothing changes. When finally the requisite rank and security have been attained, the talent, even the desire, for bold thinking has long since atrophied.

* The CASBS [at Stanford] Ideology is ideological in the same way that Horatio Alger novels are ideological. Both instill resignation to an oppressive status quo by offering the individual an illusory assessment of their future mobility. In the one case, the mobility is financial. In the other, it is intellectual. But the function is the same.

* Conservative Claims of Cultural Oppression argued that If liberals feel justified in elevating what they uphold as their own more “tangible” priorities above the merely “symbolic” or “cultural” preoccupations of conservatives, this is because they accept a certain Enlightenment narrative according to which the modern liberal identity constitutes the achievement of a special level of self-possession, self-control, and self-transparency that was unavailable to its predecessors. This is a special lucidity that, having transcended the shunted horizons of the pre-modern world, permits a mode of human satisfaction that transcends the merely symbolic. Charles Taylor writes:

“Fulfillment” is a natural term which comes often to our lips in this connection [in defining the humanly successful life for moderns]. But in the context of the pre-modern identity, to make something of one’s life is to realize in one’s own person a place in the pattern, well, fully, with éclat.
This by no means implies unselfishness. That is to see it in a modern perspective which distorts. It is rather a matter of a wholly different way of conceiving human satisfaction, including the most egoistic. On one side this can be seen as the fulfillment of desires which inhere in me; on the other, it comes from establishing my position in the order of things. Since the order occupies what is, to occupy a place in it firmly, fully, is to live a full life, one might say; to fail to do so is to sink toward the status of a shadow. A limpid everyday image of one kind of satisfaction is the fulfillment of a felt desire for an object, like hunger or thirst; an image for the other would be rather that of approaching a source of light or warmth, for example getting close to a fire.

* If moderns are by contrast occupied with “fulfillment,” this is because they view themselves as liberated from the teleological illusions that informed pre-moderns’ commitment to some all-encompassing normative cosmology. Modern fulfillment can be analogized to the satisfaction of hunger or thirst because it is premised on attunement to the needs within rather than loyalty to the order without, in which we no longer believe.

* Pre-moderns did not merely possess different religious beliefs than do we, but were, one could say, differently possessed by those beliefs. These beliefs informed, not only their decisions and deliberations, but, more profoundly, their very sense of themselves as agents. And this was their sense of themselves as “opened up” to forces that could, for good or ill, penetrate and mold their own affect-structure, sweeping them into realms of meaning from which they could not extricate themselves. Hence the notion of demonic possession, which is merely one manifestation of this pre-modern “porousness.” The sense of being “filled” with God’s spirit is another, and in fact remains with us on some level. The teleologies of pre-moderns weren’t just convictions, but rather the very substrate of human agency as they experienced it. The order of things, and so the significance of particular things, was not merely believed in, but inhabited, impinging on individuals more like the temperature or humidity than as an object of visual perception…

* This naturalistic disengagement of the modern liberal identity, or buffered identity, has become understood as the sine qua non, not only of individual autonomy, but also of a properly enlightened social morality, which thinkers of the Enlightenment thinkers viewed as just two sides of the same coin. For it is only by coming to understand ourselves as operating in a “neutral,” teleologically barren environment that we can recognize others as doing the same, and so recognize that their rights on this front are equal to our own. This, in turn, is the prerequisite for a rational social order predicated on mutual human benefit, an order that will no longer sacrifice bona fide human fulfillment on the altar of unreflective teleological illusion. To this end, we have come to embrace what Taylor describes as the quintessentially modern ethic of “of independence, self-control, self-responsibility… a disengagement which brings control; a stance which requires courage, the refusal of the easy comforts of conformity to authority, of the consolations of an enchanted world, of the surrender to the promptings of the senses.”4 I will refer to this as this ethos of disengaged self-control and self-reflexivity for short.

* On the mutation counter-narrative, modernity develops, not simply through the casting off of superstition in favor of reason and empiricism, but because church and state colluded to engineer the habits, attitudes, and emotional lives of populations away from their earlier, default porousness in order to create a disciplined social order…

* As European kingdoms became more centralized and internally secure, a previously autonomous aristocracy became absorbed into the life of the great monarchic courts, where these erstwhile warriors would become transformed into courtiers.

* Whereas the subtraction account sees modernity as a gradual expansion of individual liberty, the mutation counter-narrative sees it as a gradual expansion of social control. For the new elites erected a new police state to ensure that the lower orders be “not left as they are, but badgered bullied, pushed, preached at, drilled, and organized to abandon their lax and disorganized folkways and conform to one or another feature of civil behavior.” The medieval world involved a lot of live and let live despite the official strictures of Christian theology.

* We now associate the ethos of disengaged self-control and self-reflexivity with science and secularism. But it developed historically as a religious imperative, as a form of submission before a particular conception of divinity, a way of affirming the de-sacralized understanding of nature that was the corollary of that conception. Who we presently are cannot be comprehended apart from this religious history. For it was this history that provided the basic materials that later became subject to secularization. The “secular” is not the bare elimination of the religious, but rather the secularization of what was formerly religious.

* What liberals understand to be their superior “civility” is a modernized and politicized reconstitution of courtly politeness, which permits liberals to dismiss conservatism as the eruption of a rude and crude animality that is incompatible with the higher refinement of liberal sensibilities.

* Whereas older, traditionalist forms of social hierarchy revolved around perceived differences in such things as moral cleanliness, work ethic, as well as religious affiliation and ethnic bona fides, the new social hierarchy entrenched by liberalism is grounded in “cognitive elitism” and centers around a morally charged dichotomy between those who have realized the buffered distance and those who have not, between those who have achieved “awareness” and those still mired in a barbarian past of less fortunate peoples, the conservatives who remain subject to the “promptings of the senses” and the “consolations of the enchanted world.” This is what liberals ultimately detest in the “bitter-clingers,” as the National Review says, who are viewed, not simply as mistaken, but as occupying a lower moral and cognitive plane. If liberals can claim to reject elitism, intimidation, and intolerance, this is only because impulses which were once acknowledged openly by an earlier generation of modern elites have simply faded into the invisible, taken-for-granted background of things, covered over by a veneer of pragmatism and moral common sense—like concern about mass shootings.

* But given the buffered distance’s status as an original spiritual vision, the liberal identity can only perpetuate itself by discovering irrational prejudice as the basis for its own self-affirmation. To this end, liberals must continually posit novel forms of social oppression and blindness which it is their singular privilege to perceive. Since the buffered distance can be maintained in existence only by replacing the oppression and blindness which has recently been eliminated by novel iterations thereof, the gap between the sensibilities of the “ordinary American” celebrated by conservatives and liberals’ presumptions to moral and epistemic superiority must be continually maintained irrespective of whatever social changes have already been effected. Hence conservatives’ complaints that the liberal goal post is always being moved regardless of what they concede to the Left. The more greatly liberalism realizes itself in action, the further removed must these novel forms of oppression and blindness be from traditional understandings of these terms. It is this interminable chasm that lies at the root of what we have come to know as the “culture wars.”

* The professional scholar is buffered because he possesses a ready framework and a network of colleagues through which to shield himself from unruly passions. This social embeddedness provides whim with an “inner base area” through which to disengage from his own first, second, and third impressions. By contrast, the mind of the dilettante is comparatively “porous.” Lacking a vantage point from which to coolly assess his thoughts’ actual clarity, cogency, and persuasiveness, he can find himself overcome by them, unable to distance himself from their subjective pull. We observed that pre-modern medievals gave way to their impulses “more freely, more directly, more openly,” than moderns, “in whom everything is more subdued, moderate and calculated.” And this is also the contrast between the dilettante and the scholar in their relationship to their intellectual impulses, which are freely vented by the dilettante but carefully vetted by the serious scholar. The emotional lives of pre-moderns were “less evenly regulated,” so that “slight impressions, uncontrollable associations are often enough to induce these immense fluctuations.” And this also describes the intellectual life of the dilettante, whose inquires go unregulated by the experts, the literature, and the state of the field, leaving him liable to oscillate wildly between different, often conflicting, lines of argument and inquiry.

* The rationalization of intellectual life is but one instance of the rationalization—which is to say, mechanization, regimentation, and routinization—of life in general that grows out of the ordering impulses of the buffered identity. Thus understood, the rationalization of intellectual life is, like other facets of rationalization, an ambiguous admixture of rational and irrational elements, of practices and ideals that, while admitting of some rational applications, were originally brought into being through the collusion of impulses that developed independently of any rational considerations.

* Liberals will usually have a superior command of language, but the claimants have a superior command of the other side of language, of the unstated understandings toward which our words “point” but which they do not encapsulate.

* what these elites mistake for an “education gap” between themselves and conservatives is in fact an “indoctrination gap.” The “wide consensus among the better educated on different questions is not proof that they have been taught to think for themselves, but irrefutable evidence that they have been programmed to think alike.”

* The elites cannot recognize that the liberal virtues are not free standing, but rather bound up with a thicker identity that must be upheld socially through all the unstated or understated mores of the liberal culture. The children of light may see themselves as liberated souls who have cast off the confining illusions and horizons of the past. But underneath this self-image likes a distinct culture, an indigenous “traditionalism” outside of which they refuse to think.

* In urging that I show my face around the law school more, Barbara were urging that I take up residence at “court,” so that I might, as Elias says, “live surrounded by people” and become subject to “new ties of interdependence.” Joe was already urging these ties upon me at our August 2008 meeting, when he conveyed his concern that prospective employers would be left uncertain about what exactly I had to offer them as colleagues. In stressing that this problem would have to be solved over the course of the fellowship, he was requesting that I undertake what Taylor calls the “self-refashioning” of “polished elites.” I wanted to become a law professor after all, and law professors are among the most polished of modern elites. But no such self-refashioning was forthcoming over the following months, which was why this once again became an issue at our December 2008 meeting. Time was slipping away, and it was clear that I had yet to adopt the peculiarly courtly rationality needed to operate in modern social structures marked by complex ties of interdependence. Hoping to correct this problem, Joe and Barbara urged a series of courtship rituals upon me—impressing Polinsky with my law and economics acumen, dispatching sycophantic feedback to our Wednesday afternoon speakers in the hopes of catching their attention. Joe and Barbara’s advice could promote the peculiarly courtly rationality because that rationality had been sedimented in the academic habitus, where it exists as the invisible taken-for-granted background of things.

* In seeking to encumber me with various projects and duties, they were attempting to rationalize, discipline, and professionalize my life, to extirpate what they judged to be my own lax and disorganized folkways and replace these with the ideals of the buffered distance—discipline, education, decorum, and good political order. Like modern elites before them, they hoped to produce what Taylor describes as a “tight, ordered time environment” that turns our time into “a precious resource, not to be ‘wasted’”—as they believed was already occurring in my case. Hence Barbara’s anxiety that the job-talk paper wouldn’t be completed soon enough to circulate, or her request that I provide her with a summary or outline of the religious neutrality project ASAP.

* I in pre-modern fashion adopt the life of the pre-courtierized nobility, usurping the fellowship as my own private fiefdom and remaining in the confines of my San Francisco studio, as a “relatively free man, the master of his own castle, whose castle is his homeland.” Having dispensed me the fellowship, Joe and Barbara remained my nominal liege lords. But my seclusion meant that their actual power over me was fairly limited, just as it was for feudal monarchs. This was not bare “dereliction,” but the sine qua non of my research agenda. For it was this lifestyle that propelled my gradual regression into a more pre-modern, pre-buffered consciousness.

* Joe’s and Barbara’s advice wasn’t harsh or abrasive. At every point, it aimed not to prevent but to invent, not to prohibit but to promote, not to negate but to affirm, not to annihilate but to create. Taken together, their counsels might well have led me to what Joe called a “top-flight job in a law school” as “surely and effortlessly” as “water [passes] through a ‘duct’ (ducere).” So Joe’s and Barbara’s good intentions were beyond dispute. But these good intentions were nevertheless structured by a disciplinary power the function of which was to progressively mold me into a highly intelligent, provocative, productive scholar.

* In determining whether I was indeed the best candidate, hiring committees would be asking themselves how many articles I was likely to publish and in what journals, and how frequently and favorably they would be cited and by whom.

* The “ways of the scholar” are a framework not only for thinking but also for identity, not just a set of disembodied principles but an embodied hero-system. And so liberals are just as beholden to a pre-modern “order of things” as are conservatives. Whereas this order is, for conservatives, embedded in public space, enforced by the precepts of religion and tradition, it is, for academic liberal elites, intellectualized and privatized within their professional enclaves, enforced by disciplinary power exercised through a lumbering machinery of argumentation. Hence the core of truth in Robert Bork’s observation that the left wields power through “mini-tyrannies”8 and that “[m]odern liberalism…is what fascism looks like when it has captured significant institutions, most notably the universities, but has no possibility of becoming mass movements or of gaining power over government or the broader society through force or the threat of force.”

* Jacoby observes:
Exposés and denunciations of academic sophistry and careerism can often be found in conservative journals, such as The New Criterion, Commentary, American Scholar, but rarely in left and liberal ones. Conservatives honor men of letters, regularly attacking professors and academic hustlers. Why?…In principle, conservatives have been less tempted by institutional or governmental solutions to social ills. At least since Edmunde Burke, they have objected to experts, lawyers, or professors meddling in government or society; this is the crux of the conservative critique of the Enlightenment. They have prized the man of letters devoted to letters, not politics…The same homage to the aristocratic man of letters explains some of the conservatives’ success and public presence; they object to academic entrepreneurialism and its language. Unlike left academics, more easily seduced by professional journals, jargon, and life, the conservatives are committed to lucid prose; for this reason they are readable and are read.”

* With their hero-systems rooted in God, Country, and Family, their identities are not invested in the rationalization of intellectual life. Conservatives can therefore recognize this rationalization for what it is, as a social structure that subserves the identities of liberals. This is why they aren’t so easily seduced by the professional journals and jargon that constitute a secular religion for some liberals.

* Just as gays’ supposed sexual license can, as Martha Nussbaum observes, provoke a disgust-based reaction in traditionalists, so my supposed intellectual license provoked a disgust-based reaction from Barbara.

* This arrogation could be seen in Nomi Stolzenberg’s reaction to my religious neutrality project. Her overall assessment was highly favorable, as I related. But her membership in a cultural bourgeoisie was betrayed by her admonition that I needed to be “giving credit where credit is due” when she discussed various scholarly writings that were relevant to my subject matter but hadn’t been cited in what she read. Obviously, I had an obligation to cite anyone who actually influenced my argument. But this obligation had in fact been fulfilled, as I cited these scholars in direct proportion to their influence. Stolzenberg’s concern wasn’t these individuals, but rather others who hadn’t actually influenced me but had already come upon some version of some of my ideas.

* Man’s meaning hangs by a ludicrously fragile thread because that meaning rests on the inherently unstable fiction that a socially constructed reality is a natural reality, and because it sometimes requires very little to expose that what had passed for the latter is in fact the former.

* my advisors and I were all along attuned to one another in ways that can only be described as uncanny. There was Joe’s decision to direct me toward the topic of religion, without which the August epiphany wouldn’t have been possible. Then there were his and Barbara’s many astonishing premonitions, their seemingly casual remarks that all anticipated the singular course of events that laid on the horizon—the thought of me as a “mad genius,” the observation that I operated “one level up” and had a tendency to “make specimens” of others.

* I may now, in retrospect and upon reflection, have to concede a possibility that I did not acknowledge in my original employment complaint to human resources. And this is that it was perhaps I, and not Stanford, who most egregiously transgressed the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The declared purpose of the Gaither Fellowship is to “train law students for academic careers.” But I employed that opportunity to train myself against the entire scale of values implicit in that aspiration, to train myself to recognize its many contradictions, to educate myself against my age, as Nietzsche believes was the distinctive value of Schopenhauer.15 And this was most assuredly not the purpose of the Gaither fellowship. How, then, do I justify myself in my recalcitrance? Joe, Larry, and Barbara were under no moral obligation to offer me the fellowship. But rather than accepting the general ground rules which had been laid out, albeit tacitly, I exploited the inherent amorphousness of my role as a fellow in order to pursue my own agenda on Stanford’s dime. Whatever my achievements may have been, were they not purchased at the price of this enormous ingratitude?

* Janet E. Hale-Benson, for instance, believes that black children possess distinctively black cognitive traits that merit various kinds of institutional recognition and protection. In her Black Children: Their Roots, Culture, and Learning Styles, she argues that
1) “Afro-American people tend to respond to things in terms of the whole picture… [whereas] the Euro-American tends to believe that anything can be divided and subdivided into pieces.”
2) “Afro-American people tend to approximate space, numbers, and time rather than stick to strict accuracy.”
3) “Afro-American people in general tend not to be ‘word’ dependent. They tend [instead?] to be very proficient in nonverbal communications.”
4) “Black people think in terms of approximation of time, rather than punctuality. An ‘in house’ expression is ‘C.P.T.’—meaning ‘Colored People’s Time’!… Meetings that begin on C.P.Time usually begin about twenty minutes after the appointed time.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
This entry was posted in Academia. Bookmark the permalink.