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October 7, 2008

The Noble Lies Of PC

By Robert Weissberg

"..the one aspect of American culture and society most in need of improvement and investment--education--has been greeted by deafening silence on the part of all candidates."

Leon Botstein, president of Bard College in his "charge" to the Class of 2008. Leon forgets to mention that all of today's presidential candidates, including also-rans, offer detailed prescriptions for fixing education and US spending on education has for decades out-paced inflation and even government health care spending. In other words, class of 2008, when it comes to saving the world, just make it up. Why bother with inconvenient truths.

Universities, it would seem, are committed to uncovering truth. Exceptions occasionally occur, and a small contingent insists that there is no such thing as objective truth, but for the most part, professors who make up data or plagiarize are usually caught and punished. Recall that Ward Churchill was fired for research misconduct and fraud, not his loathsome views, and even fellow travelers could not justify deception. Professors may exaggerate a bit, disregard awkward findings or even tilt research towards pre-conceived outcomes, but it would be professional suicide to insist that 2+2=5.

Unfortunately, a major exception exists, and this might be called the "Grand Noble Lie" whose purpose is not to deceive (the usual aim of a lie) but to reassure listeners so as to advance a career. Whereas conventional liars seek to cover their tracks (e.g., what is "is"), the effectiveness of the Grand Noble Lie depends on its blatant, plain-to-see falseness. It is insufficient to claim that 2+2=5 or for the timid 2=2=4.01; rather 2+2=100. This is an incredibly upside down world whereby those saying 2+2=100 may go on to glory while Professor Joe Average dreads being humiliated for citing a book he never read. That Grand Liars are more likely to be distinguished university presidents, or at least Deans, not under-the-gun junior faculty concocting data to get published, only makes the phenomena even more remarkable.

What are these Grand Noble Lies? They have undoubtedly existed forever (recall Plato's Golden Lies) but today they overwhelmingly concern university policy regarding race or, more generally, diversity. Prudence dictates hypothetical examples but the reader will surely recognize our illustrations. The paradigmatic example would be a President of an elite university telling assembled students and faculty that university admission standards were color blind so blacks and Hispanics on campus were just as qualified as whites and Asians. This would then be followed with "these minorities strengthen intellectual life and enhance education for everyone." Though we are not mind readers, it is inconceivable that listeners believe this rhetoric. As Graucho Marx put it, "who are you going to believe---me or your eyes?" Listeners daily encounter struggling blacks and Hispanics, hear about the expensive remedial programs to keep them academically afloat, see them gravitate towards easy-to-pass "ethnic" classes (which they often skip) while their classroom utterances often exhibit embarrassing ignorance or are just ideological rants. Ironically, campus race/ethnic group leaders openly admit these deficiencies and argue that such students be admitted despite their deficits. These advocates, unlike the university's president, happily document that blacks average 200 points less than whites on the SAT or that without resource-draining support services they would never graduate. Here honesty is rational since cataloguing shortcomings is vital to securing assistance, including their own jobs.

Does our mendacious president believe that these barefaced mistruths can go undiscovered? Hardly. Not only does the twaddle contradict plain-to-see reality, but written records would instantly expose these lies. A little research would reveal test score or graduation rates sub-divided by race and ethnicity, and with a bit more effort, it may be possible to disclose race-based admissions procedures. A lawsuit or Freedom of Information request would bare it all. Nor can the lying president hide behind executive privilege, national security or personal privacy to shield awkward facts. In other words, the mendacity is an open invitation to being exposed as a liar, and since there is no compelling reason, legal or otherwise, to mouth this nonsense, a rational person must wonder why it is done. What smart person, in a setting ostensibly venerating truth, would take the risks?

The answer is that, at least for certain segments of the academy, a willingness to go out on a shaky limb for a noble cause, to risk public disgrace, to humiliate oneself before rapt audiences is the surest sign of true commitment, and in today's often vicious university wars, only the most deeply committed need apply. As Joseph Schumpeter put it in his History of Economic Analysis, "The first thing that a man will do for his ideals is lie" and few are more idealistic than university administrators. Imagine a contest to achieve the highest moral ground in a PC-infused setting. Everybody will reaffirm the usual ideological banalities, e.g., America must adapt to a fast-changing multicultural world. What, however, will separate true champions from the also-rans? The answer, we submit, is the bold-faced fabrication that everybody knows to be a lie. This gesture evidences the highest commitment to the PC agenda for it unequivocally demonstrates that a job candidate will do anything for "the cause." True idealism, as per Schumpeter. Others may merely reaffirm that diversity is wonderful but the zealot will announce "research conclusively shows diversity's value" when nearly everyone knows the findings demonstrate no such thing or just the opposite. If confronted with the disconcerting truth, just follow Groucho---me or your eyes?

Of the utmost importance, the obvious lie shows that the speaker can be trusted to pursue the politically correct agenda regardless of obstacles. No need to worry that this opportunist will go wobbly. As in the Soviet Union, eagerness to lie in public was prima facie evidence of political reliability since who could rely on a compulsive truth-teller? An honest person might, after all, publicly admit that Marxism has failed or Uncle Joe made a mistake. Translated into Newspeak, only chronic liars are trustworthy, and in the battle for the university's soul, a leader must be absolutely dependable.

The Big Noble Lie will soon become the party line for fellow careerists. The Associate Dean aspiring for the Provost position will appoint a committee to promote even greater academic excellence by recruiting scholars from previously "under-utilized" groups. Meanwhile, the current on-the-make Provost will announce that all new university recruitment short lists, including positions in astrophysics and mathematics, must include at least one minority scholar. That these diversification efforts have foundered for decades is irrelevant; one must "get with the program" and the program requires public lying. Even the university President might turn it up a notch in the hope of gaining a high Washington appointment by demanding that the school's publicity department doctor photographs to show greater student and faculty diversity though this will likely be exposed. This is Medal of Honor commitment.

Nevertheless, are job-seekers inclined to frankness that much at a disadvantage? Are liars akin to unstoppable rabbits in Australia? In principle no, but less so in practice. What ultimately gives the liar the career advantage is that he or she can rely on a vocal, energetic constituency that demands lies. These groups, notably feminists, those preaching identity politics, and assorted radical ideologues, many with a well-deserved reputation for mayhem, are typically obsessed with university governance, the "come early, stay late" crowd (a favorite Marxist formula for capturing groups). Rest assured, they will gain representation on university search committees ("diversity) and successfully require all job candidates to embrace the "progressive" agenda or be blackballed. What can the job-seeker say when asked by an irate feminist, "What have you recently done to recruit more women electrical engineers?" Or if asked by an Afro-centrist education professor, "What is your specific plan for increasing black males on campus?" Does he or she say "Recruit the best, and that's that"? More likely, especially if the candidate wants the job, he or she will adopt the Paris-is-worth-the-Mass strategy: "Such recruitment is a serious challenge, and rest assured, under my leadership State U will succeed in attracting those from under-utilized groups. I personally guarantee it!"

Note well, it is less important that this is actually believed, either by the candidate or the recruitment committee. What is vital is hiring somebody who is capable of shamelessly lying if the occasion warrants it. Recall Samuel Goldwyn's advice about acting: good acting requires sincerity, and if you can fake that, you have it made. The liar is "trustworthy" by today's standards, and thus perfect to lead a university committed to the truth.

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Robert Weissberg is Professor of Political Science, Emeritus at The University of Illinois-Urbana, and occasionally teaches in the NYU Politics Department MA Program.





Comments (3)

Mike Porter:

Amazing! The truth in this piece almost makes up for the humiliation in having graduated from the same university system that employs Bill Ayers.

Paul Kunkel:

In fact, it was Chico Marx who said that, not Groucho. "Duck Soup"

Justin:

Dear Professor,

I am a 30 year old former PhD student from Vanderbilt's Dept. of Spanish and Portuguese. I speak 4 languages fluently: Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and English. I am from Boston, MA.

I want to let you know how much I admire you for your putting this entry in your blog. It is well-thought out, concise, to the point and bravely done.

PC is nothing short of thought control.

In a nation with a black President, I would be hard-pressed to endure the accusation of "racist" or "bigot" from anyone. These terms have been co-opted by a generation of weak-minded and lazy people of all colors, backgrounds, and creeds, including white people, to alienate the hard-working and the successful from achieving what they want in life.

If America is ever to "grow up" as a nation, then it is time to embrace an educational agenda that is neither Statist nor Politically Correct.

It is rather silly to state, but it seems to me that America needs to re-learn an old lesson, one that I was taught in kindergarten: "Sticks and stones may break by bones but words will never hurt me."

I think that America as a nation can agree that overt racial and sexist epithets are out: Out of the work-place and out of the university setting. No one who calls themselves "professional" in ANY field of study, any job, corporate setting, or small business who speaks in this manner has much of a chance of maintaining employment.

However, to insist that "minority" groups (which, numerically aren't so small anymore, as the word itself implies), "should" have the pathways to work or school made "easier" for them is a logical absurdity in the 21st century.

For younger America, Political Correctness has reared its ugly head as the hydra of THOUGHT CONTROL. It is also a giant apology on the part of white people to other races for slavery.

However, history has shown that Africans enslaved and sold Africans in the same way that Europeans enslaved an sold Africans.

So, now what? I would ask one of my black fellow-Americans. Now what?

Who is WORSE? The answer is no one.

Racism exists in within ALL racial groups: An Asian person can be just as racist as a white person, can be just as racist as a black person, and just as racist as a latino person.

Racism is, sadly so, a HUMAN condition.

Political Correctness was nothing more than an attempt to eradicate a phenomenon that has been a part of human history since its inception.

Am I arguing in favor of racism? NO!

To think so simply shows how indoctrinated that reader is in the CULT OF GUILT that Political Correctness has provided white Americans.

Ask yourself this, as a white person: Do you want to go around all day, with your head on the ground? No. Do you want to be a racist jerk? No.

Well, good. Don't. Pick your head up, have a little dignity, and, I would encourage young university students of ALL backgrounds, creeds, and beliefs, and colors: STOP HARRASSING YOUR PROFESSORS. They are there to TEACH you. You are there to LEARN. It doesn't matter if you don't "like" what they say.

Those men and women do not exist to please you.

They exist as the custodians of knowledge and the guardians of free-thought in this society and they must be treated as such.

If you have a dispute with a professor, Young America, I would urge you to go to their office hours, talk to them, and if you feel that nagging twinge of "I am about to get offended," try telling the Professor WHY you are about to get offended instead of attacking his or her livelihood.

I, shamefully, got offended and attacked a professor's livelihood.

He was and is a PC moron, but that did not give me the right to do what I did, which was make up a lie and try to get him fired. I am embarrassed and I apologize. Fortunately, the university had the good sense to ignore my claims and he is still working. He is still my ideological enemy because he believes in PC rhetoric, but he has his job.

We are a generation with A LOT of growing-up to do if we are ever going to see an America as economically successful ans safe and secure as it was in the 1980s.

Let's do each other a favor, shall we.

Drop the PC rhetoric.

Let the professors teach.

Let people speak their minds.

Don't be so "offended" all the time.

The racist people will select themselves out of the crowd all on their own.

If you can trust in some of what I have written here, then, America, we can start rebuilding our nation's shattered heart and soul.

Peace.

Justin Pickering
Future Secretary of Education of the USA, Patriotic Buddhist, and humble servant to the people of the United States.

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