Letter to the Editor: Prof speaks his mind on politics

Attention, descendants of the Enlightenment:  While you were consumed by Bushphobia, your accounts in Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association – College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF) Ville were burning. So now academe is ripe for a takeover by the Synthesis Company, located in the Vale of Common Sense (not far from Silicone Valley). Those whose heads were tightly screwed on neither to the right nor to the left — mostly the independent sort who did his/her own homework — escaped unscathed by reallocating into TIAA instruments and MMFs.

Lesson number one: Trust but verify. Don’t trust any type of government at any level to look out at any time, whether the bull bellows or the bear grunts, for your best economic interests.

Lesson number two: In honor of Brecht’s precious maxim, “Erst kommt das Fressen und dann kommt die Moral” (loosely translated as, “Eat first, then worry about ethics”), give some thought to the probability that the economic carnage among TIAA-CREF participants is no mere accident. If the traditional liberal and union passion for economic fairness had not been sidetracked into the quicksand-trap of the culture war, more of the Ph.D. class would have been better equipped to take preventive measures during a major market downturn. Don’t you understand that conservatives have been running circles around you? You can only lose on their turf. United around economic issues, you’re unbeatable. The veni, vidi, vici may be rich strategy if you belong to the tribe of Caesar; it makes for impoverished unionism when limited resources are diverted to lampooning the likes of Gov. Huckabee in the name of cherished ideals. (I know it’s a long lesson but bear with me.) A virus called Bushitis has found asylum in the body politic of academe and left it in a state of cold-war antagonism. The Soviet Union has been reduced to Russia, but the academy has yet to assimilate the dismal failure of socialism in practice (however splendidly it reads in theory). The proliferation of attacks on Jeffersonian capitalism in the name of all sorts of dysfunctional systems, while they may warm the cockles of your hearts, will not add a single dollar to our paychecks. Just as existence predates essence (apologies to Plato and Jung), so too food for the table precedes food for thought.

Lesson number three: As an independent who has lived long enough to wish “a pox on both houses,” left and right, in furtherance of a hope to return to the center, I urge you to stop thinking most, if not all, of the time with the left side of your brain. Don’t you have a right side too? Since when does “know thyself” refer only to one portion of the brain (though studies do confirm that all too many jobs cause mental atrophy, given they require between 7 percent and 10 percent of one’s brain power)?

Lesson number four: Which brings me to the labeling game: If you’re accusing someone like Gov. Huckabee of homophobia, you’d better do some rudimentary research, or else you’ll star in a Keystone comedy, taking a pratfall down Memory Lane. In 1996, when Bubba (no, not the Bundesbank), our own Bill Clinton, supported the amendment in favor of maintaining the traditional definition of marriage, he was not considered homophobic, nor is he considered so today. Unless revisionists are hard at work, President Clinton is a respectable Democrat. A rhetorical question, please: Is there any doubt that, should the Man from Hope grace us with an expensive presence, no one in his/her left mind would dare organize a protest, megaphone and all? Well, then stop thinking all the time with the left side of your brain, or else enfeebled attempts from the left will so tarnish worthwhile causes that the rest of the nation will automatically shut you out of the national discourse.

Lesson number five: Is Gov. Huckabee, alias Nasty McNasty to the left and Huck Our Man to the right, really antiscience? Please consider: Why this fatal attraction to the fetus, when there’s already a good deal of scientific recognition that adult stem cells offer promising results? Well, is Our Nasty Man then opposed to adult stem-cell research?

Lesson number six: And since when is the demonization of religion by the left to be taken seriously, especially when one realizes that the treasures of scholasticism are so steeped in Aristotelian and Platonic thoughts that the major scientists of later periods could not easily part with them? It has been claimed that the First Law of Thermodynamics is a secularization of the Western definition of God. Some of my best teachers in science and mathematics were Jesuits. The rift between evolution and creationism is a straw man on either side of the confrontation. Corner a creationist and s/he is bound to admit that Adam’s and Eve’s  anatomies are not the same as today’s Tom, Dick, and Harriet, which is an implied admission — not that God is imperfect — but that God’s creations change over time: hence creationism recognizes evolution. The disagreement centers on the concepts of perfection versus imperfection. For a scientist change implies unfinished business, hence imperfection. For a creationist, each and every creature — because of its divine origin — is perfect (warts and all) in its own time and environment.

Lesson number seven: Which brings me to the need to give preferential treatment to the Synthesis Company’s takeover of Academe, whether friendly or hostile, to bring back an era of civility in the discourse between left and right.

Fitting ideas into a particular camp requires you to oversimplify them. Again, disinformation and distortion can result. Less knowledge is gained, not more. And time spent attacking an opponent or defending against attacks is not spent doing something else — like original research (Deborah Tannen, “The Roots of Debate in Education and the Hope of Dialogue,” from The Argument Culture: Moving from Debate to Dialouge).

Postscript:

In short, I remain silent on the silly charge that Huckabeean support of Bushite tax cuts is a sign of benighted economics, when our Man in the White House has pledged himself to cut taxes on 95 percent of working stiffs. In the spirit of synthesis, President Obama appears to have resolved (at least in theory so far) the tension between raising no one’s taxes and lowering them for all. How could anyone interested in gaining knowledge now claim that Obama is the anti-Bush? You thought you saw the end of Bush? Dream on. The course of history is not accommodative to straw-man theory.

In brief, the attempted Huckacide reminds me of a limerick from Edward Lear’s Book of Nonsense (1846):

There was an old Man of the Dee.
Who was sadly annoyed by a Flea;
When he said, “I will scratch it!”
They gave him a hatchet
Which grieved that old Man of the Dee.

As an independent, I regret the infelicitous (implied) metaphoric assonance from Huckabee to flea. Nothing in the preceding lessons suggests that Gov. Huckabee’s bites are deserving of cacalier treatment and the kind of misinformation (let’s hope not disinformation) evident in the e-mail we received before his appearance on campus, even if he himself were to write off the brouhaha as an April Fools’ Day, megaphone and all, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (from Macbeth).

I sincerely hope that when we voted for the much ballyhooed change, we meant it not to enshrine business as usual in the White House and, by extension, to expose it once again to the body politic, but to usher in an era of genuine tolerance of diversity.
Dr. Fred Lasser
Adjunct Instructor
English Department

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