A welcome blow for ineffective intellectuals

Jonah Goldberg
Posted: Apr 23, 2003 12:00 AM

"I wish to deny the effectiveness of intellectual work. And especially, I always wish to counsel people against the decision to go into the academy because they hope to be effective beyond it." That's what Stanley Fish had to say at what was billed as historic "intellectual town meeting" at the University of Chicago on April 11.

Stanley Fish, as you may know, is one of leftist academia's all-stars. If he was an athlete, they'd have retired his number and inducted him to the Hall of Fame already. And so when he says "intellectual work" is ineffective, it means something.

But Fish wasn't the only one to in effect recant the utility of his life's work at what The New York Times described as the "scholarly equivalent of an Afghan-style loya jirga." Sander L. Gilman, a professor of liberal arts and sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, declared, "I would make the argument that most criticism … is a poison pill."

He went on: "I think one must be careful in assuming that intellectuals have some kind of insight. In fact, if the track record of intellectuals is any indication, not only have intellectuals been wrong almost all of the time, but they have been wrong in corrosive and destructive ways."

As an amateur follower of the academic gobbledygook industry, I have to say this is music to my ears. It's almost as if the greatest and most successful plumbers in America, if not the world, got together and one by one declared that pipes, water pressure, gaskets, valves, even the very concept of "plumbing" was not only a fraud but a corrosive and destructive fraud.

Of course, it's not really like that at all, because the plumbers would be wrong. And, there's proof they'd be wrong. I turn the faucet on my sink and water comes out -proof that there's something to plumbing. Meanwhile, it's difficult to disprove the assertion that the forces of post-modernism have been anything but useless at best or corrosive and destructive at worst.

A quick recap may be in order. For those of you who have better things to do, there's this school of "thought" called "postmodernism" which puts quotation marks on "everything."- kind of like the way my dog Cosmo sheds his hair.

The reason so-called "PoMos" do this is because they believe there are no "capital-T" Truths. Rather, everything is mired in "perspective," which in turn is determined by various "interests," "privileges," and other "biases" and "prejudices," etc. All reality -or at least all of the reality we can experience -is "socially constructed," according to the PoMos.

As Stanley Fish explained in The New York Times a couple years ago, "Postmodernism maintains only that there can be no independent standard for determining which of many rival interpretations of an event is the true one."

Obviously, there's a lot more to postmodernism, there's critical theory, deconstructionism, structuralism, post-structuralism, post-Colonial theory, and at least 31 different flavors of Marxist and feminist nonsense. Each one of these fields has disciples willing to write billions of impenetrable words in defense of an argument nobody but the other disciples gives a hoot about.

It's easy to poke fun at this nonsense, but this Gilman guy was right when he said such garbage can be corrosive and destructive. The moral relativism implicit in postmodernism has soaked into the entire culture. The central assumption of post-modernism is that independent moral judgments are impossible and that conviction is a substitute for fact. If my personal truth is true "for me" no one can say otherwise.

On college campuses students are taught that they are the victims of racism, sexism, homophobia etc., solely if they feel like victims. Appeal to facts and evidence are irrelevant.

I once defended myself against the charge of racism from a college student by citing the definition from the dictionary. She responded that "dictionaries are meaningless" all that mattered is how she felt. "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter"; "it depends on the meaning of `is'"; "who are you to judge?"; "it's all relative"; "perception is reality"; on and on: These are the barnacles that build up on a society which takes postmodern thought seriously.

When Hillary Clinton ran for the Senate in 2000, she told voters the only question was which candidate is more "concerned" about the issues facing New Yorkers -not which candidate was more qualified or which candidate had better ideas.

If you can't grasp why this is a terrible trend, ask yourself this, When you hire a plumber are you looking for someone who can fix your toilet or are you looking for the person most concerned about fixing your toilet?

The answer explains why we don't hire postmodernists as plumbers, and why we shouldn't hire them as politicians -or professors -either.