The ivy tower of gibberish

Posted: Sep 08, 2003 12:00 AM

We move toward the second commemoration of the date that also lives in infamy, still puzzling over how so many intellectuals, so called, literary sophisticates and fatuous scribblers could have spoken and written so much idiocy, metaphorical and otherwise, about what happened on Sept. 11 at Ground Zero.

"Two years of gibberish," Geoffrey Wheatcroft calls it in the British magazine Prospect. He collected some of the most blatant examples of hideous perceptions, showing how easy it is for man's word to exceed his grasp.

Adam Gopnik, writing in New Yorker magazine, detected an aroma at Ground Zero "almost like the smell of smoked mozzarella." Novelist Alice Walker mused over the appropriate punishment for Osama bin Laden: "What would happen to his cool armor if he could be reminded of all the good, nonviolent things he has done?" she asked. "What would happen to him if he could be brought to understand the preciousness of the lives he has destroyed? I firmly believe the only punishment that works is love."

Mary Beard, classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement, felt required to admit a feeling she shared with many of her colleagues, "that the United States had it coming." Michael Moore, the documentary-film maker determined to prove that he's the most stupid white man around, lamented that the target was New York City.

"If someone did this to get back at Bush," he said, "then they did so by killing thousands of people who did not vote for him! Boston, New York, D.C., and the planes' destination of California - these were places that voted against Bush." Their mistake was merely in their targets; the Islamist bombers should have aimed at cities in the red states.

Mr. Wheatcroft detects a mindset that binds these intellects to militant Islam: "They share the common experience of defeat." Islam is still waiting for a renaissance of its golden years between the 8th and 12th centuries. If the Leninist left was buried in the rubble of the Berlin Wall, the literary academics are still trying to climb out of the ashes of Ground Zero.

The double-think of the left is seen most starkly in the works of Noam Chomsky, who continues to enjoy a following among naïve and politically correct sophomores. Clothed in the rhetoric of moral arrogance, Chomsky has preserved the forked tongue he famously revealed in the '60s when he wrote of his opposition to the Vietnam War in the New York Review of Books: "It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies."

True enough, of course, as far as it goes. But, as numerous critics have pointed out, his "truth" doesn't go very far. Not only is it one-sided, he only finds it among those who agree with the theology of the radical anticapitalist church. At different times, his saints have been Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Mao Tse-tung and Ho Chi Minh.

He's only comfortable preaching to congregations of students who are not knowledgeable enough to question his doublespeak, who haven't yet engaged their minds in the practicalities of real life.

One provocative debate on the Internet draws attention to the sheltered lives of those men and women who live inside ivy walls, the professors who never test their theoretical knowledge in either government or business, and their acolytes who cling to the radical left catechism without experiencing the suffering such thinking has wrought. They take no responsibility for their words.

In "Real World 101," Arnold Kling, an economist (, argues that "for most of us it is common sense that freedom and responsibility go hand in hand." Academics, on the other hand, lack the discipline that comes from responsibility. Professors enjoy autonomy with little insecurity, and hence never take the risks and challenges of working for a bureaucracy or a boss.

They have no understanding of what it's like to work the high wire without a net, and squeal like stuck pigs if someone suggests taking away the tenure that few have in real life. They rail at the "oppression" of religious folk in the West, finding little to condemn or criticize in the Islamic states. They look for the "root causes" of the angst of the suicide bombers recruited from the wealthy, educated and privileged classes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Gibberish has largely replaced scholarship amongst the stunted trees in the grove of academe. We can expect more examples over the next few days. Who would have guessed that when the World Trade Center towers fell they would have been replaced by an ivy-covered Tower of Babel?