27 September 2008

The Treason of the (Australian) Intellectuals

Australia’s defense forces are being trained by an academic who argues that:

In the wake of 9/11, our critical task is not to help power seek out and destroy the “enemies of freedom” but to question how they were constructed AS enemies of freedom. It is to wonder if we, the free, might already be enemies of freedom in the very process of imagining and defending it.
This professor is not a lone eccentric; he represents a mainstream school of academic thought. If you find this hard to believe, you haven’t been paying attention to the “treason of the intellectuals” that has been the stock-in-trade of Australia’s humanities faculties for decades.

Australia’s tax-paid humanities professors are supposed to be the professional guardians of the country’s culture. But all too many of them are profound enemies of the enlightenment heritage that made Australia a country people are willing to pay any price to get into, rather than the sort of country people risk their lives to get out of. These professors do not spy for foreign powers or plot terrorist strikes. The professor quoted above protests that he considers terrorism: “immoral, unjustifiable and politically counter-productive”. The treason of the intellectuals is not political and violent, but philosophical and erudite. But it is no less serious a threat for that. Last century the academics tried to waltz us into communism - this century they do the postmodernist spin.

Trying to get a grip on the postmodernists in our universities is like trying to get a grip on eels in a pond. You know they’re there by their rippling effects but when you try to get a grip on one he slithers out of your grasp declaring he is not a postmodernist at all, but a poststructuralist or deconstructionist or constructivist or post-colonialist or simply a broad-minded fellow trying to see things from the “Others” perspective. But as he departs into a swirl of muddied waters you know by what is left on your hands that he represents something diabolical.

Postmodernism is not based on the recognition that different people observe the same fact from different perspectives, but on the assumption that those different perspectives are all there is – which means that there is no such thing as the truth, just different people’s or groups’ different “truths” as created by their texts. Due to the conga line of philosophical corruptions that led to it, this premise sounds reasonable to many students, and even those who sense that there is something wrong with it are inclined to go along for the ride, or to be fashionable, or for good grades, on the assumption that theoretical clap trap is of little importance to peoples practical lives. But the problem with theory is that it has practical consequences, and the consequences of postmodernist clap trap are nihilistic.

Of course different people do observe the same fact from different perspectives - but does that mean they are observing different facts, or different “truths”? Take the historical fact that in 1815 a battle was fought near the village of Waterloo. From the French perspective, it was a disastrous defeat, from the English perspective it was a triumphant victory. But does that mean there were two battles or two “truths”? There was obviously one battle, which was a disastrous defeat for the French and a triumphant victory for the English. This is not the English “truth” or the French “truth”, but the truth. But what if the English and French hold contrary views about who did what in the battle or about whose actions were strategically or morally justified? The point is that since views of what happened at Waterloo do not alter what actually happened there, when these views contradict each other, at least one of them must be wrong. It is legitimate to understand the other's point of view. It is not legitimate to confuse a point of view with the truth.

Postmodernists et al disagree. They believe that there is no truth, just “truths”: the French “truth”, the English “truth”, the male “truth”, the female “truth”, the Western “truth”, the Eastern “truth” etcetera; each of which may contradict the others, all of which are equally valid on their own terms. The contradictions that result do not faze postmodernists. They use empirically based logic when it serves a purpose, arbitrary assertion, contradictory supposition, unquestioned prejudice, indignant posturing or secular superstition when these do better. If there is no such thing as the truth, there is no such thing as an untruth, so provided its in an aproved cause, piostmodernists are liscenced to lie. They are not the first to be sucked into this relativist sink hole, but they are the ones currently spinning in the faucet.

In the real world, any truck driver, engineer or doctor who toyed with the theory that there is no one truth only different “truths” that can contradict each other would be quickly corrected by reality as their trucks crashed, their bridges collapsed or their patients died. But professors are far enough removed from the disastrous effects of their theories that they can get away with them for decades.

Last century the academics’ favorite theory was Marxism. From the Ivory Tower they envisioned Utopia shimmering on the horizon, and when they descended to the streets they mounted crusades in its name. When their vision turned out to be a mirage that dissolved to reveal a hellish reality, some of them backed themselves into a postmodernist bunker. They gave up on Utopian visions; when they venture out to sabotage the hated towers of power, they do so in the name of the “Other” - any “Other”.

In a letter protesting his outrage at being accused of being pro-terrorist, the professor at the centre of the current dispute stated that:

I argued that attempts by states to seek security by depriving others of it would be counterproductive and meaningless. In 2001 New York and Washington were struck, and in 2004 Osama Bin Laden stated that “we want to restore security to our Umma. Just as you violate our security, so we violate yours”. Who now is to tell me that my argument was not both prescient and policy relevant?
If there is no real world of immutable facts out there, only different texts created by different perceptions from different perspectives, all views are created equal, all cultures morally equivalent, all actions justifiable in the actors own terms – except of course the actions of the US and its allies, which, being “the power”, are self-evidently indictable.

If the spectacle of defense strategists claiming that the Western reaction to 9/11 was an “Islamophobic” construct; or of feminists fuming at the West in the name of an “Other” which entombs women in burkas; or of former champions of the hammer and sickle condemning industry in the name of the medieval “Other” and agriculture in the name of the Neolithic “Other” is bemusing, take a look at the philosophic premises being taught in our universities.

When Australia’s universities consign the country’s history, language, law, literature, politics, sociology, anthropology, education, even its medicine and defense to the tender mercies of postmodernist schooled academics they are surrendering its enlightenment culture. The only question is - to which “Other"?

PS: A full account of a dispute between the quoted professor and a whistle-blowing academic may be accessed here:

Dissent Intolerable, by Keith Windschuttle.

In other words, our defense policy should recognize that just as we view 9/11 as a violation of the security of a rights-protecting state, Islamic terrorists view our impediment to their establishment of a Caliphate of Islamic Theocracies as a violation of their security. It would, no doubt, strike this academic as meaningless or irrelevant, not to mention arrogant, for us to decide that our view is based on facts and is morally defensible, and Osama Bin Laden’s is not.