Pushing My Buttons

I’m not normally into Fisking, but this column in Virginia Tech’s Collegiate Times has my blood boiling. A commentator described the column as fatuous, but it’s also quite representative of the kind of sloppy thinking I saw throughout my college experience.

Everything is being corporatized, which is reducing our freedom as individuals in today’s world.

“Corporatized?” This is a standard liberal bugaboo. From what I can gather, it’s some mystical sound that magically makes anything it is pronounced upon tainted and odious. And Mr. Stone is particularly effective here in casting it across “everything.” All freedom-loving people—nay, all freedom-loving “individuals”—should not be on alert.

The most recent example of this phenomenon was announced last Wednesday by the College of Business, which has received a $1 million gift from BB&T. The gift (better viewed as an investment by BB&T) will be given in $100,000 installments over the next ten years.

The wooziness continues. “The most recent example” of corporatization was nearly a week ago? Really? And this corporatization is represented by a gift to a university—a corporation—segment by a bank—another corporation? Is the writer really this naive? Oh wait, he’s a college student with five pomo courses courses under his belt. So that’s a silly question.

In return for the investment, the bank will be allowed to give high-profile public lectures in the Holtzman Alumni Center and to create a new undergraduate and graduate course where BB&T is allowed extensive freedom to choose the curriculum and syllabus. The course being offered is about “freedom” and its relation to the “market.”

Oh the horrors! The corporatization is even more insidious than we could have imagined. Not only is BB&T ponying up $1 million over ten years, they’re giving public lectures (no, “high-profile” public lectures) that no one has to go to and offering courses (low-profile?) that no one has to take. He sure wasn’t kidding about this attack on our freedom. In a supreme twist of irony, the very abuser of our freedom is making this course about “freedom!” And the “market,” which from the scare quotes is obviously a lie or fabrication or imaginary. The writer’s never heard of such a thing—and probably never will since he appears to be an aspiring academic.

During the hour-long lecture last Wednesday given by John Allison, the CEO and chairman of BB&T, the ideological agenda the bank wishes to promote was very apparent. The lecture was nothing more than a very boring and dry discussion that failed to go outside the most basic and elementary talking points for Objectivism, a radical free-market philosophy created by Ayn Rand. Free copies of Rand’s book “Atlas Shrugged” where given to every student in attendance.

Oh, the turgidity! After an “hour-long lecture” Allison’s views were “very apparent.” And you know his “very boring and dry discussion” is just going to attract college students in droves so they can be reprogrammed to be good little corporatizers. And you know they will because they “where” given a 1,200 page book that’s not required reading. He’s got them now!

According to Allison, the purpose of the gift to the university is to counter the bias that is already present in academia across the country. According to supporters of the corporate partnership, the class, which plans on discussing “the moral principles underlying free markets,” is fair and balanced because it teaches both Marxism and free markets by comparing and contrasting the two systems. The other free book given during Allison’s lecture was “The New Industrial State” by John Kenneth Galbraith.

The class, which presumably has already achieved sentience and is going to be one of the primary warriors in this battle against our freedom from being able to attend lectures at Virginia Tech, intends to cover this “market” nonsense by comparing it to Marxism. Oh, and the writer forgot to mention earlier that he also gave out another book. He can’t forget that fact, so now’s as good a time as any to throw that out there.

Such an argument, though, is based upon a false dichotomy and stems from a lack of reasoning. The question of bias in academia is not a “liberal” or “conservative” issue, nor is it a question of Marxism versus Capitalism. These are false dichotomies (especially in regards to a question of morality and capitalism) because there are many (if not infinite) different ideological frameworks that do not fall into either of those two categories.

Isn’t “dichotomy” a fun word to use over and over? This argument, presumably the one about <cite>The New Industrial State</cite> being the “other free book” handed out by Allison, suffers “a lack of reasoning.” I don’t really know why the name of the “other free book” is so controversial but it probably has something to do with dichotomies. This dichotomy is dichotomous and boy is it false! And bias in academia is infinite, so John Allison was way off track when he said there was just a liberal bias in academia.

To claim that bias is a question of liberal versus conservative is to demonstrate a lack of knowledge regarding how science functions and works.

Oh, he’s dropping science on you, John Allison! You’re in for it now. I looked it up and science just does not claim that bias is “a question of liberal versus conservative.” It has something to do with chemicals and gravity and stuff–way beyond the writer’s liberal arts province but he knows science enough to know that you’re no scientist, John Allison.

The framework called “Objectivism” is not simply an economic argument, but an epistemological, moral and political one as well. Competing epistemological frameworks would include Imre Lakatos’s famous methodology of scientific research programmes, or Paul Feyerabend’s idea of epistemological anarchism. Competing frameworks of morality would include existentialism, nihilism or the ideas of economic justice promoted by John Rawls, Bruce Ackerman or Robert Nozick. Competing political or economic frameworks are just as numerous. A very short list would include different broad categories such as feminist, Neo-Walrasian, participatory economics, Keynesian or post-modernism, and these lists could easily continue.

Uh oh, Objectivism’s got the scare quotes now. Just four paragraphs earlier it didn’t, but now we’re on high alert. Aren’t “epistemological” and “framework” fun words to say over and over? And look at how well-educated the writer is already! He can classify various frameworkers into neat, simple categories. Existentialism? That’s a morality framework, not an epistemological or political one. Post-modernism is a “competing political or economic framework.” It’s all cut and dry if you just read one of them philosophy encyclopedias, er I mean framework encyclopedias. I would say that this laundry list has a purpose other than name-dropping to sound sophisticated but I doubt that. I’m guessing that the writer is trying to point out that academic bias is all over the map rather than just being liberal, but it could just as easily be that all those frameworks are “how science functions and works.”

Depending on the selection of epistemological, moral or political frameworks an individual chooses can drastically change that person’s conception of “freedom” and how it relates to the “market.” To claim that a course promoting Objectivism is balanced because the syllabus includes Hayek and Marx is an insult to the diversity and intellectual developments that have been made in academia for the past 60 years.

Is this the vaunted attack on freedom un-scare-quoted? That the course on Objectivism isn’t balanced because it only
covers Marxism and not the panoply of academic garbage foisted upon students after the war? This paragraph is perhaps the most telling of any because it underscores the relativistic bullshit that graduates from our nation’s universities: “freedom” is different for everyone and all ideas are equal. If there is to be any philosophic progress in our lifetime, these are the two ideas that we must root out. Underlying them are the notions that everyone’s “reality” is valid, that there are no universal truths, and that we have no way to distinguish among competing frameworks. If this triumverate of irrationality takes cultural hold, then it’s going to be the Dark Ages all over again.

Granted, there has always been a corporate bias at universities and colleges across the country. The bias in academia stems from the structure and design of how academia is organized. The success of competing schools of thought are determined by a number of mechanisms, including the process of peer review, tenure, the allocation of research grants by the government and large corporations, or the prestige that is given to certain schools of thought when a leader in that field is given greater access or influence over policy makers. Through these various mechanisms, corporations and governments are able to influence which schools of thought become more popular. These mechanisms therefore act as a filtering process to determine which ideas are normally taught in the classroom to prepare students for the ‘real world.’

Wait, this problem’s always existed? Why the alarm, brother? The writer probably means that businesses have been sponsoring chairs in academia since the Industrial Revolution. And if a professorship is sponsored, then the professor that accepts the position is a parrot for the corporation and everything out of his mind is tainted with the dread stain of money. But if that professorship is paid for by the government, then that’s okay. Everything out of his mind is deep and pure. And when there’s a dozen of those unsponsored professors for every sponsored one, it’s definitely the sponsored ones that control the show. That’s why academia is so friendly to business and the free market. Because John Allison and the corporatizers like him done bought and paid for the whole show.

The difference is that the influence of corporations used to be indirect. Now, corporations are able to skip all of these mechanisms to directly decide the curricula of the education students receive. It is an attack on the freedom of the intellectual and the scientific process because it circumvents the barriers and spaces that have been established to foster diverse and original ideas. It is a signal to professors that career advancement and gaining full tenure means falling lockstep into line with the ideas corporate donors wish to purchase. It is a reminder that at a university, ideas do not win or lose because of reason, logic or sound debate; it is instead a question of power. Having a large pocketbook is merely one weapon that can be used in the battle for our minds. [emphases mine]

The writer has inadvertently spilled the beans. He was trying to say that big-time sponsorships like John Allison’s have bought the foisting of a rationale for capitalism onto hapless students. He wanted to illustrate that there’s no liberal bias in academia that would require such a purchase to be made in order to get the case for capitalism to be heard. But then he went and blew it by noting that it’s subverting the “barriers” erected against capitalism. And then to compound the issue, he undercut his whole argument by the use of the word “merely” in the last sentence.

The loser will always be the student since we have no control over the future of our university or the selection of ideas we are taught. Instead, the actions of the College of Business simply demonstrate that they are more interested in serving their corporate donors than their students. In practice, BB&T is a consumer that is purchasing a school where the pool of potential job applicants will conform to their ideological agenda. Therefore, BB&T is nothing more than a modern day “witch doctor” that sets the agenda and ideological boundaries presented in the classroom.

Ah, the student as passive receptacle of the ideas spewed by the professors. That is the liberal dream of “freedom” from capitalist ideas hinted at in the first sentence of the column. Unfortunately, he overstepped his intellectual capacity in the previous paragraph and took the breath out of his last sentence. BB&T is paying for this course and the lecture series because there’s no other way for a moral defense of capitalism to get presented. We all hope that students will discover Ayn Rand and Objectivism on their own, but that’s a very long-term hope. John Allison and BB&T are just trying to provide the catalyst that might whet their appetite for true freedom and diversity of ideas.

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