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A public intellectual shares her thoughts for the public good

Once upon a time there was a wise princess. She lived in a magic castle together with her friends, who were also wise. One day, the princess, taking pity on the ignorance of the common folk, decided to go among them and teach them.

Alas! Some rough people said rude and nasty things to the princess. She had to run back to her castle and issue a proclamation. This what it said: Anthea Butler: Conservatives bashed me for speaking out about the Zimmerman verdict.

The princess was very sad. She even wondered if the people were worthy to go on being allowed to hear her wise words.

What is the role of a public intellectual in the age of Twitter and soundbites? Is it to share your thoughts for the public good, or is it to curate the heaps of hate emails, tweets and right-wing articles that trash your intellectual and social work?

The princess felt that she had to choose between sharing her wisdom and keeping a record of all the bad things the rough people had said to her. Why she felt that way, we do not know, but we know the reason was wise.
 
Anyway, the princess held her head high as befitted her rank. Who cares what peasants say anyway? Then she had a good idea. She gave herself a medal.

In the age of conservative grievances about education however, how many people will be willing to go through what I do every time I publish an op-ed or in order to share what they have spent a lifetime to learn?

36 comments to A public intellectual shares her thoughts for the public good

  • Snorri Godhi

    Brilliant reframing! (And just to be clear, i mean it as a compliment: in this case the new frame is closer to reality than the old.)

  • Manniac

    Universities and colleges are one of the few places in America that we can engage these ideas in the classroom without cursing and denigrating those we disagree with.

    O rly?

    Must have a large echo, that tour d’ivoir…

  • Tedd

    Taking academia, the Zimmerman trial, and gratuitous conservative-bashing out of the picture for a minute, I tend to agree with Butler’s thesis that the tone of political discourse is very poor, and that that matters.

    The answer I usually get when I bring that up is some variation on “‘they’ do it just as much as or more than ‘we’ do it,” which carries very little weight with me. Imagine how much more productive political discourse would be if it wasn’t so easy to deflect debate away from substantive issues by pointing to the bombastic, overly-emotive rantings of one’s opponents.

    Is Butler being too thin skinned (for a public intellectual)? Probably. Is she doing exactly what I said above, avoiding debating substantive issues by accusing her opponents of bad behaviour? Definitely. But that doesn’t change the fact that a lot of the behaviour probably was bad, and that bad behaviour isn’t helping things.

  • bloke in spain

    Good grief! That’s the first time I’ve seen someone self describe as an intellectual. Always presumed it was an insult.

  • PeterT

    I do not want productive political discourse with the left. I want them defeated.

  • bloke in spain

    And I’ve just read the ‘quote of the day’ & learnt curator isn’t necessarily the chap points you at the dinosaur bones.
    I’m either learning a new version of English or there are people need laughing at long & loud.

  • Paul Marks

    The mask is slipping – the mask of “respect for ordinary people” that the collectivists (in reality the modern version of Plato’s Guardians with their “noble lies”) wear to cover their lust for power.

    Frame an innocent man? Why not – if it is for their cause (as William James put it – “the right [and the truth] is just the expedient in our way of thinking”). A Conspiracy to Pervert the Course of Justice is fine – if such a conspiracy serves the “Progressive” cause.

    These “Nudge” type people believe that they are so superior they may manipulate other people – by lies, and (if lies fail) by FORCE.

    The elite are not well intentioned people who have made an intellectual mistake – they are evil (plain evil).

    “You often say that Paul” – it needs to be said often.

    For in the war against “a conspiracy so vast….” the other side plays for keeps. So they must be seen as what they are.

  • Eric

    Universities and colleges are one of the few places in America that we can engage these ideas in the classroom without cursing and denigrating those we disagree with.

    As long as, you know, they don’t actually disagree with you.

  • Paul Marks

    Eric is correct.

    But they do not needs to use curse words (that would be too honest) – what they do is rather more deadly.

    The late W.H. Hutt was once asked how the Keynesians had “win the debate” – he replied…

    “There was no debate, the Keynesians were not interested in debate, they simply made sure they set and marked the examinations – and controlled the appointment of lecturers”.

    This is what American “Progressives” have tried to do in so many subjects since the time of Richard Ely – for the (false) cries of “academic freedom” and “diversity” are more than a century old.

    “Academic freedom” means the freedom to be a collectivist (not the freedom to be a “reactionary”) and “diversity” does not mean diversity of OPINION.

    A handful of American universities (such as Hillsdale) hold out (and they are constantly under attack), but most “universities and colleges” are under the control of the collectivists.

    To give as examples of intellectual freedom these pits of darkness, is Orwellian – and Orwellian in the most literal way.

  • What Tedd said.

    PeterT: the hard-core left are just like any other hard-core – a minority. The majority are useful illinformed (to paraphrase Lenin). These people can be debated, and they deserve an honest debate.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Natalie: What Snorri said. :>))

    Paul mentions “Plato’s Guardians,” and given the context of our present topic and of the rest of that comment, I’m prompted to wonder if The Guardian is their namesake.

  • I tend to agree with Butler’s thesis that the tone of political discourse is very poor, and that that matters.

    I agree the tone of political discourse is very poor and because I also agree it matters, I regard that as a Very Good Thing Indeed.

  • veryretired

    What political discourse?

    Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, on a show called “Firing Line”, it was possible to hear some actual political discourse that did not consist of talking points shouted by one side at the non-responsive talking points of the other.

    Now? Lock-step, pre-canned, focus group tested pap. Anyone who dares to say the slightest thing that is not pre-approved by the pc police is immediately savaged by the progressive press and their mentors in academia.

    The faux-outrage militia does a call-out, and the offended by nearly everything crowd marches wherever they are told to go, takes their pre-printed signs, and expresses their endless angst as long as the media shows up to film it.

    There is no political discourse, only very bad, stale, and re-cycled political theater.

    I sometimes feel I’ve been trapped in a time warp, and forced to watch endless repetitions of some boringly dogmatic and clumsy anti-war puppet show from the ’60’s.

    It’s all so tedious and predictable.

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    As someone recently commented in an article here in Australia- the opposite of diversity is- University!
    It’s probably due to groupthink, which would be good if WE could influence the thinking (All together now- “We’re ALL individuals!”).

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    This person is giving us a piece of her mind, and I have to worry- is it the last piece?
    And what will happen to it afterwards? I believe that such mind-pieces just get lost, and lodge in machines and computers, making them intransigent. Mental pollution is the next environmental problem!

  • Julie near Chicago

    Alas, Nick, mental pollution has always been with us…It is a natural part of the Fallen state of Man. *sound of lugubrious violin music* :(

  • Julie near Chicago

    Of course, used to be we only etched the stuff in stone, we didn’t enshrine it forever to confuddle future historians down through the millennia. I blame it all on Babbage. Drat the man and his confounded Difference Engine!

  • [...] at Samizdata, Natalie has posted something on the mewlings of a certain Public Intellectual. One thing led to another with the result that [...]

  • This does illustrate the disconnect between the narrators of the narrative (for is that not what the intellectual elite are?) and the mob.

    Thus was it always and thus shall it always be until the very ending of the world.

    As Caligula once asserted to the baying mob at the games:

    “If you only had but a single neck, I’d hack it through”

    For which in modern times we have the Optimum Population Trust aka “Eat the Poor”!

  • One only needs to “curate heaps of hate emails” if one plans to take revenge on the authors of the hate mails.

    It has to be painful for an intellectual to recieve direct criticism from people who cannot receive a failing grade for that criticism.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Andrew, what a good point. We should take pity on the poor thing and give her something for the pain. A nice hot cup of hemlock tea perhaps? So soothing and calming in its effects….

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Since I know that Julie is a kind, sweet person, then the fault MUST lie with the Education system in America! Julie, hemlock is bad for anybody! It’s a poison! Obviously, you didn’t know, but be careful in future!

  • Paul Marks

    veryretired is correct, but the thing is to NOT GIVE IN to the attacks – and sadly even Fox News has a bad record in this respect.

    When “The Half Hour News Hour” (the conservative comedy show poking fun at the ACLU and other socialist groups – as the founders of the ACLU said, they would hide their socialism “under the flag” under a pretended devotion to the Constitution whose “capitalist” principles they really despised) came under savage attack – it was taken off air. The same thing happened when Glenn Beck came under savage (and blatantly dishonest) attack his show went away also.

    If one gives the enemy a de facto right of veto on what is broadcast – then there is little hope.

  • ‘What political discourse?’ The political discourse that takes place when one actually goes out and talks to people. I’ve had cable disconnected for almost a year now.

  • PeterT

    Alisa,

    If a gun man comes into your house with the aim of doing some evil to you, it might be possible to engage him in discourse, and maybe he will decide to leave you in peace. But do you have an obligation to engage in constructive discourse with him? Some people may say yes. No is also a reasonable answer.

    In political discourse there is not the same level of urgency as in this example of course, but also I do not wish to spend my entire life arguing with these people, in the hope perhaps that they will see the light by the time I retire.

    We must not forget that what we are not just in polite disagreement; they are actively in aggression towards us.

    As a practical matter it is worth having the debate, as revolution simply is not feasible and violence an evil.

  • OK Julie Near Chicago,
    Bit less of the ‘only’ etched things in stone, thank you very much. It’s damn hard work :)
    Much as I respected my Oxford don father, who also selfdescribed as ‘intellectual’, I’ve reached the conclusion that such people do not think more, or better than the rest of us. They do argue more though, and the consequence of that is, a small set of ideas becomes dominant. Just as when I was at school, a small set of boys were dominant, being bigger and stronger than the rest.
    I think the question remains, why always these ideas (collectivist, leftist, handwringing etc). If you could get at that, you might have some kind of key to this thing…

  • As a practical matter it is worth having the debate, as revolution simply is not feasible and violence an evil.

    More or less my point too, Peter:-)

  • TheHat

    Universities and colleges are one of the few places in America that we can engage these ideas in the classroom without cursing and denigrating those we disagree with.

    Unless you are Ann Coulter or in the Tea Party. Attacks against Conservatives by Liberals on college campuses is the stuff of legends. These events are widely reported and celebrated by the media. It is a Liberal victory if Ann catches a pie in the face or if the Liberals drownout a Conservative and force them to leave without being heard. There is no discourse, there is only disconnect.

  • Laird

    “violence an evil.” Not always.

  • Typical. Two mentions that she’s tenured in just eleven paragraphs.
    Gag me with a dirty diaper.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Dear Sepulchre, It is not thee whom I would wish so to silence….

    Nice Guy, I am so grateful that you understand and appreciate my true nature; yet that very essence de moi compelled me to recommend the recommended treatment, so as to end the poor dear’s misery once and for all. Kindness, you see. :>))

    Laird, What Laird said.

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Yes but it would be a greater kindness, Julie, to convert her to the Truth, i.e., our side!!!

  • bgates

    Is she doing exactly what I said above, avoiding debating substantive issues by accusing her opponents of bad behaviour? Definitely. But that doesn’t change the fact that a lot of the behaviour probably was bad

    The fact is that her opponents probably behaved badly.

    The thing we know for certain is that her opponents may have behaved badly.

    The one undeniable and absolute truth that comes out of this whole affair is that we can be positive in stating that her opponents’ behavior was poor. A lot of it. Maybe.

    And that’s a fact.

    The answer I usually get when I bring that up is some variation on “‘they’ do it just as much as or more than ‘we’ do it,” which carries very little weight with me.

    Does it carry little weight because you’ve examined the proposition and determined it is not true, or because you dismiss it on the principle that each side must be equally badly behaved?

  • Paul Marks

    begates – the academic’s opponents do not have academic posts (people such as A. Butler, and her comrades, make sure of that).

    How can we engage in “civil discourse” when they (people such as A. Butler) have the chair and we do not?

    Nor is it a question of schools and universities being private clubs.

    The vast majority of schools and universities (including most of the so called private universities) are dependent on money from the taxpayers (government backed “students loans” and so on – that alone is now about a TRILLION Dollars).

    So anti socialist taxpayers are forced to finance people such as A. Butler sneering at us every day (and teaching our children and grandchildren to despise everything we believe in).

    Does that sound “civil” to you? The use of FORCE (taxation) to finance A. Butler and her friends to attack (in wildly dishonest ways) everything we care about.

    So what to do about the “Socialists of the Chair” (as the German interventionist academics of the late 19th century, the people that Americans such as Richard Ely and Woodrow Wilson copied, were known), what to do about this situation?

    Do not say “got into the universities get qualifications and……” because that is just nonsense (it really is), the collectivists control these places and are not exactly in the habit of letting people with conservative and/or libertarian opinions get doctorates, still less allowing them academic posts. A few conservatives have academic posts, but it is tokenism (what is it in Harvard – two Republicans among the entire humanities and social sciences facility?).

    So what is your solution?

    “civil discourse” in a situation where it is impossible?

    Give me equal time to reply and so on and I will be as civil as you want me to be, but expect me to just sit and listen to a series of blatant lies (such as that such people as the late Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard were “racists” and “sexists”), with no right to reply (just to ask a respectful question and listen to the “wise” answer), well then – blank you. By the way I have never tried to shout anyone down – but even whispering to one’s self is not allowed, indeed even a “non positive” FACIAL EXPRESSION is not allowed, when listening to a noble “Social Justice” supporter (one may not speak, even quietly to one’s self, and one may not have a “negative” facial expression – what is this? 1984?).

    I am not going to give cash-money (for example pay for a conference place) to the Socialists of the Chair (to the Social Justice crowd) and then just sit there like a lemon. I would rather get their “Chair” and, metaphorically (METAPHORICALLY), hit them over the head with it.

    After all they do not believe in the non aggression principle (they say so – repeatedly) so it does not apply to them. And in reality it is they (not we) who use the violence. “Wait your turn ….” I have waited for DECADES it is never “my turn”, the paid posts (even, sometimes, in organisations that declare themselves to be pro free market) do not go to me – they go to utter SCUM (and I will not pretend to respect such people) and there has never once (in decades) been an opportunity to speak to such a conference (let alone an offer of a post).

    Dr Butler is under no threat from me (I only fight people who actually threaten me [ although they tend to turn informer if their challenge is taken up} – and the lady would not be that stupid). I may speak to her “without proper respect” – because I do NOT respect her. But I am not going to use force on her.

    Should Ann Coulter or Glenn Beck (or any well known “right winger”) turn up on campus – and physical force IS used against them (by the very people that taxpayers, such as Ann Coulter or Glenn Beck, subsidise).

    It is Dr Butler who really “behaves badly”.

    Dr Butler behaves badly by LOOTING the taxpayer to fund her lies and smears.

    Dr Butler behaves badly by pushing her lies and smears (every working day) in what she teaches.

    And Dr Butler behaves badly by, de facto, relying on the “liberal” goon squad to physically attack any “right winger” who is invited to her campus (by a student group) to contradict what she and her Comrades teach.

  • Laird

    A cartoon about Tenure.

  • Tedd

    bgates:

    Does it carry little weight because you’ve examined the proposition and determined it is not true, or because you dismiss it on the principle that each side must be equally badly behaved?

    Neither. My answer is in the remainder of the paragraph you pulled the quote from. That’s why the paragraph has two sentences.