We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

An open(ed) letter to Professor Stephen L. Carter

Funny. I read the SQOTD from today, and suddenly recalled a long-forgotten e-mail I sent in the wee hours of the morning six or so months ago. The fact I had sent the e-mail in the first place was unusual for me, as I was moved to compose and send it to Bloomberg columnist and Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter after reading the good professor’s column, and I cannot recall another occasion when I have got in touch with a journalist over something of theirs that I’d read. Professor Carter’s article must have made a big impact on me.

It did. Here it is, if you would like to have a read for yourself. Basically, the professor is making the same perfectly valid point as Brendan O’Neill regarding the hive mind mentality of a significant number of today’s university students, and chucking in a good intergenerational sneer for luck. It is the latter that particularly shat me off when I read Carter’s column, and prompted me to send the following to Professor Carter six months ago and late at night when I should have been working on something else:

Dear Professor Carter

I agree with your observations regarding the (in)abilities of the current crop of graduates, but seeing as though you decided to target that generation so explicitly, I thought maybe you might consider how the conditions that characterised your own generation’s formative years came to be.

When recounting “your day”, you wrote of an intellectual culture which “celebrated a diversity of ideas”; where “pure argument” trumped all, and a contrarian point of view was celebrated and even utilised to orient one’s own perspectives. This is the academic process at its very best, and you were most fortunate to benefit from it.Unfortunately, to channel your President, you didn’t build that. You didn’t build that. And not only did you not build it – you subsequently tore it down. And you replaced it with the appparatus that has created the mindless, chanting drones you decried in your Bloomberg piece.

Am I being unfair to target you? Well, about as unfair as you were being to the current crop of graduates. Your generation unquestionably ripped apart that which you claim to revere, and the Class of 2014 is simply a manifestation of the values your generation cherishes. So why are you training your guns on those kids when the true vandals are at still at large – and are in fact running the show?

I don’t mind catty articles – I really don’t. They’re often the most entertaining. However, I don’t understand why you’re thrashing a bunch of 20 year olds who are the product of an education system that your generation dominates – and that system has equipped them so poorly to deal with rational discourse that you could probably expect little more than an effete ‘whatever’ in response to your criticisms of them. Surely you know this. Attacking them smacks of cowardice to me. You’re aiming at the easiest targets.

If you really want to castigate a group of people for allowing academia to degenerate from what it was in your undergraduate years to what we see today, go and seek out faculty and policymakers who look about your age.

Yours faithfully
James Waterton

I received no response. Not that this surprised me.

I agree with Carter in that much of the student body – and most of those who consider themselves “activists” – are intellectually incurious ideologues primarily concerned with feeling that they are Good People, and indicating this to other Good People. But who moulded them? The answer is implicit in Carter’s article, when he reflects on how things were different back when he was at university. It is a pity he lacked the even-handedness to consider what changed between then and now, and decided to instead chastise those responsible for the mindlessness of the modern student activist. I’m talking about the Boomers, of course, and the muses that inspired them. They really did screw up an awful lot, and like Professor Carter in this instance, I suspect they will never admit to what they have destroyed.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VKEmail this to someone

16 comments to An open(ed) letter to Professor Stephen L. Carter

  • Paul Marks

    Yes it say it all – apart from what can be done.

    An end to all taxpaying funding, including “loans”, and an end to government backed qualifications,such as teacher licensing, would be a good start.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Garbage in, garbage out, as Paul Marks likes to say.

    The rot in academia has been setting for some time; but James is absolutely right to state that it is unfair to attack the newest generation, because they inherited a culture, a background.

    All that said, we have free will (pace Sam Harris and today’s trendy neo-Darwinian determinists), and are not obliged, in the desire to “fit in” or “be cool”, to put up with dross. The present generation of college students have an opportunity to make theirs a great one by challenging some of the nostrums they are taught. It has happened before, and it can happen again. I well remember being taught history by Marxians and was able to resist the infection. So can they.

  • RRS

    The components of academia with its fixed and transient inhabitants form interesting microcosms for critiques and satires, but they are not necessarily representative of the social orders that make up our Western civilization.

    That may be a bit of a “downer” for the current occupants of those prominent academic institutions which have been steadily losing their importance, although their significance remains. This may be largely the result of a process similar to “self perpetuation;” but tends to favor collective conformity over individuality.

    Which takes us to what is more likely the source of the academic (as well as the overall social) phenomena being observed; that is, the recession of individuality throughout Western civilization.

    If we attribute the unsatisfactory conditions which Professor Carter observes to the influences of his generation of academics, then should we not also attribute the learning for those influences to the academic generation which preceded him? I think not.

    My experience in academia of that prior era was limited to occasional lectures (before Professor Carter was born) on corporate finance and securities regulation. But, there was no effort by my predecessors, nor in my brief contributions, to “shape” thinking.

    It is probably true that we are observing a continuing drift away from “values” (see, Nietzsche) as determinants of individual conduct; hence, the recession of individuality.

    Elsewhere, around the Pacific rim, into parts of mainland China and in some small segments of India there is evidence of the emergence of individuality. Whether it will be a sufficient surge to move the core of our civilization further westward remains to be seen. But it is unlikely that we will learn much about that trend from what is transpiring in academia currently.

  • Johnnydub

    You are pointing at University culture as the main bad guy in all this but you’re missing the bigger picture. The whole education establishment has been subverted to imbue and enforce groupthink.

    Kids textbooks are infested with Global Warming statements in order to create an atmosphere where being a CAGW “denier” is equivalent to be a creationist. PC anti-male sentiments have significantly damaged the prospects of young men for years now.

    It’s a far bigger problem than just universities…

  • Jake Haye

    A much greater proportion of kids go to university now, fattening the low end of the IQ distribution on campus with pampered mediocrities with inflated-but-delicate egos who then swell the ranks of the fashionable moralistic leftist movements. Add to that the fact that such people are by far the noisest and the effect becomes overwhelming.

  • It is things like this which make me think that the whole GamerGate phenomenon is actually a very interesting bit of cultural war, exposing a whole generation to the enemy without their masks on. And the way it has been working out makes me realise that we have FAR from lost this fight, indeed it has driven home how weak the media and the left generally have become. Their creeping victory is an illusion: a veritable paper tiger, or perhaps pixilated tiger might be a more appropriate term for the internet era.

  • Russ in TX

    We who are gamers are so accustomed to be reviled by every right-thinking institution, regardless of political bent, that we could really give a purple poop about *peer pressure* from some drama-queen. University students tend to be an overlapping but not necessarily similar demographic.

  • Johnnydub
    November 21, 2014 at 6:20 pm

    That is probably the very best thing they can do to expose themselves. We are in for about 80 years of cold weather (uh, climate). A Maunder type minimum. And CO2 will not explain it.

    =======================

    But that is not the only group think going on. We have had some 75 to 100 years of Drug Prohibition.

    Here is what it has done in the USA alone:

    Cannabis cures cancer. Cancer kills 586,000 Americans every year. Every Prohibitionist is complicit in mass murder.

    =======================

    So mass stupidity and evil is not a new thing. It is the human condition. But it is being exposed.

  • Phil B

    @M Simon,

    I do enjoy the delicios irony and contradictions in the “Globalwarming ZOMG!” arguments.

    Here’s an interesting article by George Moonbat errr .. I mean Monbiot:

    http://aeon.co/magazine/science/george-monbiot-rewilding/

    To summarise:

    Years ago there were civilisations in vast open areas denuded of trees in the Amazon.
    Europeans accidentally introduced diseases and killed off these civilisations
    Trees grew over the cleared areas and absorbed lots of carbon dioxide.
    The climate grew colder due to lower levels of carbon dioxide in the air.
    Carbon dioxide returning to levels that produced the same temperature as existed back then will result in ZOMG! Thermageddon
    Cutting down trees in the Amazon to clear areas that were cleared back then will result in ZOMG! Thermageddon. Or something.

    How the hell he can say this with a straight face defeats me … I’d hate to play poker with him.

  • James Waterton

    If we attribute the unsatisfactory conditions which Professor Carter observes to the influences of his generation of academics, then should we not also attribute the learning for those influences to the academic generation which preceded him? I think not.

    On the contrary, I think we absolutely can (in part). That’s what I was referring to when I mentioned the Boomers’ muses. Perhaps I should have written the high priests and priestesses of postmodernism, whose ideas Boomers enthusiastically utilised to ‘transcend’ (ie. dismantle) the institutional and social values and constraints they encountered. This didn’t result in change that was uniformly for the worse. But if you want to pinpoint where the rot started setting in regarding Prof Carter’s assessment of the modern uni student, it’s not hard to trace the causal chain back.

    A much greater proportion of kids go to university now, fattening the low end of the IQ distribution on campus with pampered mediocrities with inflated-but-delicate egos who then swell the ranks of the fashionable moralistic leftist movements.

    This is true. And the effort to transform university study from an elite scholastic pursuit to what we see today, along with the loosening of academic rigour that had to accompany such a shift, is a Boomer brainchild.

    Some faculties have been spared. Engineering, the hard sciences and a few others don’t have more “wheelchair ramps for the intellectually challenged” – see the Samizdata Social Responsibility policy – than they used to. On the other hand, the liberal arts, the dizzying array of business-related courses and so on are laughably lax in terms of academic rigour at all but a handful of elite institutions. Tell a typical Arts undergrad enrolled in a western university that the upcoming sociology exam ISN’T open book or ‘take home’ (that’s right, a take home exam – no it’s not an oxymoron anymore) and they’ll think you’re having a laugh.

    You are pointing at University culture as the main bad guy in all this but you’re missing the bigger picture. The whole education establishment has been subverted to imbue and enforce groupthink.

    I agree that the subversion you mention has impacted the entire system of education, but this is not a chicken or egg situation. The driving force behind this originated in the universities, and trends in academia still have a seminal influence on the calibre of tomorrow’s teachers and their students.

  • AKM

    Johnnydub: “You are pointing at University culture as the main bad guy in all this but you’re missing the bigger picture. The whole education establishment has been subverted… Kids textbooks are infested with Global Warming statements…It’s a far bigger problem than just universities…”

    Surely the Universities are where the textbooks are written and where the ideas that infest the rest of the education system originate? The long-march through the institutions had it’s start line in our universities, or so it seems to me.

  • Niall Kilmartin

    James, it’s possible Stephen’s focus on the students rather than their teachers in that column was a literary device rather than a rounded summary of his views. Firstly, in one of his most sarcastic paragraphs he does say, “and your professors as well; one mustn’t forget their role”, as he pretends to praise the students’ bigotry. Secondly, as the article is addressed to the students, it naturally focusses on what they personally could do; what they could immediately change in themselves. The converse of this is that he may want to avoid suggesting that having had corrupt teachers excuses the students; they live in a society with a lot of free speech still, despite all efforts, and just because their teachers teach bigotry is no excuse for their learning it. Thirdly, he may regard their teachers as a lost cause, and so focus his mockery on those who might learn from it.

    On the general issue, it is worth remembering that in the days when Hitler still had to win elections, he routinely did twice as well with the student vote as with the general population, e.g. 60% versus 30% in some start-of-the-thirties elections. The same is true of communist parties. It’s not new for students to fall disproportionally for political rubbish.

  • James Waterton

    James, it’s possible Stephen’s focus on the students rather than their teachers in that column was a literary device rather than a rounded summary of his views.

    It is possible I suppose, but I don’t see why his words shouldn’t be taken at face value. When an individual makes a criticism of another individual, I think we can all agree that the critic would be well advised to ensure that they could not be considered an accessory to whatever it is they’re criticising. Now, Professor Carter chose to criticise an entire generation, and it’s not at all unreasonable to point out the fact that Carter’s own generation is primarily responsible for inculcating the closed-minded Alinskyite dogmatism in the students that he is so contemptuous of.

    in one of his most sarcastic paragraphs he does say, “and your professors as well; one mustn’t forget their role”

    One mustn’t forget Carter’s colleagues’ role? That’s all he has to say about that? He may not have forgotten their role in the article, but he also relegated it to something of trifling importance; presented parenthetically and not expanded upon. Whereas it seems to me that if blame for the current status quo on uni campuses is to be apportioned, it should be laid primarily at the feet of Professor Frankenstein, rather than his monster.

    The converse of this is that he may want to avoid suggesting that having had corrupt teachers excuses the students; they live in a society with a lot of free speech still, despite all efforts, and just because their teachers teach bigotry is no excuse for their learning it. Thirdly, he may regard their teachers as a lost cause, and so focus his mockery on those who might learn from it.

    Or maybe he was just being a grumpy old man venting his spleen at that which offends him, and he didn’t consider that it’s a bit rich to criticise another generation’s flaws when his own generation was directly responsible for instilling those flaws in the first instance.

    On the general issue, it is worth remembering that in the days when Hitler still had to win elections, he routinely did twice as well with the student vote as with the general population,

    I’m glad you mentioned Hitler because I didn’t want to because I didn’t want to be the first to do so! To me, Carter’s position on this matter is as untenable as that of a middle aged German in the early 1940s chastising the Hitler Youth for the blind obedience and mindless extremism they exhibit.

  • Laird

    It seems to me that Niall Kilmartin has the better argument here. One must consider the audience to whom Prof. Carter’s “letter” was addressed: the graduating class of 2014. It would hardly have served his purpose (indeed, it would have served an entirely different purpose) for it to have been a mea culpa for the failings of the Baby Boomer generation. This isn’t to say that the points raised by James in his open letter are incorrect (they aren’t), merely that they are not particularly germane to the specific time and place of Carter’s original letter.

  • James Waterton

    I actually don’t think the article was written for the benefit of the graduating class of 2014, or with much expectation that many would absorb it – by and large, they wouldn’t be Bloomberg readers.

    It would hardly have served his purpose (indeed, it would have served an entirely different purpose)

    I think it was at best incurious of Carter to compare the intellectual climate of a typical modern university with that he benefited from in his youth and fail to explore what drove this change – that’s the big story here. Instead, he took a cheap shot at the unfortunate victims of the change.

    merely that they are not particularly germane to the specific time and place of Carter’s original letter.

    I think they are, as I believe they illustrate that it wasn’t particularly wise to express the views he did in the first place.

  • […] Samizdata post is a response to the type of “today’s students are dogmatic zealots with no logic […]