omslag.bawer.victims.revolution

Bruce Bawer har utgitt en ny bok The Victims’ Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind på det anerkjente forlaget Harper Collins.

Det er ganske utrolig: Bruce Bawer bor og arbeider i Norge, men når han utgir en ny bok blir han ikke omtalt noe sted. Det skyldes ikke at han denne gang skriver om amerikanske forhold. Tematikken er også relevant for Norge: hvordan universiteter er blitt hermetiske samfunn som dyrker bestemte ideologiske oppfatninger, det som med en samlebetegnelse kalles identitetspolitikk.

Bawers forrige bok, om 22/7, ble forhåndsomtalt i bl.a. VG basert på en versjon som ikke var sluppet, og Anders Giæver dømte den nord og ned, og antydet at Bawer med denne boken hadde vinket farvel til Norge.

Hvorfor følger ikke norske medier opp og inkluderer Bawer i den offentlige samtalen? Svaret er kanskje at man da må overvinne noen av sine antipatier, og det synes vanskelig.

I stedet må vi gå til utenlandske medier for å finne omtale av en amerikaner som bor i Norge. Han er anmeldt i New York Times 23. august 2012. Det er m.a.o ikke fordi Bawer er ubetydelig at boken ikke omtales i norske medier.

Andrew DelBanco er ikke overbevist av Bawers analyse om at amerikanske universiteter er dominert av ulike grupper som dyrker sin særegne gruppeidentitet og ser alt gjennom et maktperspektiv, hvor noen forsøker holde dem nede. Han mener det var slik, men at det er gårsdagens problemstilling.

Dagens trussel kommer heller fra the corporate world som forsøker å produserte striglete studenter:

Writing about the 1960s, when everything Bawer despises first got going, the philosopher Charles Frankel once remarked that students have “a latent predisposition in favor of turning things upside down.” Fortunately, this remains true — though students today seem more cautious than their predecessors. Still, academic life is reliably cyclical. When I look around, I see younger colleagues returning to close readings of literary classics. I see an emerging synthesis of the old political history focused on kings and presidents with the newer social history of ordinary people written “from the bottom up.” I see graduate students leading discussions on Plato in coffee houses, and undergraduates flocking to such new fields as environmental science in hope of acquiring the knowledge they need to make a positive difference in the world.

Bawer misses most of this. He writes with sincerity and fervor, but is overwrought by his own outrage. He denounces a black studies professor for writing prose “awash in elementary agreement problems,” but his own writing is awash in dubious assertions about the realities of American life, as when he claims that “by the late 20th century virtually every young person in America had the opportunity to acquire a real higher education.” Tell that to the many young people mired in poverty, damaged by dysfunctional schools, languishing in prison or drowning in debt.

This deliberately intemperate book is a useful reminder that liberal education always faces threats from one kind of intolerance or another. It is ultimately a footnote to Allan Bloom’s 1987 best seller, “The Closing of the American Mind,” to which Bawer pays homage in his subtitle. He’s right to lament the continued decline of the kind of education that Bloom defined as helping “students to pose the question . . . ‘What is man?’ in relation to his highest aspirations” by guiding them to and through “the alternative answers” to be found in great works of art and thought. But in updating that argument, Bawer overlooks the greatest threat to today’s universities. Today, corporate-minded university presidents spout platitudes about “outcome metric” and “game-changing” technologies, while faculty members struggle to piece together a living with multiple part-time jobs, and students search for marketable skills that, they hope, will help them pay off their education debt.

In his foreword to Bloom’s book, Saul Bellow described his friend and University of Chicago colleague as “a front-line fighter in the mental wars of our times.” Taking up arms on behalf of Bloom’s cause 25 years later, Bruce Bawer is fighting a rear-guard action against an enemy who has largely ceded the field to a new philistine army that has no interest in the culture wars. The humanities and “soft” social science departments that Bawer mocks are sinking into insignificance — partly, to be sure, because they have purveyed the kind of buffoonery he decries. Meanwhile, a more formidable enemy has arrived in the form of resolute utilitarians who discourage students from seeking what Bawer wants for them: the chance, through arduous reading and reflection under the guidance of dedicated teachers, to discover themselves.

Også dette er en vending som man kan registrere i Norge: den politisk korrekte eliten har passert høydepunktet. Den er for nedadgående, men i stedet, hva kommer i stedet? Man kan merke fornyet interesse for klassikerne, og for religiøsitet, men noe er blitt borte i mellomtiden som gjør det vanskelig å ta opp igjen samtalen. Hadde Bawer skrevet om det offentlige Norge ville trolig analysen blitt enda mer knusende.

Det er f.eks påfallende at i en avis som Dagens Næringsliv finnes det nesten ikke spor av det nye høyre som man kan registrere i USA såvel som Europa. Det finnes ikke engang spor av mainstream republikansk tankegang. Korrespondent Jostein Løvås skriver innenfor en tilsynelatende nøytral profil, dvs. den lener seg mot det venstreliberale feltet.

New York Times er selv en avis hvor ulike krefter kjemper om definisjonen av hva som er liberal tradisjon. Spennet er stort, etter norske forhold.

En som har mer sans for Bawers bok er Claire Berlinski, en frilans-journalist bosatt i Istanbul som også document.no har trykket artikler av. Hun kan minne om Michael J. Totten, uavhengig og uredd.

Berlinski har registrert noe av det samme forfallet som Bawer beskriver, men er usikker på om roten ligger i universitetene:

In his new book, Bruce Bawer has proposed an answer to vexing questions: Why has our culture become degraded? Why have our politics become polarized? And why has our public debate coarsened? Bawer locates the source of these misfortunes in the changes that have taken place in American higher education over the last generation—above all, the emergence of multicultural “identity studies.”

The academy, he observes, is “the font of the perfidious multicultural idea and the setting in which it is implanted into the minds of American youth.”

In what must be reckoned a martyrdom operation, Bawer has spent countless hours not only reading the collective oeuvre of the leading luminaries in Black, Women’s, Gender, Queer, Fat, and Chicano Studies, but also traveling America to attend their conferences. At a gathering of the Cultural Studies Association at the University of California, Berkeley, for instance, Bawer encounters the young Michele, who’s “like, a grad student at UC Davis?” She’s “sort of reviving a Gramschian-style Marxism,” involving the idea that global warming is “sort of, like, a crisis, in the human relationship to nature?” Bawer claims that his heart goes out to her. (His heart is bigger than mine.)

This inability of many young Americans to express a simple or even grammatically coherent thought, in Bawer’s view, owes to a variety of academic fads that in the early 1980s captured the American university.

Then arrived the minor idea of hegemony, conceived by the minor Marxist intellect Antonio Gramsci, who argued that modern liberal democracies are no freer than the most ruthless of totalitarianisms. The oppression was merely unseen….Bawer notes as well the Leninist Paulo Freire, who gave us the common jargon of the contemporary humanities—dialogue, communication, solidarity—and the idea that the point of education is to recognize one’s own oppression so as better to resist it. The Marxist post-colonialist Frantz Fanon completes the intellectual trio.

Then arrived the minor idea of hegemony, conceived by the minor Marxist intellect Antonio Gramsci, who argued that modern liberal democracies are no freer than the most ruthless of totalitarianisms. The oppression was merely unseen. That this idea is absurd—engineers don’t waste energy worrying about plane crashes so subtle that passengers neither notice them nor complain of them—was no obstacle to its advancement. Bawer notes as well the Leninist Paulo Freire, who gave us the common jargon of the contemporary humanities—dialogue, communication, solidarity—and the idea that the point of education is to recognize one’s own oppression so as better to resist it. The Marxist post-colonialist Frantz Fanon completes the intellectual trio.

Noe skjer med offentligheten, en blanding av kommersialisering, teknologisk utvikling og en bredde og et tilbud som gjør det vanskelig for folk å bevare sans for kvalitet.

I have other suspicions—none that I can prove—about the answers to Bawer’s questions. The structure and economics of the post–Cold War media environment, for example, give cause for alarm. Indeed, the results of the destruction of the traditional cartel media have shaken my faith in market freedom: Americans don’t strike me as better-informed than they were in the Cold War era. The profound crisis of national confidence engendered by America’s failure to improve the world in the wake of September 11 is perhaps also part of the picture. Then there are Facebook, Twitter, and Google, which have inadvertently created an electorate able, should it choose—and apparently it does—to read only the news that confirms its political instincts. This, too, has contributed to polarization and ignorance.

Might the blame for our cultural coarsening be shared, say, with the advent of television and the Internet, the growing national obsession with crude, violent music and sports or the decline of censorship? It is dismaying for a civil libertarian to contemplate these hypotheses. Yet it’s dismaying, too, to imagine that intellectuals might rule them out simply because they’re unpleasant to contemplate.

Is the Enemy Us?
CITY JOURNAL 23 November 2012