Today’s identity politics . . . teaches the exact opposite of what we think a liberal arts education should be. When I was at Yale in the 1980s, I was given so many tools for understanding the world. By the time I graduated, I could think about things as a utilitarian or as a Kantian, as a Freudian or a behaviorist, as a computer scientist or as a humanist. I was given many lenses to apply to any given question or problem.
But what do we do now? Many students are given just one lens—power. Here’s your lens, kid. Look at everything through this lens. Everything is about power. Every situation is analyzed in terms of the bad people acting to preserve their power and privilege over the good people. This is not an education. This is induction into a cult. It’s a fundamentalist religion. It’s a paranoid worldview that separates people from each other and sends them down the road to alienation, anxiety and intellectual impotence. . . .
Read the whole thing.
So why is the single-lens approach so attractive to many academics?
More than 50 years ago, C S Lewis wrote about some similar tendencies that he observed in British primary education, in his book The Abolition of Man. Referring to two textbook authors who he had critiqued, he remarked that “literary criticism is difficult, and what they actually do is very much easier.” Indeed, it is surely easier to base one’s classes around fashionable themes than around serious intellectual topics, and it probably results in better student reviews, as well.
I’m also reminded of something asserted by Andre Maurois: people who are highly intelligent, but not in any way creative…who are not capable of formulating a system of thought on their own…tend to throw themselves voraciously on those systems they come across, and to apply them more vigorously than would their originators.
Particularly given the vast expansion of higher education in recent decades, it does seem likely that a lot of academics–perhaps the majority–do fall into the “intelligent but not creative” category, and hence will be eager system-adopters rather than objective analyzers and integrators of systems. People of this sort also probably have a tendency to reify abstractions…to treat some categorization or conceptual model, which may be useful under particular circumstances, as if it were actually something real and tangible.