TCS Daily


Zell and the Converts

By Mary Grabar - September 8, 2004 12:00 AM

Long before the twin towers were brought down by diabolical promoters of an ideology in 2001, another tower, representative of the great accomplishments in Western culture, had crumbled after an attack from within. Some of the hijackers aiming the planes into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, and toward the Capitol had spent time as students on U.S. and European campuses and must have sensed that many of their professors would have been in sympathy with them.

They were right, as some of the reactions to 9/11 on university campuses and on government-sponsored media, demonstrated. While the good average citizens expressed shock, outrage, and patriotism, disillusioned sophisticates lectured to classes on the evils of the West. While most of America put up American flags, the remaining enthusiasts of Marxism plastered the hallways with "Understanding Islam" posters. While most of America grieved, dissolute graduate students grabbed the opportunity to post political diatribes against the U.S. government on university list-servs.

I was outraged by such behavior; but, having been in the academy since I started graduate school in literature in 1992, I was no longer surprised.

I entered graduate school expecting to find the most fully realized ideal of liberal and open discussion and investigation of the best in our literature. Politically, I considered myself a moderate and had voted for Bill Clinton. But what I found were classroom discussions that were little more than character assassinations to advance personal careers; a cynicism that obviated life itself; the use of classes and scholarly writing to advance political theories; and an atmosphere of intimidation to the student who dared to express a belief in traditional ideals such as the reading of literature for meaning, inspiration, and beauty. What I found was a scoffing at the very idea of meaning, of truth, or indeed of value in the studying of what previous generations of scholars and readers had determined to be the great works.

What I found in the early nineties had started in the sixties, when student radicals began their assault on the institutions of higher education, going so far as to force their way into Deans' offices, sometimes armed. The curriculum I discovered had been instituted, not by a careful evaluation by the wisest minds (that might mean old people, heaven forbid), but by political agendas of now-tenured radicals who held posts as administrators, faculty, curriculum devisers, and textbook writers. In scholarly articles and books they deliberately set out to undermine the tenets of Western civilization, and attempted to destroy independent thought by systematically undercutting the idea of reason and logic. They appointed the naysayers and devaluers of the good and the beautiful to endowed chairs in literature; they appointed the promoters of animal rights and child euthanasia to chairs of ethics; and to those with an anti-Jewish and anti-Christian agenda to chairs in religion.

And so while my colleagues in smooth, even tones criticized Senator Zell Miller's speech at the Republican National Convention for its "zeal" and "mean-spiritedness," I saw a like-minded citizen outraged at what had happened to this country, for I too was outraged first by the attack from the outside on 9/11 and then by the attack from the very building where I worked on 9/12 and after. The time and situation demanded outrage, and Zell Miller through his words and his unflinching steely gazed delivery presented that much needed message. It was a message and form of delivery so true that no one, not even the President, had dared to express it in such a way. There was, thankfully, no moderation to Senator Miller's address. Miller blazed forth and dared to call evil by its name and shake his fist at those who refused to recognize it, much less fight it. He was like the prophet who came down from the mountain, and his case, from one in North Georgia. There is a blight on the land; someone needed to say it.

Rightly, he criticized those who blame conflicts on American "clumsy and misguided foreign" policy. Senator Miller may be unaware of it, but the "slick talkers" with tenure would have responded in the expected way to any kind of attack on the United States. In fact, there was a certain schadenfreude expressed in their editorials and e-mail messages after 9/11. Many protested sending troops to Afghanistan after 9/11 and were critical of the way that campaign was conducted.

But this anti-Americanism did not begin with the war in Iraq. In the mid-nineties I had the opportunity to experience first-hand the promotion of such a view in a class on the modern novel, in which the major text was Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. Indeed, Senator Miller, had he had known about it, would have been outraged back then to hear a popular professor promote the idea that agreed with Pynchon's claim that, rather than being liberators of the Nazi concentration camps, the U.S. was a major player in the regime's inception. The novel, after a string of descriptions of sado-masochistic acts involving children (connected, of course, with the West/U.S./Nazi regime), ends with the indictment of the latest in what Pynchon presents as a long line of fascist presidents, Richard Nixon. Pynchon's book is nothing but a long, hallucinatory propaganda piece that in a disjointed post-modernist style distorts history in order to equate Nazism with Western civilization.

Senator Miller would have been outraged had he sat at my dissertation defense and heard me being upbraided by a dean on my committee for failing to acknowledge in my dissertation that the U.S. government was a fascist regime during the 1960s.

Senator Miller would have been outraged had he been in an English department where the very idea of "family" is questioned and attacked. He would have been shocked while listening to discussions of sadistic child pornography discussed with aplomb not only in Pynchon's novel but then again in the class. He would have been shocked to see the family portrayed as an institution of evil and oppression, of patriarchy; to see motherhood presented as "territorialization" in women's studies; to read in an online feminist journal an academic mocking her ten-inch male fetus, presenting her view of it on the sonogram as an aesthetic event in the hours leading up to her decision to abort it because of its physical defects. He would have been shocked to read discussions by acclaimed scholars of performance studies of transgendered sex workers who assert power over men through pornographic performances, or to see someone's daughter or sister as the subject for a class on the rhetoric of pornography. He would have been outraged to see the textbooks ordered for a multicultural freshman composition class where photographs of men dressed as women and mocking women in camp with text that makes not even a pretense of scholarship. He would have been shocked by the glib arguments of graduate students trained by the radicals who ask: why defend your particular family over the family of the enemy? Who is to say?

As with Zell Miller, my conversion was solidified by 9/11. That event made very clear the danger of the ideas promoted by theorists like Noam Chomsky, Richard Rorty, Edward Said, and Peter Singer. That is the one thing the students taking over campuses in the 1960s realized: the arguments made in the halls of the academy, contrary to the conventional wisdom about the isolation of the ivory towers, have very real impact. The graduates become journalists, teachers, parents, and government workers. The political ideologies do not begin with the peasants, the workers, the average citizens. They start with the slick talkers, the ones who deliver their messages in measured tones, with thousands of footnotes. They then become policy.

Like the protestors and journalists referred to by Miller who enjoy their right to attack others with words, the academics enjoy the privilege of disparaging their own government because some have the courage to defend them.

Senator Miller was right to call attention to this evil within our own borders and among our own citizens. We need the straight-talking principled man from Appalachia to tell us this. We have had too much obfuscation from those who are undeserving of their doctorates and J.D.'s.

The author is a writer and college professor in Atlanta.


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