I’ve heard countless professors bash President George W. Bush and American conservatism for the past four years. Sometimes it fits into the class discussion, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s always done effortlessly and under the assumption that everyone in the class agrees with the criticisms. I find this kind of well-to-do bashing difficult to understand.
This isn’t to say that the criticisms are weak or baseless-there are times where I think the criticisms are intelligent and fair, and times when they seem brainless. My concern is over the seeming lack of consciousness from some of the professors that tout the Democratic Party lines over and over again.
The enlightened intellectuals of academia despise the conservative media bias associated with Fox News and WABC Radio. They think of President Bush as a close-minded Nazi. But what about the liberal media bias of the New York Times or CNN?
What I’ve come to realize over the last four years is that biases, prejudices, even certain kinds of racism, are unseen by those that employ them. Conservatives watch Fox News and believe it to be the “fair and balanced” network it claims to be and liberals often read the New York Times just as unassumingly.
It has traditionally been the purpose and duty of academics to serve as iconoclasts to dominant ideologies. We question the actions of the Europeans in conquering America. We question organized religions and think of their practitioners as na’ve, even stupid. We oppose the United States’ foreign policy and sympathize with the victims of war in the Middle East.
We seek to break the icon and empathize with the downtrodden, the oppressed, the poor. We question those in a position of distinct advantage.
That’s what makes us academics enlightened.
But what happens when we flip that kind of criticism around? What I’m getting at here is a question of perspective. I have learned to practice placing myself in the shoes of others to obtain alternate perspectives, to understand that my way of reasoning is not the only way. I have come to understand that in a world where nonsense can come to dominate reason, logic has its shortcomings.
When the military fails to find weapons of mass destruction, when the Patriot Act is passed, when claims of misconduct at Guantanamo Bay are made, easily-condemned actions are served on a silver platter to the masses.
It’s the role of academics to act slightly above the masses. This point of view is often dangerously confused with apathy or indecisiveness. While those words carry negative connotations, I prefer to associate moderate thinking with ambiguity.
In political criticism, certainty and generalization often supersede ambiguity and nuance. This is completely un-academic, as life is perpetually filled with ambiguities and nuances.
As an editorial columnist in 21st century America, a time and place that affords me the tools to hear every angle to every story, to come to understand every scenario as particular and personal, to serve as a skeptic to conspiracy theories and what politicians say, it is increasingly difficult to write with certainty and to ignore the personal aspects of very political actions.
As a good business-major friend of mine once told me “the best decisions are made with about 60 percent of the information. Knowing 100 percent makes it too difficult to make decisions.”
So if knowledge leads to ambiguity, how can we continue to speak with such certainty? I’m not so sure myself.