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Works and Days

Government by the Faculty Lounge

June 13th, 2010 - 9:20 am

Foreign Policy

Here is a perversity: almost every rascal-like head of state that this president has decided to use “reset button” diplomacy on is unfortunately now more hostile. He made a big splash of sending a video and greetings to Ahmadinejad, who seems perhaps more bellicose than ever. Chavez was courted, but he now sounds like a Bush is back in the White House. Recall the much ballyhooed trip to Turkey — why then the present Turkish response? The outreach to Syria and the missiles to Hezbollah — why did Assad do that after we were so nice? And why is not Mr. Putin appreciative of our kind words? Why does he not help us with the Iranian problem? Maybe all those new hundreds of millions of borrowed dollars to the Palestinians will at least change their opinion of us?

Who is a friend, who an enemy? Rule of thumb: if you liked the U.S. between 2001-8 (e.g., Britain, Colombia, the Czech Republic, India, Israel, Poland, the former Soviet republics), something was wrong with your illiberal, pro-Bush stance. But if you pretty much despised America (e.g., Cuba, Iran, Russia, Syria, Venezuela), then we sort of sympathize with your former antipathy (we shared it too), and so now want to reach out and expand our common ground.

Crises, then, originate because of miscommunication and being not nice, not out of fundamental differences in belief about the way nations organize the economy, politics, or social and cultural life. Diplomacy and good intentions, not deterrence and military preparation, persuade bad actors to behave. Excuse me! — there are no bad actors, just misunderstood ones who have translated their understandable post-imperial, post-colonial grievances into anti-Americanism. They need to be contextualized rather than confronted.

When we look at the growing darkness in the word over the last two years — Turkey as the new Sultanate, Israel soon to be threatened by a nuclear Iran and new missiles in Syria and among Hezbollah, North Korea promising a fiery Seoul, Europe disintegrating, Russia sensing that Eastern Europe and its former republics are without U.S. support with Putin cat-smiling over the missing canary, China not wanting to lend more to extend our welfare state whose entitlements already surpass its own, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Peru, and Venezuela all eager to remake Latin America into a socialist, pro-Iranian paradise (this list could be vastly expanded) — we see at least some wages of half-baked utopianism and tactical “I hate Bush” bromides in lieu of a serious foreign policy. This is diplomacy practiced along the lines of the peace and conflict resolution program.

Faculty Lounge Wisdom

OK — Washington seems to run now along the logic of the faculty lounge. But let me explain the rules of Lala land. Some of you were not academics for 21 years. No problem, you can easily imagine what the worldview is on campus — given that after six years on the job you cannot be fired except for felony conviction (and even that is problematic). After tenure a failure to publish and awful teaching evaluations mean nothing. “Post-tenure review” has the teeth of a UN investigation.

The in-class work week is about 6-8 hours. You toil at school 32 weeks a year. A hyphenated or exotic name often brings career rewards. Liberalism is defined by accentuating gender and racial differences, not ignoring them.

Peer review and faculty governance adjudicate talent, and academic senate votes resemble the margins of Saddam’s old plebiscites.

Status is predicated on university affiliations, the more Ivy League the better; an Ohio State professor with 10 successful books is always judged a failure in comparison to a brilliant Princeton professor with two “seminal” articles. The more one covets academic status, the more one deplores the unfair social divides in America.

Money is as despised in the abstract as it is pursued in the concrete. No one has run a business, worked much in dead-end, physical labor, or felt economic disaster when the economy went south. Tragedy instead for those who make it on the academic gravy train is the absence of an automatic pay increase, a refused sabbatical, or a hiring freeze. Academics damn Wal-Mart’s exploitation, but count on part-timers to work for a third of their own salaries for the same work — and thereby subsidize their own aristocratic perks. The PhD is felt the equivalent of a MD or MBA, and so leisured contemplation focuses on why less well spoken doctors and CEOs cruelly and so unfairly make so much more than far smarter professors.

I’ll stop for a breath. You get the picture. We are being run by former academics or career politicians and bureaucrats who rely on academic wisdom — note the response to the Gulf slick, the Iranian bomb, or the rising deficits. Obama’s key 500 appointees, like himself, have little experience in commerce, business, law, medicine, or the military, but lots of experience in the academic revolving door.

When I would go to department meetings, get coffee, or see faculty at receptions, I could never quite understand the aberrant mental processes. There was never a connection between our salaries and the source of wealth generated to pay them. Taxes could be limitless, because a Michelle’s proverbial “they” had far too much money anyway, and so spent their lucre on needless things like jet skis and SUVs. Better for the university to have it and spread it around wisely.

Foreigners were usually smarter than Americans, mostly because they took the train and were without a Ram pickup in their garages. Fright surrounded things like flipping back the circuit breaker or unplugging the sewer line under the house; more mysterious were the grubby folk who didn’t eat arugula and were called in to conjure up a fix to these bothersome distractions.

Ambiguity in speech, not clarity was preferred; the ability to adduce ten different points of view was always considered superior to deciding on one. Tantrums, the occasional obscenity, the knife-in-the-back memo always assumed a sort of rule that such rascality never earned a punch in the face; the art was to be as cruel as possible without resort to violence.  Yet when gut-check time came  to vote openly yes or no and take the consequences, most voted present by skipping out or abstaining.

The white male Midwestern student without money or connections was to be pitied and ignored as a loser as much as was the discriminated black student of the 1940s and 1950s. The more constructed identities the better — I remember the female, gay, half-black administrator achieving a rare “threefer” and soaring through the state university system cursus honorum.

The perverse was always preferred to the logical: so a Mao was better than a Churchill, Lincoln was faulted for not possessing 1999-era academic sensitivity, and FDR not WWII saved the economy from further depression. Versailles explains Hitler rather than his own insane hatreds. The Soviet and Chinese nightmares were problematic and based on misunderstandings of Marx rather than natural conclusions from him. The real fear after 9/11 is backlash, not more terrorism. The non-Christian nihilist Timothy McVeigh or the Columbine Satanists are proof of widespread Christian terrorism; the last 50 aborted Islamic terrorist plots are aberrations.

If you wonder how our present administration’s attitudes toward business, commerce, taxes, finance, race, national security and foreign policy now play out, just drop by a local faculty lounge for a few minutes and listen up — America in 2010 will suddenly make sense, and perhaps scare the hell out of you all at once. It all reminds me of the proverbial first-semester college student who returns home at Thanksgiving to his near-broke parents to inform them of all the “new” things he’s learned at university.

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