Something about Sam Beam live is so soul-satisfying.
Something about Sam Beam live is so soul-satisfying.
I am a poet because I sit down at my desk, at my computer, to ask questions I didn’t know I had in ways I didn’t know I could express. Often, that is the reason I get up in the morning–to explore that space. But sadly, the overwhelming amount of work I’ve been tasked with recently has hurt that writing practice (if you value your free time, don’t get a PhD). I’ve been unable or at least not in the right mental space to write. And now that some of that work has waned, I can be mindful about my practice again and work back into that space. And as I work into that space, I find it more difficult than I thought.
Unlike riding a bike, it’s like trying to find a path in a dense wood that’s grown over. I catch glimpses of the path, but then lose it, and I find myself wandering. Not that there isn’t value to that wandering–there certainly is. I just have more interest in wandering mindfully, wandering in a productive space. So I do what I always do when I’m in this situation: I turn back to my poet-mentors. I re-read Charles Wright and Tony Hoagland and Allen Ginsberg. It’s proving helpful, and it’s a potent reminder that we’re not lone voices out in the void; we belong to a rich collection of voices all sounding in relation to one-another, even if we don’t realize it.
There is some romance to the rugged lone voice, no doubt. I know the allure of the romance of the rugged individual better than most, and it’s a substantial effort to be aware of how woven into everything my experience–and my voice–really is. Something to embrace and celebrate, that intricate stitching. More than the appeal of the lone voice out in the wilderness, our writing becomes an important part of that larger effort and experience.
Donald Trump is an unconventional, untested, and polarizing presidential candidate, and I think many who plan to vote for him will do so holding their nose—but the fact remains that his ascendance to candidacy represents a significant trend in American politics and cannot be dismissed. The more one investigates Trump and his move from liberal-leaning Northeast blue blood to tentative champion of the GOP, the more interesting it becomes.
It seems, in many ways, that there are two Donald Trumps: the relatively quiet, thoughtful Trump of the 80s and 90s, where in interviews and TV appearances he worries about our national debt and OPEC’s power, saying we need a capable president but admits he’d rather not do it, and then there’s the Trump of now, the loud, brazen, fix-it man, the autocrat in training itching for the reigns. Trump in 2016 looks an odd amalgam of these people, and this seems to make him complex enough to allow people to see what they want to see in him. He is both a successful business man who knows his craft and a pompous windbag who flexes his relative power to exhibit pettiness and solipsism (read his Twitter feed sometime).
If we could extract the competent (though, if we’re being fair, not any kind of amazing self-made) business man from Trump, the man who understands how the market works and what a government can do to make a mixed market flourish, we might end up with a capable commander in chief, but that person and the unbearable, self-made caricature are inextricably connected. Much like we can’t in Hillary Clinton have the experienced and intelligent lawyer without the lying, scandal-ridden politician, we can’t have the best of Trump without the worst.
And if this is the case, then what Trump supporters get from him, even knowing his significant downsides, must be worth it, and what that seems to be is an “I’ll get things done” mentality. Trump posits himself as a doer, and argues that this country needs fixing—just hand him the tools. And in this, his primary urge and appeal, he is his most un-conservative and unappealing. Much like Clinton, Trump represents America’s increasingly external locus of control.
If one wants to learn about American sensibilities and circumstance in the 20th century, one can examine trends in automobile manufacturing and marketing. The models that role into the showroom provide a mirror of American values: the gargantuan luxury-mobiles of the 1950s, the power-laden cars of the 1960s, and the economic cars of the late 1970s tell a story about who we were collectively in that moment. Politicians work very much the same way, and if Theodore Roosevelt reflected the American desire for independence and autonomy, Trump is the latest model of let-me-take-care-of-you.
In this, he is decidedly not conservative—at least not in any small government sense. He supports eminent domain, the federal reserve, Social Security, government-funded healthcare, the Patriot Act, and closed borders. If the dominate sensibility of the GOP is fiscal responsibility and individual liberty, then Trump is an imposter. Or, more troubling still, we’re moving away from these values entirely in favor of a demagogue who vows vaguely to make everything “great” again, though he never really explains what that means (allowing people to quietly pencil in their own meaning there). I fear that Trump supporters might be right: Trump will get things done. I fear that what he’ll accomplish is contributing to an ever-increasing and overreaching federal government.
So, what’s a liberty-minded, fiscal conservative to do? Both parties are differently-packaged brands of big government, both promising, if you just give them the power, to fix our country. Certainly, Gary Johnson provides an appealing alternative, though it seems that Johnson will be more like a Nader and pull votes from Trump rather than a genuine third-party contender—as unfortunate as that is. If any substantial benefit will come from this election cycle, it’s that we might recognize the uniformity of American politics—that the oft-touted values of both the Democratic and Republican parties are simulacra, artfully-crafted lip service—and recognize that the push-and-pull that matters is between individual liberty and politely forced conformity, and that it’s not always easy to tell who’s on what side. And if our political system is broken enough to leave us with no other choice but one, I hope we might have the sense to change that system.
Naturally, this will be one of those videos whose context will change as this year’s election cycle continues and eventually ends. Still, I think Jillette has a lot of interesting things to say–and he’s such a likable person.
Alan Watts, if you’re unfamiliar with him and his work, was a student of Zen and of philosophy in general, who worked to bring Zen and other Eastern traditions to the West (though certainly, the juxtaposition of East v. West reveals part of the problem of translating things like Zen in the first place into a culture that sees things binarily). In this brief excerpt, he does what all great Zen teachers do: attempt to help the student or listener arrive at an understanding through illustration rather than direct instruction. Enjoy–I hope your Wednesday is treating you well.
This is something you’ve likely heard before – academia is bursting at the brim with leftist intellectuals actively attempting to indoctrinate students. Perhaps the version you heard isn’t so aggressive. Maybe the university is filled with left-leaning professors and students just can’t help but be influenced. Or sometimes the opposite case is made: the university is actually painfully conservative, reinforcing conformity and obedience.
But what is the truth? What does the university really look like politically? To answer this question, we have to look at some data.
Mother Jones does a nice job pulling data from a more complete study of the liberal bias by Niel Gross in Why are Professors Liberal and Why do Conservatives Care?, distilling the book down to a few basic points:
- 50 percent of professors describe themselves as being “left or liberal.” That puts the professoriate considerably to the left of the country as a whole; Gross estimates that professors are “about three times more liberal on average” than American adults.
- However, just 8 to 9 percent of college faculty can be accurately described as “far left” or “radical”—and the percentage is even smaller among younger faculty. “The professorate is obviously not bursting at the seams with revolutionaries,” writes Gross.
- 19 percent of professors could be called “moderates.”
- On the right, Gross estimates that economic conservatives comprise just 4 percent of academia, and that 23 percent of academics are social and pro-military conservatives. In general, conservatives “tend to cluster in fields like accounting, management information, marketing, and electrical engineering” and economics.
- Professors are also less religious than average Americans—but this, too, shouldn’t be overblown. Research by Gross has shown that just over half believe in God.
According to Gross, and this seems supported by other similar studies, reports of radical left-wing indoctrination in America’s universities is largely overblown. Certainly, intellectuals and academics trend to the left, but the university is not one big union meeting with red flags draped on the walls. Having spent some nine years myself in the hallowed halls of academia, I can attest to Gross’ findings. I’ve never seen a a communist flag in a professor’s office, nor an anti-Christian rally. Still, it’s pretty clear that academia, especially my field–the humanities–is populated mostly by left-leaning thinkers and intellectuals.
The question of why the left is so well-represented in academia is an interesting one, and Gross provides an answer that is likely an important part of the equation: academic self-selects and self-reinforces its political bias. Basically, as the academy began to gain a reputation for trending leftward, people who trended leftward were drawn to the university to be with like-minded people and those who trended rightward avoided the university. In other words, it’s a kind of self-reinforcing political tribalism. And when you look at the structure of most academic departments (though it’s quickly becoming more corporate), the process of bringing in new faculty is pretty personal; much of the process beyond the preliminary issue of qualifications . It’s no surprise that people would naturally gravitate towards candidates who are both qualified and share their worldview.
But it’s more than that, I think. From my own experience, for whatever its worth, the nature of academia seems to draw in a more left-leaning person for a variety of reasons. To be fair, my experience is almost entirely in the humanities world, and more specifically the English/writing world, but I imagine my experience would look familiar to someone in the social sciences or other similar fields. What goes on in the math departments, though, is a complete mystery to me.
One of the main reasons I think left-leaning people are drawn to the university, and to the humanities in particular, is that academia has traditionally been anti-commercial and anti-capitalist–something that appeals to those on the left who recognize the shortfalls of capitalism (which we might separate from “free markets,” here). At least when considering more traditional liberal arts colleges, the primary goal is always that higher, more idealistic aim: to deepen one’s ability to think critically, to challenge conventional thought, to discover what it means to be human, etc. Sadly, the corporate world has infiltrated the university, and academia has been changing for years now, but at least in theory, the traditional role of the university as a place of higher learning above all else still holds true in most institutions.
Another reason I think those who trend leftwards are interested in the academy is the nature of interaction in academia. Generally speaking, it’s communitarian and cooperative rather than individualistic and competitive. Don’t get me wrong–academia is still an extremely competitive place, with colleagues duking it out over grant money and honorary positions. Still, the natural “government” of the university is a committee: a group of people that strive to come to a consensus. This looks quite different from the top-down, more totalitarian or autocratic nature of the corporate world where orders come from above and are handed down. Again, things are changing, but at least at the college and department level, the sense of community is still considered important.
At the end of the day, it does not feel like the end-goal of the university is profit, and I think that appeals deeply to many on the left, who see the profit motive as potentially problematic and counter to their ideals. From a more pragmatic perspective, we can safely assume that people aren’t entering academia for a big paycheck–that’s for sure.
There are other important reasons, too, that there are more left-leaning than right-leaning people in academia. I think the privileging of empathy, the draw of a free-thinking atmosphere, and the separateness from the corporate world all naturally pull those on the left into the halls of academia. In fact, a quick look at those departments that privilege those things the most–say, English, Peace Studies, Gender/Women’s Studies–reveal the most left-leaning people. People are drawn to institutions that share their values.
The question that comes up, then, is whether this degree of political singularity presents a problem for academia–whether it is missing out on some benefit from having a larger diversity of viewpoints. As academia is not quite as one-sided as most people think, and because even people who share similar worldviews still have much on which to disagree, I don’t think there’s much to worry about. What say you?