Thursday, August 16, 2007

Nothing is more democratic than logic...

Solomonia has posted rather externsively (here) on the latest kerfuffle * at American academia concerning the allocation of tenure to alleged anthropologist Nadia Abu El Haj. The opposition to this entitlement focuses on a book she wrote about how Israeli archeologists invented Jewish history in historic Palestine that was never there. Many scholars took her up on her claims and debunked her theory one leg at a time until it no longer has any no leg to stand on. Still, the university is considering tenure to a professor who uses her cathedra as a pulpit to teach/indoctrinate falsehoods to young students. If she is a gifted teacher, she can work magic on these young and receptive minds.

I'm confused about the meaning of "academic freedom" when it pops up in cases like these. Does academic freedom imply freedom from any constraints, any basic standards and indebtedness to factually sustainable theories? Or does it mean freedom to create alternative narratives to history and pass them off to unsuspecting students as valid and worthwhile? Isn't the university at all concerned about the possibility that its graduates would be let into world with ideas of truth and accountability forever crippled by the kind of scholarship el-Haj advances?

There seems to be a struggle between two rights here, or rather a right and an ethical principle: the right to academic freedom and the principle of academic truth. Which prevails, or should prevail, when it comes to a question of tenure, the right to teach lies and distortions of history or the principle of academic truth that opposes the teaching of lies and distortions?

All of which, for some reason, put me in mind of something I read a long time ago about Jewish scholars:

A Jew, on the other hand, in keeping with the business circles and the past of his people, is least of all used to being believed. Consider Jewish scholars in this light: All of them have a high regard for logic, that is for compelling agreement by force of reason; they know, with that they are bound to win even where they encounter race and class prejudices and when one does not like to believe them. For nothing is more democratic than logic; it is no respecter of persons and makes no distinction between crooked and straight noses

(Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 348)

If fiction and post-modernistic "narratives" are now going to be given the mantle of respectability and legitimacy in academia, then the first casualty of such a decision will be logic, with democracy a close second. Depressing, isn't it?


* kerfuffle, contrary to received opinion, and in spite of its "crooked grin" sounding enunciation, is not a Yiddish expression. It's from the Scottish language:

ker·fuf·fle Pronunciation: k&r-'f&-f&l Function: noun

Etymology: alteration of carfuffle, from Scots car- (probably from Scottish Gaelic cearr wrong, awkward) + fuffle to become disheveled chiefly British : DISTURBANCE, FUSS


At 11:53 AM EDT, Anonymous The New Centrist said...

cross posted to The New Centrist:

Nadia Abu El Haj: Charlatan Anthropologist

At 1:50 PM EDT, Anonymous Noga said...

Thanks, New Centrist.

At 10:51 AM EDT, Blogger bob said...

Great post Noga.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home