Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Campus War

The Campus War: A Sympathetic Look at the University In Agony, John R. Searle, 1971

The Search for the Sacred:
People in general, but especially young people, have a need to believe in something and to act on behalf of something that they regard as larger than themselves. They need goals that they can regard as somehow transcending their own immediate needs and desires; these goals make more tolerable the mediocrity and insignificance of their daily lives... Western democracies do not provide adequate outlets for these religious impulses... the search for the sacred is primary, and is not to be explained as a derivation from some other motive or set of motives.

Both the creation of intense feelings of community within the student movement and the pursuit of the sacred goals require an adversary. Someone must play the role of the enemy... efforts at compromise are doomed to failure simply because any compromise with the evil enemy is regarded by the militants as morally unacceptable, a sellout to the enemy.

Stage two: The creation of a rhetorical climate:
It is tempting, and I think rewarding, to compare this style of rhetoric with the McCarthyite witch-hunts of the 1950's. In both cases, there are extreme accusations against those in authority: they are out to get us (loyal Americans/ students); they are working in a conspiracy with our enemy (the Communist Party/the military-industrial complex), all their (liberal/liberal) talk is really a mask to disguise their real aims of (treason/oppression), they are really running this (government/university) not for the benefit of us, the (loyal citizens/idealistic students), but for the benefit of them (the international Communist conspiracy/the corporations and the Defense Department).

... it is in the interest of the TV news teams to conceal from the viewer (and from themselves, if possible) the extent to which the scenes are staged for the cameras. For their task is not to provide a comprehensive picture of an independently existing reality -- if they did that they would produce the most boring TV show in the world and no one would watch -- but to provide dramatic entertainment based on current events.

...a standard objection to the movement is that it lacks a coherent program. There is no political platform, no set of specific objectives which the revolution is supposed to achieve. What the critics here fail to note is that the style is the platform, and the means are the end. The liberation and commitment involved in being fully in the movement is a more important objective than this or that political victory. Where personal salvation is concerned, such things as electing a candidate to public office, passing a piece of legislation, or amending the Constitution, seem relatively unimportant.

The Double Standard:
The double standard -- the insistence that the administration should comply with impossible standards of rectitude while forgiving its adversaries everything short of murder and arson -- is often manifest in the recurring instances of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.

While the administration finds that it could not describe the weather without being accused of lying, its adversaries and their apologists are able to purvey wildly inaccurate accounts of events and be readily believed.

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