Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Slight Detour

I had a couple of ideas for posts today, which I still hope to get to, but I got sidetracked when my liberal law professor friend shared this on Facebook.

"Love it," she commented.  Not too surprisingly, I didn't, and told her so as directly as I could without descending to rhetorical homophobia.

My main point was that if Maddow's that smart, why she's so dumb?  She may well be more intelligent than those boys, but that only brings to mind Molly Ivins' deathless epithet, "smarter than a box of rocks."  (Or, to borrow Mim Udovich's evaluation of Camille Paglia, I think it's safe to say she's smarter than mayonnaise.)  She's a militarist jingo, and even on gay issues she doesn't bother to inform herself.  I wrote her off entirely when she shilled for Obama at Netroots Nation in 2010.  No doubt she did so entirely voluntarily.  (You cannot hope to bribe or twist / Thank God! the lib'rul journalist / But seeing what the woman'll do / Unbribed, there's no occasion to.)  But it discredits her as a professional journalist.

Plenty of right-wingers have college degrees.  Ronald Reagan got his bachelor's in economics and sociology.  As an undergraduate Bill O'Reilly was an honors student in history, and got an MA in broadcast journalism at Boston University.  I could go on, but why bother?

I could also point to Gore Vidal, who never went to college at all: he went from Philips Exeter Academy into the Navy, and then became a professional writer.  After prep school he educated himself.  And how about I.F. Stone, who started his own newspaper after he graduated from high school?  Oh, he did go back to college and earned a bachelor's degree (in Classical Languages) after he retired at the age of 63, but his real work was done without a BA.  He was worth a dozen government shills like Maddow.

My friend admitted that Maddow rants, but declared that Maddow didn't annoy her the way Limbaugh does.  Of course: and Limbaugh doesn't annoy a right-wing listener the way Maddow does.  My friend is a partisan, for all she denies it.  She said that at least Maddow hasn't shut herself off from learning, as she claimed Beck, Hannity, and Limbaugh have; but that's not obvious to me.  She kept insisting that Maddow was smarter than the others -- that box of rocks again -- and that she detected no intelligence in them.  It's odd, but I've learned not to trust the subjective judgments of partisans very much.  It must be because I'm an ignorant college dropout who has shut himself off from learning.

I mentioned in passing my own lack of a BA, though of course my friend knew about that already.  "It didn't refer to you," she protested.  "You're not a newscaster." Well, yes it did refer to me, actually, even though she didn't have me in mind when she linked to it.  Remember the running gag in Joseph Heller's Catch-22, where the World War II aerial gunner Yossarian refuses to go on any more bombing missions?  "They're trying to kill me," he explains when pressed.  "They're trying to kill everybody," another gunner yells indignantly.  "What different does that make?" Yossarian counters.  The meme is just a smear of anyone who doesn't have a college degree, on the assumption that they are necessarily dumber than a Stanford alum and Oxonian like Rachel Maddow.  The existence of equally dishonest and irrational conservatives with degrees is ignored.  And since so many equally dishonest and irrational liberals also have degrees -- which was rubbed in my face many times this past election season -- it follows that the deciding factor is not a BA.  The meme, and my friend's love for it, is offensive, but more important, it's stupid.  It's a contemptible exercise in class snobbery.  And I hate being reminded that intelligent, highly-educated people can be that stupid and vicious.

Oh yeah, the headline of that meme refers to the importance of education, doesn't it?  I think that education is important and that everyone should have access to it.  But I'm also aware of its limitations, and the threat that educated people pose to the rulers of any society.  More schooled people are likely to identify with the ruling elites and their view of the world, however: Noam Chomsky likes to point out that people with more years of schooling were more likely than people with less schooling to support the Vietnam War, and to accept the US government line that we were defending South Vietnam against Communist aggression.  A major purpose of higher education is to acculturate students to elite values and perspectives, though this purpose took a hit after World War II when large numbers of non-elites used the GI Bill to go to college; many of those non-elites clung to their working-class, non-Anglo-Saxon perspective, so they've been under attack ever since.  But I admit, I begin to question the value of a college education when I see so many college graduates show themselves basically unaffected by it.

P.S. It's probably relevant to mention also the recent, much-touted poll which showed that while NPR listeners were better-informed than Fox News viewers, they still were nothing to write home about: NPR regulars correctly answered 38 percent of questions they were asked about US politics, compared to 25 percent for Fox fans.  Previous studies, before Fox News even existed, showed that the more people relied on broadcast news, the less they knew.  I'm sure all the CNN, ABC, NBC, and CBS anchors were properly educated -- oops, no, Walter Cronkite was a college dropout, but Dan Rather, Mike Wallace, and Chet Huntley graduated.  David Brinkley and Harry Reasoner went to college but I can't find whether they graduated; perhaps they were anti-education moles in the media.