Then Who Am I?

According to The Nation‘s Eric Alterman, this is the definition of a Liberal:

 The “larger message” for what Roosevelt called “the liberal party” was a clear and simple one: “As new conditions and problems arise beyond the power of men and women to meet as individuals, it becomes the duty of the Government itself to find new remedies with which to meet them.” Add to this John Dewey’s precept that “government should regularly intervene to help equalize conditions between the wealthy and the poor, between the overprivileged and the underprivileged,” while acknowledging Reinhold Niebuhr’s prescient call for “humility” in all such undertakings, and you have a concise, compelling statement of what it means—then as now—to call oneself an “American liberal.”

I find the quotes Alterman includes here to be completely alien to my political position. Actually, they horrify me. This means I’m not a Liberal. Then who am I? This is not a rhetorical question. We all know I’m not a Conservative (just read the posts on abortion, housewives, religious fanatics, gay rights, etc.). And now it turns out I’m not a Liberal either.

Is there any group that shares my opinions? And please don’t say “Libertarians”, unless you can point me to the Libertarian activism aimed at keeping the government out of people’s uteri and their beds. Also, I don’t think that children are objects owned by their parents, which means I’m definitely not a Libertarian.

Who, then?

Who Needs to Get Rid of Older Academics?

Each day brings yet another completely bizarre and profoundly idiotic solution to the non-existent “crisis” in higher education. Instead of straining their brains and realizing that the calls for profound changes in our system of higher education are part of the anti-intellectual trend of peddlers of stupidity as a life goal, my fellow academics show just how servile they can be by inventing ridiculous self-castrating methods of pruning everything that’s of value on American campuses.

See, for example, the following disturbing article published at Inside Higher Ed. This online resource (which is supposed to be written for academics by academics) has turned into one of the biggest academia-bashers in existence. It is now proposing that colleges should get rid of scholars over the age of 65 because they cost too much and can easily be replaced with new PhDs:

First, these individuals are expensive. They are generally tenured, often hold endowed chairs, and are at the top of the faculty compensation scale. While they might be great teachers and/or researchers, they can often be replaced by a young faculty member at less than half the cost.

Most of us leading colleges and universities must consider the expense of those who continue to want to be employed after age 65 because of the national attention on the cost of higher education and faculty compensation is often the largest slice of that cost.

I have go to wonder whether the person who wrote this is simply dishonest or painfully stupid. This national obsession with the supposedly sky-high salaries of college professors is based on a myth that people like the author of this piece promote. Compared to the huge amounts of money wasted on college athletics, remuneration of useless overpaid administrators and the maintenance of silly fraternities and sororities, the salaries of experienced academics are a drop in the bucket. The benefits of having people with decades of experience in teaching and research on campus, however, are enormous. I have two 60+-year-old colleagues whose assistance in navigating the academia in general and my institution in particular has been incredibly helpful. A university simply cannot function without  constant interactions and exchanges of knowledge and experience between academics who are at the very beginning of their journey as scholars and more experienced, seasoned academics.

The reason why this completely fictitious concern over “hugely expensive” older scholars is being manufactured is simply that older tenured scholars fight for the rights of academics and students very effectively. At my university, I have witnessed several highly effective campaigns in defense of the rights of college professors spearheaded by 60+-year-old scholars whose decades of experience in conducting (and winning!) such fights were both helpful and inspiring.

The author of the article (who, as you might have guessed already, is a college administrator) makes the following suggestions aimed at squeezing mature academics out of their universities:

  • Give up tenure at age 65 — a move that ensures younger superstar faculty will have an opportunity to stay at the institution.
  • Relinquish endowed chairs or professorships. In this case, time is not on a younger professor’s side. If they cannot see a path to promotion they will go elsewhere.
  • Take a reduced salary based on a pay scale similar to incoming faculty. Yes, when you play with salary questions, you’re playing with fire, but in most cases living expenses go down as we educate our kids and pay off homes. And Mick Jagger solo makes less than the Stones. Much less.

The fake concern over the younger faculty members is especially offensive to me. Surely, this administrator is aware that what destroys tenure positions is not the existence of older academics but the creeping adjunctification of American campuses. Transform all adjunct positions into tenure-tracks and you don’t have to push out older scholars by humiliating them.

Americo Castro, one of the greatest scholars of Spanish history and literature, wrote his The Structure of Spanish History at the age of 69 and his Out of the State of Conflict at the age of 76. Benedict Anderson, one of my favorite historians, published Debating World Literature at 68. Fernando Lázaro Carreter, a great linguist, published his hugely popular defense of the Spanish language against those who torture it at the age of 74.

As a younger professor in whose name this administrator claims to speak, I can assure everybody that the last thing I need to happen for my career advancement is the massive removal of older academics from the campus. There are some dead-weights in academia, for sure, but I have never seen any connection whatsoever between being a dead-weight and being of a certain age.

Would You Forgive Somebody Else’s Killer?

Maybe it’s just as well that I don’t have television any more. Yesterday at the hotel, N. and I decided to use the rare opportunity to watch some TV. It took us all of 10 minutes to turn it off and go back to our books. What made us realize that this TV watching session was a waste of time was the following exchange.

During a late-night talk show at CNN, the host showed a clip of George Zimmerman’s testimony and asked his guests (who identified as some sort of legal and political experts), “If you were Trayvon Martin’s parents, would you forgive the killer?”

The answer of all three “experts” floored me.

“I want to say that I would be able to forgive. . .” one of them started saying.

“We all want to say that we’d forgive,” the second “expert” agreed.

“Yes, everybody wants to believe they’ll forgive in such a situation,” the third chimed in.

These people sound like they are from a different planet. What kind of a monster can come up with something like this? Who the hell do they think they are to forgive anything on behalf of a murdered person? The boy is dead. He is lying in a grave, rotting. How come anybody thinks they have the authority to forgive or not forgive the murderer?

If, God forbid, somebody murdered a person I care about, I hope I would have the presence of mind to remember that I’m not the victim here and it is not up to me to forgive a crime committed against somebody else. Unlike the CNN’s weird experts, I definitely don’t want to believe I’d become a holier-than-thou jerkwad who’d rack up sainthood points by forgiving a crime that robbed another person of a life.


Since househusbandry is yet another topic that people love to misunderstand, here is a disclaimer:

A self-employed person, a person who works from home, a person of a creative profession (writer, poet, painter, etc) who might not be making any money with his art just yet, a student, an unemployed person looking for work do not equal a housespouse. I’m talking very specifically about people who refuse to look for work and spend the greatest part of their time waiting for their working spouse to come home and coming up with inventive ways to spend that spouse’s money. People who have absolutely no professional or social ambitions or plans of their own.