Wednesday, June 15, 2005

A defense of Ward Churchill

Not by me, of course, but by CU sociology professor Tom Mayer, who made the attempt in a Daily Camera piece yesterday. Brave lad. And if he ends up not doing much for Churchill, Mayer at least shows that Rocky Mountain News columnist Mike Littwin, picked on here for claiming that Churchill is in no way emblematic of leftist academics, was right. Professor Mayer's own measured words prove it:

Mayer: Anti-Churchill crusade is appalling
By Tom Mayer June 14, 2005

Ward Churchill is a politically committed intellectual in the mold of Rosa Luxemburg, W.E.B. DuBois, Jean-Paul Sartre, Linus Pauling, Edward Said, and Noam Chomsky.
Linus Pauling?

Churchill has influenced how we think about indigenous people. In particular he has compelled us to entertain three interrelated propositions: 1) The genocide of indigenous people is not just a regrettable episode of bygone times, but an ongoing political and ecological reality. 2) The principal force behind this ongoing genocide is the voracious appetite of advanced capitalist societies for both profit and consumption. 3) Most Americans have, in one way or another, collaborated in the destruction of indigenous peoples and cultures.

Thus Americans are likely to be targeted when forceful resistance movements emerge. These propositions are exceedingly unwelcome to persons in power and to all uncritical celebrants of American civilization[. . . .]

Don't these rumpus-room revolutionaries ever vary their vocabulary? "Ongoing genocide;" "advanced capitalist societies;" "indigenous peoples and cultures." But even more than the Marxist-Chomskyite brain farts, it's the tone--the arrogance, the self-congratulation, the tacit legitimation of terrorism ("forceful resistance movements")--that lets you know someone in the immediate vicinity is Speaking Truth to Power.

Hope they use torture

Churchill, Mayer declares, is an "acerbic and persistent" critic of American society (he's half right) who's being silenced by an "inquisition" that "will make it far more difficult for faculty members at the University of Colorado or anywhere elsewhere [sic] to say things deemed outrageous by the reigning guardians of political and cultural propriety."

By "outrageous" Mayer means "lies," and by "the reigning guardians of political and cultural propriety" he means "the CU faculty committee on research misconduct."

Mayer then addresses the most recent charge of plagiarism against Churchill:

I have not seen or read the 'The Water Plot' article which the Camera editorial identifies as the smoking gun of plagiarism [actually, it doesn't]. The Dam the Dams group, from which Churchill supposedly plagiarized, was part of a broad new left movement for social change, a movement in which I also participated.

No kidding. And see, Mayer explains, in the 60s and 70s they didn't have all these plastic fantastic hangups about who, you know, owned this or wrote that, man. They just, like, shared:

Movement people did not conceive the world in terms of property rights, nor were they obsessed with using publications to chalk up status points. Thus the ethics of citation within the new left movement differed substantially from standard academic protocol.

Uh-huh. Where's The Guess Who when you need them?

How many?

Mayer includes a surprisingly vague attempt here at the famous classical proof of the integrity of Ward Churchill's scholarship, the proof from footnotes per chapter:
I am quite familiar with four of Ward Churchill's books and with a considerable number of his articles. All of these works are densely footnoted and replete with numerous references.
Weak. How many footnotes, Tom? Do you even know? It's 400, Tom. Four hundred footnotes per chapter, Tom. Jeez.

Mayer quickly regains his footing:
Nor is Ward Churchill hesitant to acknowledge intellectual debts. His writings include frequent thanks to people from whom he has learned or borrowed ideas. Given his idiosyncratic admixture of exposition and polemic, I find it hard to imagine how or from whom he could plagiarize[. . . .]
Ward's an idiosyncratic admixture of something, all right. Mayer finally drags along to his shocking conclusion: "power elites" and "self-proclaimed patriots" are merely trying to get rid of a "politically committed intellectual." CU has "capitulated to this intimidation," and by doing so has confirmed (among other bad things) "its longstanding reputation as an institution unfriendly to people of color."

How's that again?

Okay, so Mayer's a flat-out Marxist. What the hell should I expect?

Well, nothing from him, but it'd be nice if people like the News' Littwin would quit claiming that Ward's peculiar ideas are unusual at CU or any other university. They ain't.

(via Pirate Ballerina, who also muses on the precise meaning of everybody's "with it" word of the moment, "genocide")

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