Friday, June 08, 2007

Thready the freeloader

Speaking of Inside Higher Education, University of Maryland professor of history Art Eckstein (that is not a history professor-type name; "Jazz bassist Art Eckstein," maybe) had this to say on the thread to the journal's piece on Ward Churchill the other day:
“I again reject the idea, brought forward this time by [Chutch-supporting commenter] TM-CU Alum, that inventing historical incidents, in this case a fictitious atrocity, and turning them into causes celebres in book after book, as Ward Churchill did, is common practice among professional historians.”

That this and other misbehavior is in fact common practice among academics, if not specifically professional historians, is a semi-constant theme of this blog, so naturally I responded, pointing to my favorite example: the lies told by Australia's most eminent historians to promote the leftist belief in the "genocide" of the Aborigines. Professor Eck replied:

The Australian cases are pretty well known—esp. the Tasmanian issue—and Churchill had an influence on the radical scholars involved, who use his paradigm to explain much.

But I don't think the Australian cases are well-known, at least in the U.S. Certainly they haven't been written about much in this country. In fact, apart from a couple of posts of mine, all I can dig up is one little piece on the History News Network. If Professor Eckstein knows of others, he can point 'em out. He continues:

So, yes, the cancer has certainly spread, and it is an ideology in which “good politics” is allowed to replace “good scholarship", and where those who object are called nit-pickers, or worse, fascists (as Michael Vocino essentially termed me).

Pretty much. But if Professor Eckstein thinks being called a fascist nitpicker is bad, wait till he gets a taste of real Churchillian rhetoric.

But the cases we can cite still constitute what is called merely “anecdotal evidence.” Yes, there are famous cases—Bellesisles [sic] here in the U.S., and Churchill—but (so far) not too many. And if they can be punished (as Bellesisles was, and as Churchill is yet to be), then faculty will all sit up and take notice. But the question is: it’s here, yes, but how widespread IS it?
Like I say, professor: quite. Again, not necessarily the overtly fraudulent scholarship of Churchill, but certainly a Churchill-like disregard of scholarly standards in order to advance a crude leftist agenda.

Let me throw out a few names, just of CU faculty: there's Emma Perez, professor of ethnic studies and briefly Churchill's replacement as chair of the department; sociology professor Tom Mayer, a vile little apparatchik and author of the no-doubt dispensable Analytical Marxism; Churchill's frau Natsu Saito, professor of law and true believer who, under the screen name "Truthforce," anonymously praised her own and her husband's writings; Ben Whitmer, ethnic studies instructor and owner of the wretched Try-Works blog, which for years has obscenely smeared and threatened Churchill's critics; and let's not forget the comical Arturo Aldama, the first (but far from the last) academic to praise Churchill for the volume of his footnotes.

More? Margaret LeCompte, Vijay Gupta, Elisa Facio . . . Not all ethnic studies people by any means. Nationally? Just a few at random: Eric Cheyfitz, Robert Jensen, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Bill Ayers, Julio Assad Pino, any eco-catastrophist . . .

Professor Eckstein continues:
All I can offer as counter-evidence is my own personal experience: in my own Department of 45 people, which contains mostly leftists and only a few centrists (and the last rightist retired this year), I don’t see the kind of profound intellectual corruption we are talking about here.
"The last rightist." Wasn't that a Charlton Heston movie? In any case, I've seen way too much blindness, willful and otherwise, among academics to trust Professor Eckstein's unsupported impression of his department.
But obviously there are areas where it is growing. But even in fundamentally radical programs such as American Indian Studies, I know many (real) Indian (real) scholars who are also (real) Indian activists but who are also (really) appalled at Churchill and are in fact risking their own careers to combat him, and to combat the deadly influence of his style of methodology. These Native American men and women are firm in upholding standards of scholarship. So we must be careful not to stigmatize whole fields (something I think I’ve been a bit guilty of!)—though obviously there are fields where the profound intellectual corruption we are discussing is farther advanced than in others.
This is boilerplate. How, exactly, are Indian scholars (and activists) risking their careers by dissing Churchill? As far as I know, there are almost no (real) Indians or Native American organizations that support him. All he's got is Colorado AIM. On the other hand, the (real) Indians who do support him have drunk as deeply of the Kool-Aid as any of his guilt-ridden white colleagues (Chris Mato Nunpa, anyone?). The (real) professor continues:
By profound intellectual corruption, I mean a real indifference not merely to dealing with historical nuance, complexity and ambiguity, but also and assertively an indifference to standards of historical accuracy itself (on grounds of, e.g., “alternative metanarratives", or even: “what is useful to the movement is what is true, or, anyway, true enough").
You mean like this:
The Committee recognizes the validity of many ways of knowing about the past. . . . Multiple perspectives, providing different vantage points about a given set of events, enhance our ability to understand the complexity of the past. Thus the oral traditon of a tribe involved in a previous event may force reconsideration of established accounts derived exclusively from written documentation. . . .The oral traditions of the Mandan, Arikara, Hidatsa, and Sioux peoples, those closest to the events at Fort Clark, likewise contain multiple and conflicting assessments. We believe that all kinds of sources have value; we privilege none.
This complete abandonment of (not mere "indifference to") historical standards, of course, is from the report of the Churchill investigating committee (p. 47), which thus accepted the authenticity of that famous speech supposedly made by Mandan leader Four Bears
as he was dying of smallpox in 1837. The text of the speech was preserved together with Chardon's journal and was later inserted into the appropriate chronological place by the editor of the published volume. Although the authenticity of the speech has been questioned, it seems possible that Four Bears did give such a speech (though perhaps not on the day of his death) and that Chardon was told about it by someone who spoke both Mandan and either French or English. While Four Bears' speech was certainly mediated--translated and transcribed by someone other than its nominal author--it may provide a generally accurate representation of his sentiments. A descendant of Four Bears recited his statement in full in a conversation around 2000 and accepted it as reliable (p. 49).
Well, he would, wouldn't he? But the truth is, the committee accepted the authenticity of Four Bears' speech on no evidence whatsoever, and did so as an act of political correctness. That even they succumbed to fashionable notions of the truth indicates to me that the rot goes deeper than Professor Eckstein is willing to admit. His comment ends:

I don’t know how bad it is. I’d say: it’s here, but we must be careful not to exaggerate. And above all we must fight against it.

Exaggerate? Please. But the professor is absolutely right: we must (I strike a heroic pose) fight against it! Unfortunately, it's harder to do if you don't fully understand what you're up against.

No comments: