Monday, February 17, 2014

The role of academics and public debates

    Monday, February 17, 2014   No comments

By As'ad AbuKhalil

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote an article for the New York Times in which he implored academics to play a bigger role in public life and debates. Kristof is right about that although I disagree with all his other diagnoses and prescriptions. It is remarkable that academics in the US have no connection or interactions with the public at large. In fact, academics are increasingly trained and socialized to disdain communication and interaction with the masses. Academics pride themselves on perfecting academic jargon to such a degree that style and form become more important than substance. There are social science fields that are more guilty than others: political science maybe the worst as the the field becomes more and more quantitative and the illusion of “science” in politics (something that Hannah Arendt frowned upon) has led to borrowing theories and paradigms from economics to attain more academic respectability.

Academia is now more detached and conservative than ever. Academics in previous decades were able to speak to one another and also to the public at large. C.Wright Mills wrote for the academic field in which he was a part of at Columbia while being able to provide the public with powerful tools to understand the American political system away from the assumptions and presuppositions of the government and its extensions in the various establishments of public life. One can’t think of another example like Herbert Marcuse when his book, One Dimensional Man, electrified youths around the world. Today, academics rise in their ability to speak to the government and to appease the government. Academics who argued that George W. Bush was doing a great job in Iraq all along—like Fouad Ajami and Kenaan Makiyya (although the latter is not an academic despite being rewarded with an academic chair for his political stances that were in synch with American Zionists)—received wide platforms to speak to the public at large but not to challenge or stimulate. They spoke to the public to serve the propaganda cause of a sitting president. Similarly, Robert Putnam (with his Bowling Alone—the article than the book) received tremendous attention and receptivity in government circles.

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