Sometime before Christmas ’04, a bunch of leftist academics got together and started a blog for the purpose of addressing people on the right. I think “lecture and harangue” was what they had in mind. The blog was called Left2Right.
Somehow, very early in its existence, Ramesh Ponnuru picked up on it and published a link on The Corner and, to the surprise of the owners, it exploded overnight. If the old comments are archived, I can’t find them — which is a relief, since I won’t have to back up anything I’m going to say with, like, facts and stuff. But a pity, because all the interesting things happened in the comments. That’s where the righties showed up to spar.
Many of the academics on the masthead never posted at all. Some who did disallowed comments. I think of the blog as belonging to David Velleman, a philosophy professor at NYU, because he handled the housekeeping and lion’s share of the posts. If I incorrectly attribute anything to him here, I apologize. As I said, I can’t find the comments and I’m working from old braincells here.
Anyway, when the two sides were sizing each other up early on, Velleman (I think) remarked that he knew righties feared academics and he would try to tone it down for us a bit. That floored me. His meaning clearly was that Neanderthal conservatives were famously frightened and intimidated by the giant, throbbing brains and stonking huge titles of college professors and he promised not to use big words. He wasn’t trying to insult us. Not only did it not occur to him there could be any other reason conservatives didn’t like the academy, he assumed we believed this about ourselves. Like, what other explanation could there be?
Actually, he ran an excellent group blog (despite the occasional unconscious ‘tude wafting off of him). His writing style in the main posts was light and readable. He chose good topics. He allowed comments and didn’t censor any unless they were clearly trolls or frankly obscene. He managed to keep it moving, and keep the tone of the whole effort relatively open and breezy — no small accomplishment for a site built around competing political ideas. And considering he never expected it to be what it was.
I was so proud of “my” side of the argument (not my own words; I was a relative lightweight). Several excellent proponents of conservative and libertarian (and genuinely liberal) ideas came out to play. No matter the topic, there were righties in the comments who were interesting, articulate and thoroughly in command of the subject. Some confessed they were themselves academics incognito. I learned so much; it was one of the best blog reads ever.
So I was shocked when, after several months, Velleman (I think it was Velleman; I’m going to be embarrassed if it wasn’t) again made reference to the obvious fact that conservatives are intimidated by intellectuals. It’s one thing to start with a misconception, it’s another to be caught holding onto it after hundreds of pages of evidence to the contrary. I know he read the comments; he appeared in them. He was simply impervious to learning from them.
Which perfectly illustrates the REAL reason righties hate academics (the modern liberal arts kind, anyway): we think you’re stupid. We think you earned your many titles memorizing the “correct” ideas by rote, the way jihadis learn the Koran in the madrassa, and are just as inflexible about them. We think you choose to spend your careers in the company of the young because you aren’t up to the company of grownups. We think you walled yourselves up in the academy because you’re afraid of what’s outside. We think you’d rather die than be judged uncool. We think you are drawn to large words because you have small ideas, and they would look it if spoken plainly. We think you absorb information and regurgitate it again, but do not process it in between. We think you don’t think.
Ohhhh…that feels better. I’ve wanted to say that for two years. Left2Right lasted about six months, and sputtered out when the academics drifted off for the Summer. The occasional post appeared after that, but it never caught again.
I wonder if they had any idea what a gift that was; a high-traffic blog with many and excellent commenters was handed to them overnight. Or if they knew exactly what they had, and didn’t consider it a gift.