Sunday, February 10, 2008

Just Like Grad School

The deep problem of Josh Marshall's increasingly execrable posts about Hillary Clinton is not only that he has made them, but also that they are not terribly unusual among A-list male bloggers. Melissa McEwan sums up the reason why the rhetoric is ass-covering crap here, In Things I Find Cute, much better than I can.

I've heard Josh Marshall's arguments about how MCNBC's rhetoric may be offensive but it's not, like, sexist, y'know, before. It was the standard bullshit spewed by male professors and male grad students about the dynamics of graduate classrooms and seminars when the female students in the room objected to some gendered statement or act by the aforementioned male profs and students.

Big Media Matt put up a post the other day before Josh's wet, steaming pantload was generally noticed that brings up the biggest truth, that the Clever Young Men of the Blogosphere simply can't see because they are unable (and unwilling) to observe themselves as part of the phenomenon:
I think Hillary Clinton's going to win this thing. I think the college educated men who dominate punditland have spent a lot of time missing the fact that there actually are enthusiastic Clinton fans out there -- they're just mostly working class women and thus mostly not in the room when this CW gets hashed out. On the Record

Not in the room.

That really sums up the deep structural problem of the "netroots" as a source of political strength on the left. They have never left the graduate classroom while the rest of us have moved on.

I spent a long time in graduate classrooms before finally deciding that I needed to find a line of work where I could retain my dignity, and I know this type of person very well. He's white (or codes as "white"), very articulate, often socially awkward, deferential to fawning towards the most senior male in the area, smart-as-a-whip in a bookworm kind of way, can throw together short, abstract, sophisticated arguments about their own esoteric subject at the drop of a hat, and has spent the last 8 to 10 years of his life being praised as the smartest guy in the room. They literally earn an "A" for their thinking and how it is received by the professors. It is a deeply incestuous and self-reinforcing environment.

In short, their entire sense of self-worth is tied up in winning verbal exchanges on subjects they are going to get tested on in the mid-term exams next month. Yak-yak between and amongst themselves (all under the approving eye of the senior male professor who will give them a recommendation on their job application to Podunk U.) is the fabric of their lives. They don't waste time with anything that doesn't mark them off as "clever" and "insightful" (as determined by the senior prof), and they get hostile when someone or something enters their carefully constructed cocoon and simply rips the foundations of their arguments out from underneath them.

Such as being told that, no, what you are saying is not just gendered, but pernicious and misogynist. Or, even more threatening, that their approach to the topic at hand is simply wrong and they have misunderstood the entire question. These are guys who are deeply invested in their (ahem) intellectual apparatus, in the correctness and insight of their opinion of what is. They literally don't know what to do with themselves if they aren't getting praised for saying smart things on demand. Deep down inside, they run on fear - that they will stop being the smart one, they will be cast out of the Ivory Tower and they don't know how to do anything else except be smart.

I know this terror because it is what kept me in academia far, far longer than I should have stayed. It is literally what a guidance couselor said to me as I struggled to figure out what to do once I knew I wasn't going to stay - "You aren't qualified to do anything, because all you've done is go to school." I had a professor sneer at my attempts to learn computer programming and leave grad school, "I see. You'll just settle for a job. I guess you aren't up to a profession." It made me very angry at the time, the way he belittled me, but I do see, now, that he was projecting his own fears onto me, that he was the one who couldn't keep up.

This is why people like Josh have flocked to the net. They can continue being big and important on the basis of their opinions and clever arguments and not on their ability to, you know, hold down a job. The way in which the rest of the world putters along very well without them and could not care less what their grand pronouncements are is inherently threatening to what makes them tick. It reinforces their deep fear that they are irrelevant and incompetant.

To my thinking, this is why the leading lights of the netroots on the left are so dangerously out of step with the Democratic grassroots. They are flocking to candidates and causes without concrete foundations to their positions, and they speak mainly among themselves, which further exacerbates their distance from the run-of-the-mill citizen. They seize on the formal argument and overlook the practical application. Worse, they cling to sophistry and the good-old-white-boys praise and promote systems of academia and journamalism, and insist their justifications are right. If they didn't, their entire raison d'etre would vanish and they might have to get a real job bagging groceries, fixing electrical lines, tending elders in nursing homes, or collecting garbage. Icky, dirty, hard things that they might not like and wouldn't be very good at.

This is intellectual elitism, yes, but even more a rather childish and frightening inability to distinguish the worth or weight of an idea in the context of an ordinary life.

For example, read Steve Lopez's column Points West in the LA Times today, "In Latino neighborhood, Clinton's experience counts," where he talks to Latino men about why they voted for Hillary. The men interviewed said the same things most online Clinton supporters say - she's got more experience, they trust what she'll do. What about machismo? They scoff and say they are educated and civilized, they don't fall for that BS. What about her Iraq vote? Yes, that is a problem and they hold it against her, but they also put it into context. Bush lied, the economy is flagging, she'll stop the war. They have engaged in moral reasoning and have reached a balanced and defensible position.

And I'll bet they didn't have to read a single blog to make up their minds.



Anonymous said...

I'm watching Obama on 60 Minutes right now and I get the same feeling when I see George W. Bush speak. I just can't stand it. So arrogant.

Melissa McEwan said...

Great, great post, Anglachel. And thank you for the link. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Anglachel, I'm in grad school now, second time around, and I can really relate to this post. You should read Professor Zero's blog:

She is a prof. in Louisiana, and she writes about "re-education" in academia, which sounds a lot like your/our experiences.

I have something much more shallow and tangential about this phenomenon here:

I really enjoy your blog.