kurt's nightmare

Generally, I post once a week. Topics are randomly selected and depend mostly upon whether it's baseball season or not. Other topics will include sex, politics, old girlfriends, music, and whatever else pops into my little brain. If you'd like to read, or ignore, my blog about China: http://meidabizi.blogspot.com/

Location: Dayton, OH, Heard & McDonald Islands

I'm an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Dayton. I represent no one but myself, and barely do that. I'm here mostly by accident.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Sean Hannity, history policeman

It can't be very easy in America to have the last name Butz, given the level of sophistication of our culture and its humor, and the hangover of prudishness that permeates much of that culture. Thus, Bart Simpson can call Moe's and ask for "Seymour Butz," and it's hilarious. When I was growing up, our neighbor (known simply as "Mr. Butz") was just mean, and stole our baseballs that landed in his yard (my mom took great sport in stealing his tomatoes, in a classic expression of ressentiment). Then there was Earl Butz, Gerald Ford's Secretary of Agriculture, perhaps best known for being fired after making a pretty crude and pretty racist joke (and perhaps not as well remembered for having pleaded guilty in 1981 to evading $74,057 in taxes. He was sentenced to five years in prison and a $100,000 fine. All but 30 days of the term was suspended.)

Which brings us to Arthur Butz, a professor of electrical engineering and Holocaust denier. Butz has been doing what is known as "revisionism"--also known, in this context, as denying the Holocaust--for thirty years. I will simply point out two things about his position: it's stupid, and arguing about historical claims is rarely as black and white (epistemologically) as a lot of people seem to think. (And the farther back you go, the harder it gets.)

Holocaust denial is somewhat of a cottage industry on the fringe of the right wing; it has its own journal, relatively prominent figures (specifically David Irving), lots and lots of Web sites, etc.. I don't know anyone who takes this movement seriously, although Irving is a pretty good scholar, wrote what seems to be a respected book on the firebombing of Dresden (weirdly enough, footnoted in Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five"), and presents his case with standard apparatus and aplomb. He's just wrong, and being wrong in this case generally brings with it an undeniable patina (and often worse) of anti-Semitism.

Which, in turn, brings us to Sean Hannity, of the famous pair (as Al Franken accurately puts it) Hannity and Colmes. Sean has turned his wary and informed eye toward academics, warning parents who watch his show that--to put it a bit bluntly--their children may well end up in college being forced to join al-Qaeda, after becoming homosexual drug addicts who worship Hilary Clinton and hate all things American. (Sean is being helped in this endeavor by having David Horowitz, another expert on academics, five nights in a row on his show. No doubt, being fair and balanced, FOX will provide five consecutive nights for a rebuttal. Or perhaps offer Noam Chomsky a half-hour in prime time to discuss academic freedom. I'll let you know when that gets scheduled; maybe sweeps week?)

Hannity's argument--rather standard for him--is short and sweet, without annoying nuance or detail.

Butz is a teacher.
Butz has a personal webpage he accesses through Northwestern University.
Butz's personal webpage features his Holocaust denial material.
Holocaust denial is wrong.
Butz should be fired.

Some things Hannity might add, were he in the nuance business:

Butz teaches electrical engineering, and there has never been any indication that his political views have ever been introduced into the classroom. Butz explicitly states on his personal webpage "This Web site exists for the purpose of expressing views that are outside the purview of my role as an Electrical Engineering faculty member." Butz is tenured (to teach EE). Butz has been doing this for 30 years, and to suddenly realize it and bring it to our attention as if it is "news" is a bit odd. Northwestern is probably not in the business of editing the personal webpages of its faculty for views and positions (with the obligatory "no matter how noxious") that are allowed and are prohibited.

Hannity's perspicacity sometimes gets run over by his bluster
, in spite of the fact that he thinks he is sufficiently well-informed about history (and, I guess, electrical engineering) to determine who should and shouldn't be teaching such subjects (and what they should be teaching).

The idea seems to be that Hannity believes it is in his purview to determine that if some faculty member says something on a webpage accessed through a university that Hannity determines is wrong, that the faculty member's tenure can be revoked and he or she be fired.

There are a couple of things problematic about this. Either universities simply don't allow its faculty members to have web access through the university for non-academic material, or this is a call for censoring the content of personal webpages. The former would solve the problem, except for those icky cases such as courses in philosophy, history, English--okay, the Humanities--and, well, the natural and the social sciences and business and education and medicine and law and maybe even engineering where the line between "relevant course material" and other ("non-academic") material isn't so easy to draw. The latter seems to be in a bit of a conflict with the idea of the university (so beloved by Cardinal Newman, among others who may well be viewed with affection by Professor Hannity): that the prior determination of what can and cannot be discussed, evaluated, criticized, etc., is antithetical to the very nature of the university.

I'm just guessing, but I have a feeling that some faculty members in the US have personal webpages that discuss religion, politics, love, patriotism, and many other things. If a chemical engineering professor has a personal webpage devoted to the beneficial effects of Roman Catholicism--which may be contested in some quarters--does Hannity want this professor terminated? What about an education professor who argues that race is a determining factor in intelligence (however one chooses to define "race" or "intelligence"?) What about an engineering professor who argues, similarly, that there is a hierarchical structure to race and intelligence? (The last two cases are real; would Hannity have wanted Stanford to fire the inventor of the transistor?)

What Hannity (and Horowitz) seem to forget is that 99% of the professors of this world spend 99% of their time preparing for class, trying to publish, holding office hours, giving presentations, grading, going to meetings, and doing all the other quotidian stuff required of them. We may have time for other things (such as writing a blog), but the vast majority of us don't stay up late at night trying to figure out how to indocrinate our students in order to recruit them to our hate America campaign.

Do we have our own views, and do those views affect what we teach? Almost certainly; last time I checked, most professors were members of homo sapiens. It might help if Hannity (whose own academic career is sufficiently checkered that it is difficult to find out much about it) or Horowitz sat in a classroom and took a course, or even taught a normal kind of course (e.g. an English composition course, or a course on the Introduction to Philosophy), to see what actually occurs.

There are approximately a zillion professors in the U.S.. Some, no doubt, are useless. As soon as Hannity quits going to the doctor, because some physicians are useless, then I'll be happy to take his insights into post-secondary education a bit more seriously.


Blogger Bazarov said...

Nice posting. I hope as i get older i'll use less profanities and be a little bit less angry in writing them up (just a little).
As far as the holocaust deniers go, Michael Shermer has done a good job at beating these people senseless as far as history goes. He's the head of the Skeptic's Society as well, so you'd think if holocaust deniers were to get any support, it'd be from the leader of a skeptics organization.
The last point you made i like a lot and have been thinking about a great deal lately; consistency. I've always wondered how so many people can use the products of technology that came about from an understanding of the universe through the scientific method and then flatly deny some rather obvious implications of what that method has shown. The Amish seem to be the only ones holding to their myths with some consistency.
In any event, I don't know enough about Sean Hannity to say much about him. If he's popular on tv however, that usually doesn't mean anything good (the pet rock actually made a profit!). I sometimes wonder if that scene in Eric the Viking could really happen or not. The scene is where blood is shed on the utopian-like island and it begins to sink. Terry Jones' character flatly denies it's happening and goes down with the island vehemently denying the reality that is encroaching. I have a feeling many of these deniers would refuse to believe the holocaust no matter what. And has Hannity ever come out and gone back on anything he has said? He seems to me, from what i can gather, to be the sort of fella who'd rather sink with the island than admit it was sinking.

1:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you're brilliant

3:55 PM  
Blogger jraunick said...

Jesus was crucified. Some deny he ever existed. Many races have been slaves at some point or another. Each having members of their race in denial in the fact that their race alone has suffered. I may have been an indentured servant in another life. Prostitutes exist purely because there is a demand for their service. I've been told this is not true. Indifference and Indoctrination are both what we individually choose, either out of complacentcy and pacification or lack of education. Indifference and indoctrination and Lack of or access to education are the reason's no one is outraged. Considering the access to education in this country which fights indifference and indoctrination, if the playing field is truely leveled, I am inclined to believe that WE JUST DON'T CARE. I'm sure lots of people would deny this. What if I suggested that the selling and buying of our ports will eventually lead to the policing of our homes, not outside but in. What if I said the Gestapo is alive and well, not in the Society of any Clinton, any Bush, any Powell, any, but all. All the suits, from Wall Street to Washington to Hong Kong to Paris, continent to continent, Hollywood and back into your home and your pocket and you can not stop this Gestapo, none of us can. And to Anonymous, Yes..brilliant he is, but don't let him fool you. He is indoctrinating his students and you, with a spell, that takes you over, as you read, beware...

2:11 AM  
Blogger jraunick said...

SHUT UP! i Meant 'Each having members of their race in denial that it is not their race alone that has suffered. Oh shit you know what I mean..

2:14 AM  
Blogger jraunick said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:14 AM  
Blogger kmosser said...

Does that qualify as a rant? Polemic? Phillipic? Persiflage? Or what?

9:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Polemic. Most certainly.

and would you please put a link,
FORGET YOUR PASSWORD? let us email it to your dumb ass...I can never remember the bloody password here.
ok, here we go, attempt 2, I think this is like the atm you get three and it takes your card, so I have a gazillion passes here...Jennifer

12:35 AM  
Blogger kmosser said...

"and would you please put a link,
FORGET YOUR PASSWORD? let us email it to your dumb ass...I can never remember the bloody password here."

I'm not sure what you're asking me to do, but I'm pretty sure I don't know how to do it.

8:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I meant that my dumb ass can never remember my password here. So I need your blog to be smarter than I and ask me a few questions, after I've chosen FORGOT YOUR PASSWORD (Link), and after I answer the questions correctly, you blog emails my password to Me. But that is asking too much so I'll need to write it down, yes?

3:51 AM  
Blogger kmosser said...

maybe you need one of those little password manager deals on your own system?

5:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you are hilarious Mosser...you make me laugh...thanks. hope to hear your band the 31st if possible...jraunick

12:27 AM  
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Hi, guantanamera121212

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