Apolitical Is Impossible (2021 Sep)

by Barry A. Liebling

Many years ago when I was a psychology graduate student some of my teachers deliberately brought day-to-day politics into the school setting, while others refrained from saying anything at all on the topic. Those who overtly attempted to proselytize were evenly split. About half were enthusiastic Democrats and were proud to identify themselves as progressive left “liberals” (not to be confused with classic liberals). The remaining political enthusiasts described themselves as Marxists and socialists.

I was all in with the philosophy of liberty and individualism since high school, but I knew there was no upside to arguing with my leftist teachers. I concentrated on the official aspects of the academic program – course work and conducting psychology experiments – without commenting on political events. Still, my contrarian attitude did not escape their attention. My doctoral advisor told me that when he was in graduate school they took pains to admit students who were committed socialists. He remarked that if I was not part of the solution to society’s problems I was part of the problem. This was his way of expressing the common slogan that “everything is political.”

To the credit of my professors and to my relief I was permitted to finish my PhD on time. They could have found my research and dissertation unacceptable, but they approved my academic work without incident.

Years later I recognize that my advisor was right about one thing. Everything is political, and everyone – whether they intend it or not – are either part of the solution or part of the problem. How you conduct yourself, how you judge people, how you react to events – all this reveals your political orientation. And it is never neutral. Of course, my advisor was entirely mistaken about what the problems are and how to solve them.

Consider what is going on in schools today. The leftist ruling class is pushing with full force a combination of Neo-Marxism and anti-white racism (called without irony “anti racism”). Teaching materials and enthusiastic teachers are haranguing students from K-12 through graduate school that there are oppressed categories of people (those who deserve prizes) and oppressors (those that the woke intend to vanquish – the worst of which are straight white males who represent Western civilization). High ranking officials in the educational establishment are adamant in their insistence that groups are important (the term “social justice” implies this), and individuals count for nothing (except as they contribute to the interests of the group).

Not all is lost. There has been a sizable backlash among concerned citizens – including parents, defiant teachers, libertarians, and conservatives. They are objecting to the woke agenda and are taking steps that they hope will make things right. Their most common rant is that they want to get “radical dogma” out of the classroom. The offended critics – who are not leftists – say that schools should treat each person as an individual, not as a member of an oppressed or oppressor group. They go on to affirm that merit, not ethnic labels, should determine who gets rewarded. And they top it off by asserting that they do not want education to be indoctrination. Instead, they insist, it is time to get politics out of the classroom. These critics are well-intentioned but fail to see that everything is political.

Pull back and consider what indoctrination is. One person’s indoctrination is another’s obvious truth. If students are presented with philosophical or political messages that you find agreeable, it is educational, valuable, and praiseworthy. When you evaluate messages as wrong-headed, contradictory to good sense, malicious, promoting bad behavior – you are likely to label them as “indoctrination.”

The appropriate alternative to collectivism (Marxism is one of many varieties) is individualism. Think of the best elements of Enlightenment philosophy that inspired “all men are created equal” and “natural rights.” Think of free thought, free speech, and free inquiry. These virtuous ideas are being targeted for destruction by today’s woke ruling class. The way to fight back is to be aware of what the issues are and articulate what is correct.

I teach MBA students at a graduate school of business where most people are committed to the leftist agenda. I never bring up the topic of who I want to win in elections, and a naive outside observer might conclude that my classes are apolitical. But I go out of my way to emphasize that my students have free speech. They can disagree with everything that I say and still get an A. When we do case studies on business events I insist that all executives have free will and are responsible for whatever decisions they make. I stress that people should be praised or blamed according to how they act – independent of their demographic profiles.

A savvy outside observer would recognize (as my advisor did many years ago) that I am advocating for Enlightenment philosophy and the politics that support it – which is incompatible and directly contradicts the leftist world view.

Why is this important? There are many (not enough) teachers in higher education that endorse and practice policies that promote liberty and individualism. They conduct themselves well, but they should not mistake what they are doing as being out of the political arena. Advocating for the Enlightenment sensibility is not apolitical. It is the proper radical response to the woke ruling class. Good actors have to stay strong, remain vigilant, and persist in their mission.

*** See other entries at AlertMindPublishing.com in “Monthly Columns.” ***

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