Saturday, April 28, 2007

Bill Ayers sez

In Brecht’s play Galileo the great astronomer sets forth into a world dominated by a mighty church and an authoritarian power: “The cities are narrow and so are the brains,” he declares recklessly. “Superstition and plague. But now the word is: since it is so, it does not remain so. For everything moves my friend.” Intoxicated with his own radical discoveries, Galileo feels the earth shifting and finds himself propelled surprisingly toward revolution. ” It was always said that the stars were fastened to a crystal vault so they could not fall,” he says. “Now we have taken heart and let them float in the air, without support… they are embarked on a great voyage—like us who are also without support and embarked on a great voyage.” Here Galileo raises the stakes and risks taking on the establishment in the realm of its own authority, and it strikes back fiercely. Forced to renounce his life’s work under the exquisite pressure of the Inquisition he denounces what he knows to be true, and is welcomed back into the church and the ranks of the faithful, but exiled from humanity—by his own word. A former student confronts him in the street: “Many on all sides followed you with their ears and their eyes believing that you stood, not only for a particular view of the movement of the stars, but even more for the liberty of teaching— in all fields. Not then for any particular thoughts, but for the right to think at all. Which is in dispute.”

The right to think at all, which is in dispute—-this is what the Ward Churchill affair finally comes to: The right to a mind of one’s own, the right to pursue an argument into uncharted spaces, the right to challenge the church and its orthodoxy in the public square. The right to think at all.

It’s no surprise that this outrage against Professor Churchill occurs at this particular moment— a time of empire resurrected and unapologetic, militarism proudly expanding and triumphant, war without justice and without end, white supremacy retrenched, basic rights and protections shredded, growing disparities between the haves and the have-nots, fear and superstition and the mobilization of scapegoating social formations based on bigotry and violence or the threats of violence, and on and on. There’s more of course, and this isn’t the only story, but this is a recognizable part of where we’re living, and a familiar place to anyone with even a casual understanding of history. Here the competing impulses and ideals that have always animated our country’s story are on full display: rights and liberty and the pursuit of human freedom on one side, domination and war and repression on the other. The trauma of contradictions that is America.
Nerdified link. Make sure to check out the rest. Professor Churchill's "crime" is to be politically incorrect at a time when the PC police are running through the halls of academe like an angry mob on crack. For that, his hopes of hanging on to his tenured position at the University of Colorado are minimal at best. The dodgy charges of academic dishonesty have been followed up with an equally dodgy (as it turns out) investigation into his alleged misdeeds. Had Churchill never dared to mention that the numerous paper pushers working at the WTC were engaging (wittingly or unwittingly) in daily acts of organizational violence, and that such acts can elicit blowback, there would be no effort to oust him from his job.

Ayers does hit on the basic issue - to what extent are we in the academic field free to think for ourselves? To what extent can we freely take on controversial opinions in a public space? If those freedoms are squelched (which does happen - just look at whatever authoritarian dictatorship you wish to examine and check out the academic freedom situation there), what is left to distinguish academe from the trade schools? And of course if a tenured faculty member is not safe from the clutches of the special interest groups that are trying (and largely succeeding) to squelch academic freedom, then who is safe?

Tip o' the hat to The Try-Works.

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