I have just been reading about a Queer Studies Conference hosted at UCLA which seems to have come straight out of Jonathan Swift’s “A Voyage to Laputa” or Petronius’ Satyricon, works that anatomize the pretentious folly of intellectually decadent societies. The blatant contradictions, sheer delirium and rancid jargon-fat on display in the UCLA colloquium must be read to be believed—though, palpably, not understood.
One conferee’s research consisted of several weeks working in a bar. Another delivered a paper with the loopy title “On the (Im)possibility of Queer Translatabilities and the Formation of Gender Identities in Post Civil-War Beirut, Lebanon.” A third proposed the establishment of a new State of Sodom. In a blaze of mathematical wizardry, we are informed that “There are three types in the world…men, women, homosexuals, and lesbians.” It seems a good time was had by all, especially as the event concluded with a musical performance by one Vaginal Davis.
The unmitigated drivel and sanctimonious dementia passing for intellectual discourse exhibited here—at a major American university—has become ubiquitous in the postmodern liberal academy—that is, when professors are not busy indoctrinating students with anti-American tripe or discharging anti-Israeli bilge into the troubled waters of contemporary politics. The scope of the ludicrous “explored” by the modern academy has grown humongous and called its good faith and intellectual credentials into critical doubt. Indeed, the liberal university, overloaded with suspect cargo, has not slipped so dangerously beneath the scholarly Plimsoll line since its pro-fascist 1930s.
The decay of intellect starts in the university but spreads throughout the culture like another Black Plague, this time affecting not the physical body but the very mind and soul of an entire civilization. The evidence is all around us. Seriousness has become play and facility has turned into facileness. The idea of moral authority and the belief in universal values are regarded with patronizing insouciance. Intellectual discipline has been gradually but remorselessly displaced by earnest frivolity. We spend our time exchanging idle stories about a world we no longer understand or are willing to come to grips with, like characters in a latter-day Decameron. Most damagingly, what we used to call “truth” is now a deprivileged category of verbal exchange, a mere notion with no greater validity than any other.
According to the reigning school of academic thought, loosely known as post-structuralism, truth is only a species of “interpretation” that depends on one’s ideological predispositions or power base—what that admittedly brilliant dufus Michel Foucault in The Order of Things called the “episteme.” Except, of course, if one inhabits the conceptual realm of the left where the truth, in defiance of the postmodern dogma that there is no such thing, apparently resides. The inconsistency, or rather, the hypocrisy, of the university-sponsored left, which has conquered the intellectual citadel of the culture and controls the terms of our conversation with one another, boggles the unadulterated mind.
The erosion of the concept of truth has come to mean that one can lie with impunity and in this way the moral and intellectual structures at the foundation of communal life have been radically undermined. The result is that we now inhabit a civilization on the skids, one in which the lie is no better than the truth, democracy is no better than tyranny, the sham is identical to the real, a fabricated area of study can replace an authentic discipline, rhetoric trumps substance, and surface is infinitely preferable to depth. It is a kind of cognitive regression we are experiencing or, if one likes, a celebration of the duck-billed platitude as our totemic insignia.
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