David Brooks in the NY Times this morning presented us with “A Short History of Deanism”. Part of his thesis had to do with a study that showed the demise of the American fraternal organizations such as those that brought people together. He mentioned Elks, Rotary and Soroptomists as examples of these places where mostly men got together for fellowship and advocacy of some good thing like collecting money to send poor kids to summer camp. Mr. Brooks then went on to cite the Sierra Club as an example of the new kind of professionally run groups for the “educated classes”.
What Mr. Brooks is pointing up is the divisiveness of such groups of “intellectuals” who are quite different from the “regular fellows” who got together for fun, companionship and to feel good that they contributed to making America a better place in which to live. The problem I see is that Mr. Brooks (who has not been invited to join the intellectuals who hug trees and such) has become a spokesman for those who point to the intellectuals as somehow seedy non-Americans who make us ashamed for their wrong-headedness. This is part and parcel of the attack on the Academic Establishment that has been blamed for being out of step with the rest of American Regular People who are not as well educated. These are the “egg heads” of old that have foisted Liberalism on us and given Academia a bad name.
Academia has always had an aura of lofty tower isolation from the rest of the country. This is partly caused by the language drummed into young scholars who want to join up with and become part of the teaching cohort. They turn from being students and suddenly become the wise old professors who pass and fail the rest of us.
Somewhere along the line, the notion that social promotion was perfectly fine for the rich and socially connected scions who gave money to the Alma Maters that dot the country. The Best schools only accepted the best and these were put on a train that ran from the classroom to the boardroom. Regular guys and girls need not apply although they were quite in evidence in the political atmosphere of the Town Meetings where there was a fellowship of a sort and common problems were discussed, debated and settled. That Town Meeting no longer exists.
Some, not all, academic bastions have become embroiled in racial, religious and political conflict where students are pitted against other students and often against the faculties. Feuds among politically diverse faculty members have found their way down into non-intellectual and non regular fellow separation and there is little or none of the language of knowledge and social do-good-ism involved. Poor intellectuals and poor regular fellows!