Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Ahh, the Academy

It takes some serious effort to be this stupid--whether or not he's telling the truth.


dcat said...

Tom --
I agree 100%. But I do have this serious question: Should he have been fired? Let's assume that he was not fired because he was missing classes (no way is that true, I do not believe the university for one minute). Should a professor who is otherwise doing his job be fired for his political or social affiliations, no matter how noxious, if it has no correlatable impact on his performance as a professor? Seems like a potentially dangerous slope. Then again, it might be a slope I would be willing to traverse. I am just curious what people (you, your readers) think.

Oh -- and yeah, he's as full of ratcrap with that explanation as his university is for their reason for firing him.


Tom said...

I really don't know, or care to know, the policy ideas of the neo-Nazi group to which he belonged, but I would guess they flirt the free speech vs. imminent lawless action line pretty brazenly, which would be borderline actionable. If the group actually acts on their beliefs, I think the dismissal becomes more clear-cut.

I just don't know the law well enough to say definitively where the line is, but common sense has to kick in at some point. It's not like a member of a neo-Nazi group can claim that they did not act in a harmful way. They did join the neo-Nazi group.

This is all based on the asumption that the neo-Nazi groups advocate actions to take away the fundamental rights of other Americans. I know these guys are careful with how they word things, but again, common sense has to kick in at some point. "Nazi" means something very specific--if the members of a neo-Nazi group call themselves neo-Nazis or Aryans or salute Hitler, they should not be allowed to claim that they don't believe in all the fundamental tenets of Nazism.

The problem is that we let the modern members of the various Klans to do exactly that. It is a slippery slope, so let me draw some lines: Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative, reactionary, socialist, social democrat, libertarian, etc. are okay. Klan, Nazi, Aryan Nation, National Socialist, communist, Marxist, Leninist, Stalinist, Maoist, are not. That might raise some eyebrows, but I think we would do well to develop some precision in our language. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx called for bloody revolution, and that is exactly what true communists do. History has proven that bloody revolution and violent redistribution of wealth are essential aspects of communism. By contrast, socialism works just fine for people who are calling for a nonviolent redistribution of wealth. It seems to me that there is very little agreement on what terms like anarchist and fascist really mean, so they are quite a bit trickier, but I would be inclined to say that anarchist would be okay but fascist would not.

Someone might argue that neo-Nazi groups can just call themselves something else and advocate exactly the same policies. That's true, but remember that the policies they openly advocate have to be mild enough to avoid existing laws--much of their power comes from their threatening names. Somehow, White Angry Guys with Genitalia Inferiority and Envy (WAGGIE) advocating America getting back to its racially pure roots isn't as intimidating as the New Nazi Nation doing the same.

So my answer is "Yes," in this case Pluss should have been fired for belonging to the National Socialist Movement. I'd have to see the specifics of other cases to say what I think of them.

And, yes, I realize that this answer is as scary as hell. Sorry.

Tom said...

Let me add that I'm not sure I believe any of this--I'm willing to be convinced that I'm wrong.

dcat said...

No, I tend to agree -- membership in certain groups may well be construed as prima facie cases of action. In other words, what a group advocates does matter. By any reasonable definition the KKK and their hooded friends are a terrorist organization and should be treated as such. Ditto the Aryan Nation, or Nazi party, or their equivalents.
So is there an acceptable range of ideas? I don't quite want to say that. But ideas are debatable, they are malleable, they are open to contestation. I'm not sure that, in the academy, we can be especially tolerant of the sort of violent intolerance that some groups espouse.
At the same time, I am not sure that JUST being a member of a group would be a sufficient cause -- if someone is working as a math professor, and they are a member of one of these groups, perhaps it would require them to engage in particular acts -- recruitment, say, or overt bigotry. But in the humanities or social sciences, how could a member of the Aryan nation possibly teach black or jewish kids in a fair way when one of the issues they will inevitably grapple with is matters of race and ethnicity. like you, i am trying to think of a way to preserve particular rights that we hold dear with addressing explicit values that we also hold equally dear and that are in direct contradistinction to one another.
Maybe it comes down to the often misquoted idea about shouting fire in a crowded theater -- the key is whether we shout it falsely. Shouting fire in a crowded theater that is actually on fire is obviously no problem. In an academic setting (in any setting) one is allowed to believe any damned fool thing that they want. But their memberships are actions, and some actions can not be countenanced in academia, in police forces, in bus drivers. Thus simply to say we have the right of free association is not enough. free association to do what is the key question. I do not get to choose to be a member of United Gang Rape Posses Inc. and then claim free association as my catchall. The Klan, the American Nazi party, these organizations by their history and their own proclamations go well beyond free association in funny outfits. You can belong to them. But there may be consequences for doing so.
At least that is where I am at now, but like you, I know this is dangerous territory.


Stephen said...

Too dangerous for me to touch.

Jeff said...

I am going to disagree with your conclusions. The guy seems like a freakin moron and I believe that on that basis he could be denied tenure and showed the door. However, I will borrow a phrase from Arthur Schlesinger who argued against purging communists from the ranks of university faculty b/c they had the "right to loathesome ideas." If the guys was a Nazi teaching elementary school you could fire him on grounds that he was teaching children who are under his total control in the classroom. However, he teaches "adults" and they are free to reject his ideas. In the meantime, there are other ways to get rid of a moron from your faculty....

dcat said...

Jeff --
But the problem is that if you are tryinmg to drum someone out of thew academy "for other reasons," those other reasons have to be there. You cannot fire someone for false pretenses or for things that other faculty slide on.
I think you bring a very strong point with the Schlesinger quotation. I wonder if the majority of American communists actualoly believed in overthrowing the US government, of violent uprisings and so forth. Most, from what i have seen, believed in these utopian visions and honestly thought that they saw a future in communal property ownership. They were dupes and fools, but were not revolutionaries in any meaningfuol sense. In a sense, they may not even have really been communists. But it is hard to sell someone as a dupe of nazism or the Klan. Both are, in some ways, actually less ideological and more based on believing a set of vague principles requiring action.
I don't know if I am making sense. Maybe I am being too kind to communism. But that term seems a whole lot more slippery to me than some of the others. plus, has nazism ever been used for good? lety's keep in mind that some of the liberation leaders of South Africa were and still are members of the SACP. Chris Hani was a communist. He was also a hero and on the side of righteousness. And of course while the US never allied with nazism, we have allied with communism. Perhaps both are not equally evil.

thejamestaylor said...

OK, if this guy were a neo-Nazi taxi driver I think we'd all agree that he shouldn't be fired. But he was a university professor, and that is what makes this case so interesting - politics; his world view - was in many ways connected with his work.

I'm with Jeff. Technically, university students are adults, and I'm in favor of treating them as such. (Note: I have always disagreed with grading on the basis of attendance). Of course one could argue that a university professor has the power to shape young minds. But a part of the university experience is being exposed to a number of differing views. Some of those views, Nazism for example, will induce the gag reflex in almost any American I think.

University students need to learn how to make their own judgements, to analyze what is put in front of them. If I pick up a newspaper or book and I don't have the skills to judge for myself whether something is bullshit, then what's the point of a university education in the first place? As long as no crime has been committed, I cannot justify firing a professor on the basis of political beliefs, no matter how distasteful they may be.