Incarceration at Cowflop

Since I frequently write about current problems in higher education, people sometimes ask me why political correctness is such a plague in our colleges.  Speech codes, multiculturalism, compulsory sensitivity-training, leftist indoctrination, militant feminism and faggotry, barely concealed hatred for white males and Western culture in general—any academic who tries to tell you that these aren’t glaring characteristics of college life today is a mendacious prick.  Shakespeare would have said to him “Thou liest in thy throat!”
 
How do I answer those who inquire about the phenomenon?  A standard and largely valid explanation is that the Gramscian left decided many years ago that it would make “a long march through the institutions of higher learning,” and gradually take them over.  Since most colleges and universities were already dominated by liberals, and since most liberals are emotionally and intellectually incapable of standing up to leftist assaults, the takeover went pretty much without a hitch.
 
But there are other factors as well—ones that are not exclusively or even primarily political.  Political correctness came to dominate many colleges simply because of their isolation in the heart of America, and the social alienation of their younger faculty.  Let me explain.
 
America produces more humanities Ph.D.s than it really has teaching positions for.  But these new Ph.D.s all need to eat.  So what happens?  Many of them are compelled to take jobs at small, isolated colleges located far from major urban centers.  Now these freshly minted Ph.D.s are overwhelmingly left-liberal, having gone through the ideological hothouses of graduate school indoctrination at Berkeley, Ann Arbor, or Cambridge Massachusetts.  And here they are in some tiny school in Rat’s Ass, Kansas, surrounded by tractors, used-car dealerships, and Republicans.  Naturally they grow resentful.
 
In some cases they have to take jobs in Christian schools, and this is an especially bitter pill for them.  Imagine a smug left-wing activist, raised on the Critical Theory of his thesis advisor, the Marxist rhetoric of the Spartacist Club, and the programmatic anti-Catholicism of the mandarin class intelligentsia.  But the only job he can land is at Mary Immaculata College, or the Academy of the Sacred Heart.  His seething rage will be inexpressible, especially if his scholarly attainments aren’t likely to secure him a position anywhere else.
 
Once this basic situation is understood, we can hypothesize a college and its social dynamics.  Let’s call it Cowflop Community Tech, a small academic establishment somewhere in the more remote part of the Midwest.  It developed out of what once was a Bible and Agricultural institute, or maybe a teacher-training school.  Now it calls itself a “college,” in accord with the procedural self-aggrandizement that Paul Fussell described so vividly in his book Class.  The student body is entirely local, drawn from nearby small towns.  Most of them major in business management or nursing.
 
A young new Ph.D. in English Literature bests the savage competition at the MLA convention and manages to be hired as an instructor at Cowflop.  He packs his books and belongings and moves west.  In a real sense, one has to feel sorry for him.  Think of what it must be like to face the prospect of spending your life and career in one of these benighted, out-of-the-way places, which H.L. Mencken aptly called “one-horse tank towns in the Corn and Alfalfa Belt.”  The only courses the new Ph.D. will ever teach are freshman composition, and a watered-down Intro to Lit for non-majors.
 
Our hero is surrounded by miles of prairie or wheat fields.  Apart from his TV and computer, he has little contact with the wider world.  He is largely alienated from his immediate neighbors, who know and care nothing about his dissertation, or about his research into the Marxist subtext of John Dryden.  So quite naturally he gravitates to his school and his little department.  It becomes his citadel of besieged identity, where he can bond with the like-minded and the sympathetic.  He and his colleagues develop an “us-against-them” mentality—here at Cowflop College, we few brave leftists and liberals are holding the line for progressive thought in the Belly of this Red-State Beast!  And this is when things start to get nasty.
 
As the years pass, our young professor becomes more and more insular, defensive, and politically correct.  As often happens with small and self-isolated groups of people, web-works of rivalry, bitter competition, and resentment develop.  Envy, jealousy, sexual intrigue, and simple human orneriness come into play.  Our professor gets jumpy and accusatory.  He starts to worry that maybe in some respects his department isn’t totally au courant, and maybe some of his colleagues aren’t fully “progressive.”  Cliques sprout up and clash, and curricular and tenure decisions become the occasion for vicious battles.
 
After a decade, Cowflop College morphs into a veritable hell-hole of venomous politically correct backbiting, persecution, and inquisitional arrogance.  The personal dissatisfactions and grudges of individual faculty members get translated into the politicized rhetoric of feminism, Marxism, anti-racism, pedagogical change, “global” approaches to curriculum, and all the other dreck that defiles contemporary education.  The result is that you have a faculty that hates being at Cowflop, but has nowhere else to go, and is therefore trapped in a purgatory of its own making.  And it can see no alternative to an ever-more-relentless pursuit of ideological purity.  After all, we at Cowflop have to hold the line, don’t we?  We’re just as committed to the proper pieties as the big boys in the Ivy League, aren’t we?  Say not that the struggle naught availeth!  Or as the leftist assholes on a modern faculty would put it, La lucha continua!
 
This, I submit, is a very real psychological picture of the dynamics of political correctness in our colleges, quite apart from the actual intellectual acceptance of propositions or arguments.  The overwhelming motivation behind the phenomenon is emotional and social.  It has to do with class perception, alienation, and the quasi-religious commitment of our self-appointed intelligentsia to an inflated sense of its own importance, and its real anger at not being recognized more widely.
 
And what about our professor?  Well, if he doesn’t leave the teaching profession entirely, he’ll likely spend the rest of his career at Cowflop.  And as Paul Fussell said about some of his own academic colleagues, he’ll probably devote himself “to social envy and bitterness rather than wit and scholarship.”  That personal tragedy is what lies behind a great deal of political correctness.
 
 
 








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Joseph S. Salemi has published poems, translations, and scholarly articles in over one hundred journals throughout the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. His four collections of poetry are Formal Complaints and Nonsense Couplets, issued by Somers Rocks Press, Masquerade from Pivot Press, and The Lilacs on Good Friday from The New Formalist Press. He has translated poems from a wide range of Greek and Roman authors, including Catullus, Martial, Juvenal, Horace, Propertius, Ausonius, Theognis, and Philodemus. In addition, he has published extensive translations, with scholarly commentary and annotations, from Renaissance texts such as the Faunus poems of Pietro Bembo, The Facetiae of Poggio Bracciolini, and the Latin verse of Castiglione. He is a recipient of a Herbert Musurillo Scholarship, a Lane Cooper Fellowship, an N.E.H. Fellowship, and the 1993 Classical and Modern Literature Award. He is also a four-time finalist for the Howard Nemerov Prize.