The Point of Scholarship

Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Education has an article about criticisms and criticisms of criticisms of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel. It’s hard to tell without reading a great many academic blog posts (I read part of one and decided that was more than enough of that), but it all seems to have a whiff of self-righteous orthodoxy-sniffing about it. But since I haven’t actually read all those academic blog posts, I could be wrong about that. But in any case, Jaschik turned up one comment – by a commenter at Crooked Timber – that sounds like exactly the kind of thought that started B&W on its erratic but dogged course.

Both Savage Minds pieces seem to exhibit one of the worst tics of the academic left — a tendency to evaluate arguments exclusively with reference to whether or not they might, in some distorted form, serve the rhetorical purposes of one’s political opponents. It’s exactly the same approach to debate you find coming from the most thuggish members of the war party – whole lines of argument (e.g., Do our actions lead to more terrorism?) are ruled out from the start on the grounds that they stray too close to the other side’s manner of thinking. What is so depressing about this approach isn’t just that it’s bad scholarship. It’s that it rests on a complete misunderstanding of the point of scholarship, or at least a refusal to see arguments as anything rhetorical strategies.

So I felt like preserving that comment.

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