Reason Matters: Defund Professors, Not Police

We are now reaping the whirlwind of irrationality led by the so-called “educated-class”.

Demonstrators in Washington gather at the Lincoln Memorial during a protest against racial inequality June 6, 2020. (CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

He who is not angry when there is just cause for anger is immoral. Why? Because anger looks to the good of justice. And if you can live amid injustice without anger, you are immoral as well as unjust. — St. Thomas Aquinas

It seems that almost everybody is angry these days, and there are a lot of good reasons for it. Injustices have abounded in the last few months. Bad cops have killed helpless citizens, rioters and looters have disrupted legal protests, good cops have been murdered by criminals, small businesses have gone broke due to government shutdowns, burned by rioters, or maybe both. The list goes on. Suffice it to say that Americans are starving for the one thing that can abate the anger: justice.

But what is justice and who decides? Any valid answer must be based upon reason and not will. There can be no justice devoid of reason, for without reason the concept of justice falls prey to the passions and run the risk of being rendered irrational. Irrational justice is an oxymoron. Nevertheless, numerous recent calls for justice, masquerading behind the mask of reason, are irrational. Legitimate anger, as Aquinas states plainly above, “looks to the good of justice.” Illegitimate anger, rooted in the passions, leads to hate, the mortal enemy of justice. What follows is but one example of the irrational masquerading as rational in the name of justice.

Alex S. Vitale, a sociologist at Brooklyn College (CUNY), penned a recent article in the Paris Review titled “Policing Won’t Solve Our Problems.” The article claims it is time for the basic role of police in society to be reevaluated. This is not to say that Vitale is suggesting we should abolish the police, as that would be seen as absurd by the great majority of Americans. He advocates reform. But any reform that fails to look at the bigger picture runs the risk of backfiring: “However, those reforms must be part of a larger vision that questions the basic role of police in society and asks whether coercive government action will bring more justice or less.” The phrase “coercive government” stands out. It indicates that Vitale considers our current governmental system as oppositional to the people rather than representative of them. He goes on to point out that this same system deploys racial discrimination, capitalism, and brute force to keep a stranglehold American power.

Vitale then outlines a recipe to overthrow the tyrannical powers-that-be. Along with “restorative justice,” and “justice reinvestment,” he cries out for affordable housing, unionization, and an end to free trade. Sound familiar? Vitale is not as progressive as he might like to appear. His solutions are rehashed versions of a big government agenda that took hold in American cities in the 1960s. In short, Vitale is a political activist masquerading as a social scientist, and his argument is not based upon reason but political will.

Though I agree with Vitale that the middle-class is becoming an endangered species, financial disparity is a serious problem, and corporate power cannot be left unchecked, his failure to mention the gains our country has made in the past and continues to make reduces his argument to a political wish-list. Vitale looks at one side of the argument while fully ignoring the other. This violates a basic tenet of the art of reasoning.

Blaming the police for what is amiss in America is akin to cherry-picking evidence to support a specious argument. Of course there are bad apples who must be held accountable for their actions in any institution, but these individual crimes cannot then be writ large over an entire institution in order to define it. It just doesn’t make sense. But make no mistake, there is something amiss in America. A teaser for a recent interview with Dr. Jason Hill gets to the heart of the matter:

The basis for the 1619 Project is that the history of the United States is rooted in slavery and racism at every turn. Dr. Jason Hill, Professor of Philosophy at DePaul University in Chicago, joins us to examine how the U.S. overcame slavery and helped pull many people out of poverty through capitalism. But instead of being taught this in classrooms, students learn how to hate what it means to be an American. (“Rewriting the Facts of History”, Steel on Steel Broadcast for May 30th, 2020)

In the interview, Dr. Hill suggests that some Humanities and Social Sciences departments should be considered a danger to national security and, because of this, should be defunded. The 1619 Project is a symptom of a disease that festers in our education system. Suggesting that U.S. history can or should be reduced to slavery and racism is absurd. It simply does stand to reason. Yet editors at the New York Times who, presumably, attended college, where they, presumably, were taught the art of reason, published it.

When the project was criticized by leading historians on both the left and the right, the politically charged NYT refused to back down. As such, the 1619 Project is now being taught in a number of public school curriculums. This is the crisis. Far too many in the so-called “educated-class” either lost the ability to reason when they became entangled in political ideologies, or they were never taught how to use reason in the first place regardless of their years in school. Either way, we are now reaping the whirlwind of irrationality. In abandoning the art of reason—and here I mean the Logos that has served as the foundation for Western Civilization for centuries—they are attempting a mutiny, even though a mutinous crew ill-versed in the art of reason is in no position to navigate the ship. It is folly, and not the type that Erasmus, who was ever faithful to the Church he chastised, praised. No, this is folly is madness. Madness is absence of reason.

Just as the 1619 Project cheapens history by appropriating it for a political end, Vitale’s targeting of the police is ill-founded. He accuses “the system” of housing a demonic, racist spirit that haunts traditional U.S. institutions, and in doing so relieves individuals from the responsibility of reasoning for themselves. Poor judgment is a cop’s worst enemy. Sound judgment comes from right reasoning. The art of reason is learned first at home, then in school. Once upon a time, a high diploma signified that the graduate was now a citizen trained in the art of reason. Not anymore. How many of our current politicians and journalists have graduated from college? How many of them are Sophists rather than a Socrates? Our university system, once considered the Church of Reason has become, by and large, a Ship of Fools. This, at bottom, is where illegitimate anger germinates: if you want to teach your children to learn how to hate America and Western tradition, send them to the university.

For example, I recently witnessed a Harvard-trained biologist lecture a group of 300+ freshmen. The Professor instructed the students that the Aztecs did not understand how to lie until European contact. I kid you not. The students seated in the auditorium didn’t flinch, so I don’t know how many of them bought the story, but I’m sure some of them did. Though I should have stood up and challenged the esteemed Professor, I was stunned into silence, and before I could act the moment had passed. There were upper-level administrators and other professors in the auditorium as well. They, too, were silent. I don’t know why. The Professor’s claim, blatantly politically charged, anti-European, and irrational, was passed off as fact.

I have witnessed other equally egregious acts by faculty, and I have little idea of what most professors teach in their individual classrooms, alone with students, with no one but the students to hold them accountable. Do you? For years I took it for granted that the great majority of my colleagues held dear the rules of right reason, but I can no longer be so confident. Whatever the case, many are now out in the open in substituting political bias for fact. The revisionist 1619 Project substantiates this claim.

Political activists have hijacked far too many departments in our colleges and universities. They accomplished this over recent decades because many of us who should have taken them seriously did not. We didn’t take them seriously because their arguments could not stand to reason, and we assumed the Identity Politics/Politically Correct movement would be consumed by its own foolishness. It wasn’t. Just the opposite. The movement fed on raw emotion stirred up by inflamed political rhetoric and grew into a monster increasingly incapable of reason. The students who were drawn into this pit are not to be blamed. They were for the most part unwitting victims. They were taught how to feel rather than how to think, what to think rather than the art of reason. They are now teaching in our public schools and colleges. Shame on all of us who allowed this to happen. We must do what we can to make it right, even if it appears to be too late. To do otherwise would not only be irrational but immoral as well.

Vitale’s concern about “more justice or less,” then, is baseless. It is impossible for power void of rationality to mete out justice of any kind. Justice is necessarily rational. Long ago in a reality far away, Thomas Aquinas observed that when law deviates from reason it becomes unjust. Martin Luther King Jr., drawing on that same Catholic tradition, puts it well in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, “I would agree with St. Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all.’” History is not a means to a political end. Studied under the lens of reason, it might lead to wisdom rather irrational power grabbing, justice instead of political expediency.

The police, then, are a relatively small part of the problem. Everybody will agree that America must continue to move forward until, one day, we are all treated equally under the law. There is no controversy here; America is unified on this point. Professors who willingly subvert reason in order to promote political agendas are the real culprits. They are the ones who train the teachers who then teach our children, some of whom will grow up to be cops who routinely make decisions that impact real lives. Reason matters. It saves lives, serves justice, and seeks social tranquility. That’s what we send our kids to school to learn: the art of reason, not hate. Reason is what make us human. Without it, we become something less.

All the chaos as of late, the blood on our streets, the looting and burning, is irrational. Which institution is to be blamed for these injustices? Law enforcement? Having spent almost two decades teaching in university humanities departments, I know the answer. Defunding the police is madness. Defunding departments and teachers that subvert the art of reason to forward political beliefs makes perfect sense. Untempered by reason, anger becomes hate. Hate will never serve the good of justice.

(Editor’s note: Brooklyn College (CUNY) was identified as Brooklyn University in this essay; that has been corrected.)


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About Jack Gist 2 Articles
Jack Gist is a humanities professor who has published in such journals as Crisis, The Imaginative Conservative, New Oxford Review, Academic Questions, and St. Austin Review.

28 Comments

  1. Gist is on target to spotlight the left-leaning ivory tower of academia. Three points, here.

    First, Gist writes, “Madness is absence of reason.” We might not win this debate framed in this way. Chesterton said it this way: “The madman is NOT the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who was lost everything except his reason [….] his mind moves in a perfect but narrow circle. A small circle is quite as infinite as a large circle, but, though it is quite infinite, it is not so large [….] the most unmistakable mark of madness is this combination between a logical completeness and a spiritual contraction.”

    So, second, I am recalling a high-level and small-group dialogue involving the president of a major United States university. The outsider point was made that students lacking a LIBERAL ARTS background were not prepared to deal with the world (instead, “safe spaces” for the most expensive day-car centers in America!). On the third try, it still appeared that the president simply did not get the picture: “we are data-driven,” said she. After some reflection, I have come to realize that she (by coincidence a lesbian) knew exactly the point—-too big a circle to be admitted into her narrow-circle bubble universe!

    The digital and virtual universe fully replaces an analogue universe of real stuff, a perfect incubator for politicized fictions, or as St. Augustine (also referenced by Gist) put it: FANTASTICA FORNICATIO (“prostituting the mind to its own fantasies”).

    Third, defunding academia has to be done right, and is now on the table given the financial fallout of COVID-19. The academic administrative class will do all they can to assure the priority of corner offices over fresh-air classrooms. So, here’s an unsolicited plug for the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA: goacta.org), whose mission is to activate boards of trustees and alumni donors to simply do their usurped job by challenging campus mucketymucks to place classroom success above the top-heavy and failed administrative class.

    • Greetings Peter,

      I was coming at madness as a metaphor for Hell where “Hell is the impossibility of reason,” quoted from the film Platoon. I think it’s just a different frame of reference than Chesterton.

      Thanks for the well wrought reply.

  2. We are experiencing a veritable pandemic of virtue-signaling, and the combination of that with a similar pandemic of mea-culpa(ing) at the same time – is indeed lethal.

    The cure – prayer, of course, but for us poor mortals, following that I would recommend ‘Comrade Bingo’ by P.G. Wodehouse, followed by ‘The Amazing Hat Mystery’ by the same man, and then a snifter of single-malt scotch.

    One question about the riots – cui bono?

  3. Mr Gist cuts through all the noise here and finds the fulcrum. Thank you for illuminating the real problem. Outstanding!

  4. It’s probably not a random thing that a BBC documentary on the Romantic Movement’s connection to violent revolutions popped up on my YouTube recommendations this morning.
    Utopia leads to the guillotine.

  5. This reminds me of a situation in the Catholic Church. Maybe ten years ago the Vatican decided to add another year for students to get their degree in philosophy. This was because they discovered that many of the students in the seminary were finishing their studies without being convinced that it is possible to know the truth. At the time, I commented that there was no need to add another year, just change their professors. Nowadays it seems that many “intellectuals” are more interested in novel theories rather than reaching the truth. It is a situation that I find incomprehensible.

  6. Not just defund professor, but the universities as well that pass on exorbitant fees towards their students and graduates, some of whom may never see the light of day when it comes to finally paying off student loans. What kind of system is this, where an individual cannot save for a home, retirement, and enjoy a 1/2 decent life? There was a series of articles that popped up in 2019 about an uptick of suicides among veterinarians. Having access to pentobarbital made suicide easier than most professions, but facing high levels of debt from vet school was what triggered the crisis. Being paid less than doctors who work with people, veterinarians often resort to working additional jobs in hopes of paying off their student loans.

    • Thank you for the information.
      The Academic Bubble is huge and most students and their families assume great debt while the administration and tenured faculty do very well.
      Costs have exploded and the Marxocrats in league with their socialist bosses have concocted this.

  7. Some great points and some not so great in this article. Having taught at a Catholic university with a Ph.D. in a social science, I am fully aware of some professors who are not engaged in true, rigorous, wisdom-oriented education and who seem more intent on pushing their own political thoughts rather than teaching the students to think and reason on their own. At the same time there arises confusion when we are confronted by the many apparently hateful, divisive and trending toward racist and for sure, anti-intellectual comments of the current POTUS which many in the Catholic church support because mostly of his verbal adherence to a pro-life agenda, seldom visible otherwise. Unfortunately, the media has presented “defund the police” as a far left idea which means “eliminate the police.” Perhaps all it means to the folks pushing it is “eliminate the racist, military-equipped overseers who think they are police.” Many police officers DO protect and serve their communities and for this we should be thankful. Please do NOT call a professor if your house is being broken into at 2am!
    We will have to defund a lot of things if covid and the financial downturn continues, but I do thank God for giving us college-educated and scientifically-trained medical personnel who were not trained to hate, but to love.

    • “Perhaps all it means to the folks pushing it is ‘eliminate the racist, military-equipped overseers who think they are police.'”

      Who *think* they are police? Wow. Like Pope Francis *thinks* he’s pope?

      Do you really want to go there? Bad cops are police. If you want to get rid of them, the slogan wold be “Reform the police.” Or “Clean house. Get rid of bad cops.”

      Do you think the cops getting rushed or shot at would agree with your argument?

      • Thank you for the good common sense reply to the TROLL above.
        Notice he didn’t say “most” police are good. Try saying goodbye to your family as you head out the door to don the uniform of protector of the people, knowing that so many hate law and order.
        Don’t tell me what to do!
        I want chaos and anarchy!
        People in poor neighborhoods are not prevented from cleaning up their surroundings.Hence too many attitudes wreck neighborhoods.
        Thank you to the vast majority of police who are serving their communities well.
        Know that Satan and minions must believe their time is short. Creeps like Soros, Steyer Alinsky thrive on social unrest.Communism at it’s clearest.
        May God us always.
        AMDG

    • Defund the Police as a slogan is very problematic and says little about the positive strategy it refers to.
      This positive strategy needs to be articulated for an analysis that would further understanding of the issues at play. As I see it the positive strategy is, as stated in the theory of social work terminology, a developmental model where funding is taken from the “residual model” that directs funding towards policing. Policing is in effect addressing a symptom of the many social issues at play and directing the funding towards addressing these social causes would alleviate the need for as much policing.
      It can be argued that one causal factor of the increase in policing is a direct consequence of a lack of Jobs and services for the people. Another causal factor is the worsening reality of unequal distribution of income and wealth in the USA. All you have to do is look at the pie graph over the past 50 years to see how bad the distribution of the nations wealth is.
      Here is an Australian example of the withdrawal of Govt services that lead to increased policing from my experience in social work. It is an explanation of what i think is meant by the slogan Defund the police.
      With the privatisation of the services to disabled in Oz and de-institutionalization of services, the large institutional residential facilities where closed and a model of smaller group homes was developed. However the support structures that had been developed in the institutional model did not get re deployed in the group home model. In effect there where cost saving measures involved with de institutionalisation not merely quality of service issues. Together with this was the move to privatise support services. A direct consequence has been many of the prisoners now in Victorian prisons are in fact people with disability issues who are not being supported on a needs basis. Their problematic behaviour escalates and is not addressed by the support structures that where and are obviously necessary. The police become involved when criminal behaviour is an issue and these people end up in prison. It costs more to keep someone in prison than to provide adequate disability services however this is against the ideologically driven political climate of privatisation of former Govt services and legislation is driven by this ideology. Putting these people in gaol is costing taxpayers more than the disability institutions did! In this example the ideology of privatisation is not cost effective!

      Now it’s not hard to see how the lack of adequate services in the USA to address real structural problems largely resulting from poverty caused by the inadequate distribution of income will result in the need for more policing on the streets.What i have outlined is what I understand is really meant by the slogan “defunding the police”.

  8. What options are open to those who suffer from systemic police brutality? And yes, there IS systemic police brutality and don’t pretend otherwise.

    1. Stay silent, don’t rock the boat, and wait for improvement. It’s been 150 years since the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, and I still don’t see genuine equality in terms of life expectancy, average income, representation on corporate boards, etc. That tactic doesn’t work.

    2. Petitions, complaints against individual specific instances and suggestions. Invariably ignored.

    3. Mass marches and peaceful protests. At least these are hard to ignore, but there will always be opportunists who will use these as a cover for looting and violence. I wonder why these looters and arsonists aren’t described as ‘a few bad apples’ in an otherwise peaceful protest, but brutal cops are always ‘a few bad apples’ in an otherwise virtuous police department?
    But anyway, even if there is no looting or violence, there will always be authorities who are prepared to start the violence for their own political agenda. Like the peaceful crowd that was assaulted to make way for Trump’s photo-op.

    So if you want to change the current brutality in police forces, which tactic is the most rational? Those which achieve nothing or can be easily ignored, or those that make people in power take notice? I think that what is happening now is the most rational option open to those who have not power to do anything else.

      • Oh, but Mr. Olson, he said that there IS systemic police brutality – he even capitalized the IS – so how dare you bring up facts and logic? You’re required simply to take his word for it.

    • So the ends justify the means. Hooray! White guilt is finally given medicine.

      It’s all absurd, Especially given the numbers of white versus black deaths at the hands of cops. Slavery was shameful. But it has little to do with the situation with police today. But let’s all wear Tupac T-shirts and talk about how the Statue of Liberty was supposed to be a black woman.

      Justice rolls on.

  9. Thanks to Carl Olson for pointing out these two articles under “argue otherwise” and “facts and logic”.
    I find them more rational, reflective and constructive than most I’ve read.

  10. It is forgotten that religion including the teaching of and sacraments offered through the Catholic Church has the ability to make people (including police officers) more moral.

    The police are more often part of the problem, because they enforce unjust laws (in addition to the just ones). Doing as one is told doesn’t cut it, when it comes to arresting people suspected of violating an unjust law. To be more precise, one is unwittingly committing material unjust violence against the innocent suspect. As such, it is perfectly licit for the innocent person to resist arrest to the utmost.

    It’s not that the police are a problem in themselves. The problem is the unjust law and the blind or ignorant obedience that police officers show every de facto law (just or unjust).

    Who can judge the law to be just or unjust?

    The Catholic Church.

  11. In this era of moral relativism and endless redefinition, it looks like some people are trying to make insanity and mental illness the new normal.
    *
    Academia appears to be a place where the students are being trained in the fine art of emotional blackmail and extortion, and taking whole academic subjects hostage, making demands that are little more than ransom notes. All you have to add to the cancel culture is the words “with extreme prejudice” and colleges and universities become preparatory schools for terrorism.

  12. I get this, but not all professors tilt this way. I am a devout Roman Catholic, my students know it, and I talk about God and faith whenever my heart tells me to. Don’t turn on teachers.

  13. Thank you for a very good, thought provoking article. I strongly agree with your analysis of the loss of rationality in academe, especially in the humanities. In reading the article and associated comments, I recalled some old song lyrics that seem apropos.

    We can walk our road together
    If our goals are all the same
    We can run alone and free
    If we pursue a different aim
    Let the truth of love be lighted
    Let the love of truth shine clear
    Sensibility
    Armed with sense and liberty
    With the heart and mind united in a single
    Perfect
    Sphere
    — Neil Peart

  14. “ Of course there are bad apples who must be held accountable for their actions in any institution…”
    Instead of “bad apples”-a really overused cliché—I think it would be a much stronger statement of fact to say something on the order of: “Local government officials (name them, and what they did) perpetrated this crime.”

  15. “ Everybody will agree that America must continue to move forward until, one day, we are all treated equally under the law. ”

    Equal justice, under the law, is what the United States is all about. Anything, other than that, confounds the entire concept that “..all men are created equal and entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

    Obviously, we are not “equal” physically, mentally, or in our economic state. So, our “equality” must exist outside of our personal state of being. That “equality”, for an (U.S.) American, I think, must be how we are treated, individually, in the Justice system (locally and generally).

    And, there, we have the basic issue. Justice, in the U.S. (actually, justice anywhere on this world) depends on a slew of discrete inputs into the justice system over which no government has (or can have) total physical control—unless we are talking about dictatorships, or totalitarian governments (of course, those governments define the outcomes of their “justice” systems). Even who we can, individually, afford to legally represent ourself in the justice system can be the difference between freedom or personal destruction.

    What’s even worse, than who represents us in the justice system, is that we humans are individually prone to personal limitations—for example, mental limitations, prejudices (not just based in race, but also religious, political, economic, even physical looks.)…you name it, and someone has the potential to make a decision based on that limitation—whether, or not, they are conscious of the irrational basis of that decision.

    We can never “progress” beyond this, because it’s instilled in our “DNA” (something that is engrained in us through hundreds of thousands of years of evolution.). Such distinctions, what we now call “prejudices”, have their basis in what was, probably, good for the survival of a familial group, or tribe, living first in trees, and then in caves, whose struggle for survival was against everyone, and anyone, not a part of the family or tribe..

    The answer to all of this human negativity must be, as far as I can tell, based in our education system—because you can’t kill enough real people to rid ourselves of that human negativity. The history of the totalitarian states of the twentieth century proves that.

    But, of course, not to the departments of the Humanities at our colleges and Universities, or the ANTIFA’s and BLMs, of this world—they are full of the irrational belief that, those people who tried Socialism in the past weren’t “real” communists (Socialists), Fascists, NAZIs, etc. Noe, WE know what we’re doing because we’re the “real” Socialists, Communists…Blah! Blah! Blah!

    And, to think: Our tax money paid (pays) to have these morons “educate” our children. Lenin turns out to be right: (I paraphrase) “Give the Christian, democratic capitalists the rope, and they will hang themselves with it. We can’t lose.”

    So, you’re right: The entire U.S. educational system needs to be restructured. Of course, we can’t go back to the past: We can only look to save the future from where we are now. The rational among us (Politicians and the intellectual classes who know better) must begin to speak out against what the Humanities have made of three generations of students.

    We are committing suicide. I mean this not simply because we are allowing the destruction of those things that, through two centuries ( and more), are important to our sense of self and our position in this world. Remember, historically, everywhere in the world, throughout history, whenever a conqueror, or arevolutionary group destroyed that nation’s history, the very next step was (is) the destruction of living people. That is where we ar3 headed.
    That can only be done by bringing back the study of actual history.

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