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Anxious gatekeeping

Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Monday, July 29, 2013

But I have a PHD!!!

But I have a PHD!!!

An incredibly stupid interviewer, but the poor scholar insists again and again on his scholarly credentials, in a way that probably strikes most people as condescending. Of course, I can enjoy his condescension to some extent, while lamenting that he was not able to simply talk about his subject matter rather than defensively insisting that he is a VERY SERIOUS SCHOLAR WITH 100 PAGES OF FOOTNOTES AND A PHD.

8 comments:

Spanish prof said...

The book shot to number 1 on Amazon last Sunday, so I would say plenty of people were interested.

Thomas said...

I found the pre-emptive condescension and defensiveness almost as cringeworthy as the aggressive bigotry, ignorance, stupidity of the interviewer. Difficult to get through watching it.

Josh Voorhees is probably right that he went in ready for a fight. He'd clearly worked out his talking points, but I think he used them too soon and too often. Unfortunately, most of Fox's viewers will probably just remember him as an insecure academic with a sense of entitlement (in addition to his already dubious "background").

It got him additional attention among people (like me) who only watch Fox when this sort of thing happens. And those are the people who are inclined to read (and buy) his book.

Personally, I don't like the "academic" persona he brought out for this interview. I think he could have said something like, "I am a Muslim, but I wrote this book as a scholar." And then waited until she came up with something more compelling than the mere fact of his faith to discredit his views.

I think he should also have acknowledged the ordinary sense in which his faith *could* skew his conclusions, just as devout Christians have to be careful when doing scholarly work about Jesus. He should then explain that being aware of such sources of error and avoiding them is just what interpretation is all about. (This might be where he could explain his qualifications as a scholar.)

Finally, I thought his reference to family members who are Christian and the idea that this precludes an "attack on Christianity" was a wrongheaded move. It basically grants the general point about the influence of faith on one's conclusions and legitimizes the line of questioning. I think that was an unforced error.

profacero said...

Didn't find him condescending.

profacero said...

Ah - actually the more interesting: everyone knows they would have handled it better. This is condescending.

Jonathan said...

He probably played it exactly as he wanted to. After all, the video went viral and sales of his book took off. I wouldn't have done it any better, but then I am not the author of popular books on religion. It's interesting that he presents himself as a professor of religion, being a professor of creative writing with a PhD in sociology.

Thomas said...

@profacero: Surely, the general consensus about the stupidity of the interviewer is "condescending" too, then?

I think we're just expressing our opinion about what went wrong in this interview, what made it painful to watch. Sometimes stupidity and bigotry can be met in such a way as to make the encounter constructive. Sometimes, academic arrogance (though I'm not sure that's what was at stake here) can be met, by an interviewer, in a way that nonetheless gets something out of the scholar being interviewed.

The interviewer wasn't very good at her job, in my opinion. But, if we take Aslan's job, as a public intellectual, say, to include defending his views on television, including in a hostile medium like Fox, or at least to be discerning about whether to consent to being interviewed there, then he also performed his function less well than he could or should.

That doesn't mean I could or would do any better. But the point remains that all he really accomplished was to make a 10-minute spectacle of what was essentially one dumb question that he had obviously anticipated. One hopes that, when he meets the same dumb question in his classroom, he seizes the teachable moment to greater effect.

Thomas said...

PS. For the record, I think Aslan performs very well in these clips, which Sam Harris thinks are examples of the same attitude. (I think Harris is totally wrong about that.)

That is, I'm very much on Aslan's side here. I'm just critiquing his performance in a particular case. Surely that's possible without attracting the accusation that I'm being condescending?

Jonathan said...

Of course the interviewer is so stupid that the interview evokes schadenfreude. We want FOX to embarrass itself. The most cringe-worthy part was when she couldn't understand how a democrat would want to write a book about Reagan.