Thursday, June 12, 2008

Marquette’s Own Kevin Barrett: Wacky Conspiracy Theories in a Class on “Post-Modern” British Literature

A lot of college professors believe wacky things, but generally there is a kind of orthodoxy about the wacky things they believe. Many thought, during the 60s and 70s, that Fidel Castro was a great guy. Most think, today, that socialized medicine is a good thing.

But sometimes professors believe things that are just wacky (although usually left-wing wacky).

Thus it was with 9/11 conspiracy theorist Kevin Barrett, who taught a course about Islam at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

And thus it is with John Boly, who is currently teaching English 146, “The Postmodernist Period in British Literature” here at Marquette. Boly is teaching classic “dystopias:” 1984, Brave New World, Clockwork Orange. Boly thinks the dire predictions of these books have come true in American society.

He has spent a lot of class time talking about conspiracy theories. Yesterday (June 11) for example, he spent 10 minutes of a 95 minute class analyzing texts, and the remainder outlining his conspiracy theories for students.

And he has quite a lot of them. He spent considerable time near the beginning of the term, for example, explaining how Prescott Bush, John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford and Calvin Coolidge supported (supposedly) the work of a scientist who later worked for the Nazi regime in Germany, and whose work is still important to the procedures of the Food and Drug Administration.

Why don’t historians reveal the full scope of this evil? Because “Harvard historians” have been bought off with Rockefeller money.

Conspiracy theories have kept reappearing as the summer has moved along. At one point, he asked students to identify a recent “mother of all false flag operations.” A students answered “the 9/11 attacks,” and he replied that she was correct!

The term “false flag,” widely used by 9/11 conspiracy theorists, means that the supposed terrorist attacks were mounted by the U.S. government, using people posing as Arab militants.

He then proceed to recite some of the standard 9/11 conspiracy lore, such as that the fire in the World Trade Center towers was “not hot enough to melt steel,” and that the towers were brought down by a “controlled demolition.”

At another point in the class, the discussion concerned Orwell’s 1984, and a “character” in the book named Emmanuel Goldstein, a hated enemy of society. Goldstein, according to some interpretations of the book (and Boly’s own interpretation) did not exist, being merely a character invented by the Party to be the target of society’s hatred.

Boly asked the class whether they knew of anybody like that today. A student answered “Osama bin Laden,” and was told that was exactly the right answer!

Boly also spents considerable time in class condemning the Federal Reserve Bank, which he views as a large conspiracy of “New York bankers” which produces “money printed out of thin air.” This situation, he believes, is so outrageous that “if Americans knew how the banking system works, there would be a civil revolution.”

He has commended a rather obscure book called The Creature from Jackal Island which according to one Internet blurb is:
. . . the story of how the US Reserve bank was spawned at a secret meeting on Jackal Island. The US Reserve Bank is really a cartel of bankers and the USA government and has made the banks very wealthy by allowing it to lend non-existent money (paper money) to the government and charge a very healthy interest on it. This all has not been in the interest of the American people.
The JFK Assassination

Of course, Boly believes that a conspiracy killed JFK. He discussed Operation Northwoods, a real series of plans for some rather dirty covert anti-Castro operations produced during the Kennedy administration – at the behest of Kennedy administration officials.

According to Boly, Kennedy’s failure to implement Northwoods resulted in his murder.

Evidence Not Needed

When asked for evidence on these points, Boly has blandly replied that “it’s on the Internet.” Of course it is. As is the “fact” that aliens from space have not only visited the Earth, but live among us.

We e-mailed Boly to ask him about his theories, and he supplied the following cryptic response:
I teach some dystopian novels, but these are works of fiction. Unlike conspiracy theories they make no claims about actual events.

As for history, I’m sure all of Marquette’s faculty encourage students to respect well documented facts.
Facts documented, presumably, by Internet sites.

Students, who at first seemed to by taking all this in with wide-eyed credulity, have turned skeptical. Hallway conversations among class members show a consensus that Boly is bonkers.

Interpretation

Is this situation some kind of outrage? We can’t see how, since students are much more likely to be mislead, indoctrinated and bamboozled by our more plausible sounding liberal colleagues than by Boly.

Does academic freedom protect Boly’s right to teach all this? In principle, not necessarily. In practice, yes.

The classic cannons of academic freedom don’t protect the right of a professor to spout off about issues far from the subject matter of the class. But arguably the claim that evil things that Orwell and others predicted have come true is relevant. Academic freedom also does not protect the right of professors to indoctrinate students. Yet actually defining indoctrination is such a sticky issue that nobody – liberal or conservative – can want a ban on “indoctrination” enforced.

Clueless Humanities Professors

This has to be placed in the larger context of how academics, especially in the humanities, spout off about factual matters of which they are basically clueless. Our students, for example, have been indoctrinated by Philosophy and English professors to believe that blacks are over represented on death row. The truth, which any criminologist would know, is that blacks are under represented on death row.

Likewise, English professors bluster about supposed “racial disparity” in the incarceration of blacks. One such professor was challenged by a student we know who interned with a law enforcement agency. She asked “don’t blacks commit more crimes than whites?” The professor replied “no, it’s the fault of racist cops,” and then added “you’re part of the problem.”

Ideological Bias

But it’s not simply cluelessness at work here. Professors, especially in English and Philosophy, live in a narrow world of political correctness where absurd notions – provided they demonize the right sort of people – are routinely accepted. Boly, for example, was among an overwhelming majority of English professors at Marquette who signed a statement saying that returning to the “Warriors” athletic nickname would be “offensive” to Indians, a notion that is embraced by only a tiny minority of Americans, and indeed by only a tiny minority of American Indians.

So what we have here is one little case emblematic of a much larger academic reality: the corruption of academia generally, and especially the humanities, by attitudes that are fundamentally hostile to sound history and sound social science.

And unlike Kevin Barrett (formerly at Madison), Boly has tenure.

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16 Comments:

Anonymous Brian said...

I don't know how one can read Brave New World and not conclude that it is the most perfect depiction of the liberal idea of utopia possible. I mean, Huxley quotes "The Imitation of Christ" for goodness sake, in opposition to the BNW utopia.

But maybe I'm just "deconstructing it" in favor of my ideology.

10:17 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Boly thinks the dire predictions of these books have come true in American society.


They have. Look at what liberals in Canada, and elsewhere, are doing.

It's called "projection" and no one projects their fantasies of facist governments better than liberals.

11:29 AM  
Blogger James Pawlak said...

There is an implied, if not binding, contract between students, on one hand, and schools and teachers on the other to teach what is described in the catalog or other class descriptions. Such variations as you note are civil, if not criminal, fraud and actionable in a court of law.

1:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

McAdams, are you a genuine Straussian who knows he's lying, or a dupe who actually believes the BS from the real Straussians?

If you have the courage to defend your beliefs (assuming you actually believe them) I would be happy to hear your perspective on 9/11, "conspiracy theories" and academic freedom. Check out my radio schedule at http://www.barrettforcongress.com/airwaves.htm and pick any date at least two weeks in advance and it's yours.

Kevin Barrett
kbarrett@merr.com

5:47 PM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

I'll be glad to be on your show (or maybe one of your shows) but I can't figure out what is yours.

How many shows do you have?

7:36 PM  
Anonymous joe stalin said...

John, he has a Dog and Pony show, and he has the King Biscuit Fruit cake hour, and some other NPR show probably.
John, Barrett is nutty than a Salted nut roll. He's loonier than a Jay bird (not Bullock).
Even most of your usual suspects here, have the sense not to go near Barrett. He may have rabies.
Do yourself a favor, take Billy Joels advice.
YOU SHOULD NEVER ARGUE WITH A CRAZY MIND.
Barrett is clearly nuts.
Most of your moonbats are Marxists. They aren't nuts. They're wrong. Barrett is crazy.
Most people stop playing the silly mind games that Barrett plays with himself, after 4th grade. Barrett is emotionally stunted.

10:18 PM  
Anonymous Brian Mundt said...

I'm a student at Marquette University and had Dr. Boly as a teacher last semester. Dr. Boly is the most fascinating, involving, and intelligent teacher I have ever had the opportunity to study under.

This blog makes him sound horrible. The only thing that Dr. Boly ever asked of his students is to find facts. He never forced his "beliefs" on us, and simply played devil's advocate. In fact, everything we discussed in class is public knowledge that was easily obtained through official records.

Seeing such a kind, intelligent man being blasted like this by someone who doesn't have any of the details is just wrong.

6:05 PM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

In fact, everything we discussed in class is public knowledge that was easily obtained through official records.

Did he describe conspiracy theories similar to the ones described in my blog post?

9:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also had the good fortune of studying under Boly through his Post-Modernist British Lit class.

While I very much disagree with deconstructionist approaches to literature, I found Boly to be engaging, nimble, kind, and interesting.

I did find that the techniques of deconstruction do have natural political uses, but this is nothing new. Literature and politics intersect throughout human history.

BTW, I really do mean "good fortune" of studying with him. I haven't exercised my deconstructionalist muscles since that class, but I still remember fondly the intense intellectual struggle and joyful creativity he demanded. (As a double English and poli sci major, I have to point out that I found my poli sci classes, certainly with exception, to be less demanding.)

I'm not sure the source of this attack on him is truly engaged in the class, or is just keeping a hyper-sensitive ear open for political bombshells to drop on him and, by extension, humanities. Seems a pity.

I'm curious as to where this account of Boly comes from. Is it firsthand?

9:37 AM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

Brian Mundt and "Anoynmous"

It's interesting that you like Boly's teaching. I don't doubt that he's a good teacher, and even "engaging, nimble, kind, and interesting."

But the subject of my post is his wacky conspiracy theories.

Neither of you have denied that he believes and teaches just what I said he did.

It's simply irresponsible to make false and inaccurate empirical statements in class. If he can't make his argument about the relevance of the dystopias he teaches about using real history, maybe he should admit that the world has turned out a lot better than those authors feared.

1:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't comment on his conspiracy theories because I honestly don't remember him talking about them during my class. Were discussions sometimes politically charged? Yes, but I don't remember anything like what is discussed here.

What I do remember was a class that was always challenging, always interesting, and usually entertaining. Even if I disagreed with some statements and even the very basis for our explorations (deconstruction), it was a fun and rewarding class.

I agree with you that it is a joyful thing that the course of human history, for all of our shortcomings, often turns out to be more positive than we fear.

1:50 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Actually, Boly never made a single comment on the JFK assassination.

Also, just because he mentioned the "conspiracy theories" does not mean that he didn't back up the topics with empirical evidence. In fact, he frequently gave out website addresses, titles of books (as well as quotes from the books), and quoted official records. He would actually go so far as to punch holes in what he was teaching, allowing us to see both sides of the issue clearly.

College is intended to stretch thinking. It's a shame that such a talented teacher is being targeted because he brings taboo topics to the table.

3:24 AM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

Actually, Boly never made a single comment on the JFK assassination.

My sources tell me differently.

In fact, he frequently gave out website addresses, titles of books (as well as quotes from the books), and quoted official records.

Oh, my!

You can find all kinds of things at "website addresses" and "titles of books." Like, for example, there was no holocaust.

"Official records" is another dodgy category. Some are simply wrong, and a lot can be misinterpreted.

He would actually go so far as to punch holes in what he was teaching, allowing us to see both sides of the issue clearly.

Again, my sources say that he clearly believes, and expects students to believe, his theories.

Remember, I e-mailed him. He responded:

As for history, I’m sure all of Marquette’s faculty encourage students to respect well documented facts.

He did not respond that he wanted students to sort out contentious factual issues. But rather to "respect well documented facts."

Which quite clearly implies that he thinks his conspiracy theories are "well documented."

11:19 PM  
Anonymous Sheryl Piotrowski-Murphy said...

Previous posters clearly enjoyed Boly's classes in the past but just because they find him engaging and likeable doesn't mean that the opinions he is currently expressing are appropriate to foster academic debate. If the point of Boly's instruction is to encourage students to examine whether these books accurately predicted the shape of America, he's doing a shoddy job of it. Playing devil's advocate is one thing, but feeding students dodgy "facts" in support of his opinion crosses the line from opening the mind for debate to indoctrination. Which of the students will go back and fact check the web sites and books he quotes? I doubt any will. They will be too busy trying to accurately match the fiction with reality so they get a positive mark when they regurgitate "Bin Laden" on cue.

Students expect a level of academic responsibility from their professors. Obviously professors have bias which students must take into account, but presenting a one-sided case and building a class around it is out of line.

And for the record, I love conspiracy theories but I'd be damn surprised if our government could muster the competence to pull off a vast conspiracy and keep it under wraps. Maybe Professor Boly should sell his ideas to Oliver Stone....

3:52 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

It's "Jekyll," not "Jackal." And it's not an obscure book. Millions of people have read it and no one disputes the facts within it (of course some dispute the interpretation of the facts).

I would encourage you to read the government's own account of 9/11 and see if you really believe it. Most people have beliefs that the official story is correct because of assumptions they have about the way government works.

10:12 AM  
Anonymous Bethany said...

Your worry that the minds of college students are so malleable that a professor, whom you criticize as being “wacky,” will indoctrinate them into more wacky sheep by merely telling them of his personal beliefs that the Dystopian scenarios in the literature he teaches, where the public has been manipulated and brainwashed by people in power, have happened and can happen in real life, is inherently problematic. I'll let you work out why from that sentence. I've purposely loaded it with excessive commas to make it more pleasing to your writing sensibilities. Then again, everything about your review of Dr. Boly here would make my Intro to Logic professor cringe in second-hand embarrassment, so no matter that extra effort, I'm not sure how accessible logical ideas like contradiction (or irony) are for you.

Thank you for this blog post. It was the final nudge for me to take Dr. Boly's class this semester instead of another class that was of less interest to me but would've fit neater into my schedule and counted as credits toward my major. Postmodernist British Lit. with Dr. Boly has been one of the most rewarding learning experiences I've had at Marquette, and it might not have happened if I didn't bother to Google him and read your criticism last fall.

8:48 PM  

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