Friday, May 03, 2013

Nerd News + Rant: The Association for Asian American Studies Wants to Boycott Israel

At its most recent Nerdmoot, the AAAS passed a resolution to this effect and became the first American professional academic organization to support this.  I'm not a member of the AAAS, but that's not going to stop me from hating on the decision anyway.  Rant follows after the fold.

Yeah, I know it's campus chic to dump on Israel  at every opportunity and cheerlead for the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement, blah blah blah.  But I honestly don't see that it's any professional nerd organization's business to take up topics and issues external to its specific academic research areas.  You know, activist professors talk all the time about politics and whatever, but do I really have to spell this out ... ?  OK, fine, I will.  If a guy or girl gets a PhD in *grabs subject out of thin air* Underwater Basket Weaving, then you should consider him or her an expert whose opinion matters only in that field.  The fact that the nerd has a PhD doesn't mean he or she is instantly qualified to speak about unrelated topics like politics or foreign policy or social issues or whatever.  You got a question about waterproofing reeds?  Ask away.  You want to talk about the implications of the 1967 borders?  Why would a basketweaving expert's opinion matter more than anybody else's?

If people listen to PhDs on unrelated topics because the assumption is that PhDs are automatically smarter/better/more informed/more thoughtful, then excuse me while I collapse laughing.  (By the way, for the record, I'm not a professional specialist in most of the things I blog about, but you know that.  You know that I'm just a private citizen thinking out loud on the Internet about things she finds blogworthy.)

Part of me thinks the AAAS and other nerd groups issue these kinds of resolutions largely as an expression of preaching to the choir to show off their preachiness, of mutually reinforcing, morally preening self-regard: Oooooh, look at us!  We made a stand!  We're so compassionate and concerned!  So bold!  Yeah, you're so brave that you're only spouting a popular viewpoint with zero overt critique and zero consequences.  The resolution passed unanimously, a fact that should make any reasonable person smell a rat.  (Oh, I'm sure there is a tiny minority of AAAS members who weren't on board for this, but they could well be cowed into silence, and I can't blame them.  You want to be the only person in a roomful of colleagues to speak up for an unpopular thing that they're all dumping on and be on the receiving end of all that hostility?)  Oh, and the fact that the resolution passed with only 10% of AAAS members present and voting is a freaking travesty.  

And, no, this isn't an academic freedom issue, so don't start.  The AAAS wants to boycott Israeli institutions, for crap's sake!  What the hell kind of sober academic responsibility is that?  It's the principle of the thing.  We don't like your government, so we're not going to work with you on research areas.  Really enlightened, guys.

Whatever.  You got your two seconds of attention/marginal relevance.  Now let us all go back to ignoring the AAAS as we were doing before, mmmmmkay?  

PS: Hey, I'm an Asian American.  How about you study me giving you a little gesture of my esteem?

UPDATE: By "isn't an academic freedom issue" I obviously mean that the decision can't be protected or defended by appealing to "academic freedom."  In fact, academic boycotts fly in the face of the true ideal of academic freedom.

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