Recently, I have criticised Michael Patrick MacDonald, an Irish-American writer, who supported Daniel Cassidy and his crazy theories and attacked real scholars and lexicographers (“racist OED lapdogs”) for disagreeing with him and his friends. I have nothing to say about MacDonald’s activism or indeed about his books. He may be a great man and a great writer. He may be as big a fraud as Cassidy himself. I don’t know and I can’t be bothered finding out. All that interests me here is his support for the liar Daniel Cassidy (who was apparently a close friend of his).
The other day, I noticed another comment on Twitter from MacDonald which irritated me almost as much as his “racist lapdogs.”
Can I say this? University is stupid. Kill your memorized “radical” language and walk free, connect.
And below that:
A month in belfast, Jo-burg, east NY, and one will learn the history of the world & post colonial theory for plane fare.
Now, there are several reasons why this is stupid and objectionable. For one thing, this man doesn’t seem to have any university degrees. He works in a university as a writer in residence, but that’s not the same as having a background in academia. Of course, there are criticisms to be made of academia, but they sound better coming from people who’ve actually proven themselves within that system. They certainly sound ridiculous coming from someone who mistook Daniel Cassidy for a serious scholar. As has been pointed out many times before, autodidacts (people who teach themselves in an informal and unstructured way) tend to be massively confident. And in many cases, as in the case of Cassidy, this is not because they have weighed up all the facts and can confidently identify which are correct or incorrect: rather, it is because they are simply ignorant of anyone else’s viewpoint apart from their own, so it seems OBVIOUS to them that their own opinion must be right.
As I said above, it’s possible to criticise academia for a lot of reasons. It probably does serve to sharpen class divisions, and in recent years it has become very managerial and money-driven. However, it is also, like democracy, the worst system apart from all the others. The methods of academia are about establishing the facts, anchoring speculation in observable truth, not allowing bigotry and groupthink to undermine the international community of scholars and the work they produce.
The alternative is the malicious dross you can find in any bookshop, shit about ancient aliens building Newgrange and how the Sumerians discovered America and how various royal families of Europe are descended from Jesus’s girlfriend, and how the cadences of modern American speech descend from the crude bilingual patois of Irish speakers. In other words, there is a choice between building human knowledge throughout the generations by checking facts and eliminating error, or just believing any old shite that suits your world-view, from White Supremacism to 9/11 ‘Truth’, from Nazis living on the moon to the extreme numptiness of Young Earth Creationism.
The search for and the accumulation of knowledge is important. It’s not a class thing. It’s not a national or racial thing. It’s a human thing. It’s one of the most important parts of what we are as humans, and anyone who dismisses it as casually as MacDonald is a fool.
Here, MacDonald shows us again that he doesn’t give a toss about academia or the search for knowledge. However, there is another stupidity in the tweets above. (Amazing how much crap some people manage to squeeze into 140 characters …) So a trip to Belfast will automatically broaden your mind and teach you about history and colonialism? What about all those people who’ve never spent much time out of Belfast and they still get exercised about their little fleg protests? I’m sure there are plenty of bigots in Jo’berg as well. Travel doesn’t automatically broaden the mind, and some people would probably be better staying at home and reading a good book by a genuine academic rather than going abroad to confirm their prejudices. When I read the nonsense in MacDonald’s tweet, I immediately thought of that lovely old Irish poem about pilgrimage written in the margin of a 9th century text:
Teicht do Róim:
mór saído, becc torbai!
in rí chon·daigi hi foss,
mani·m-bera latt, ní·fogbai.
Here’s a rough translation:
Going to Rome: great the pain,
and all for very little gain.
The King you were looking for at home,
if you don’t bring Him with you, you won’t find in Rome.
One source claims that MacDonald does have a degree (in Irish studies, from the University of Massachusetts) but this also quotes an interview which mentions MacDonald ‘pursuing’ a degree in Irish Studies. As any fisher(wo)man, poet or lover will tell you, pursuing is not attaining. Neither MacDonald’s blog nor his Wikipedia entry mentions his having a degree. If I’m doing him an injustice, he can contact me here and I’ll quite happily give his degree a mention.