A convention of professional specialists is always revelatory – if not always intellectually edifying. This is especially true of academic disciplines in the Liberal Arts. It is a species of social institution that bears its American birthmark. Now spread throughout the developed world, it was born in the United States and evolved into its present form in the post-war decades.
Those were years of earnest endeavor, an optimistic belief in collective uplift, and abundance of just about everything. The distinguishing features inherited from that era are still evident, however qualified by rampant self-promotion, commercialization and sheer size. For American intellectuals remain preoccupied with practical problem-solving energized by the can-do spirit and an undying faith in the betterment of humankind – even as ‘humankind’ vies more and more with ‘me and my friends’ for primacy.
I was reminded of all this by attending a few sessions of the American Psychological Association meetings in San Francisco in August. It had been years since I last was at one of these shindigs. My experience had been mainly with the American Political Science Association, but the differences are insignificant. Indeed, the subject matter within the social sciences increasingly overlaps.
Regrettably, I missed the main event which occurred on the eve of the convention as the APA was roiled once again by the aftershocks from the scandal that arose over the organization’s direct participation in counseling the CIA and the Pentagon on interrogation techniques. Those included techniques employed at Guantanamo and the ‘black sites’ scattered around the globe. Some members had gotten their hands very dirty. The association’s Executive Council had…