I can’t say I was surprised, but I still I was a little disturbed, to read the following description for Billionaires’ Ball: Gluttony and Hubris in an Age of Epic Inequality by Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks:
Via vivid profiles of billionaires -- ranging from philanthropic capitalists like Bill Gates to hedge fund king John Paulson and the infamous Koch brothers -- McQuaig and Brooks illustrate why we hold dearly to the belief that these figures "earned" and "deserve" their grand fortunes, when such wealth is really a by-product of a legal and economic infrastructure that is deeply flawed.
Do you see the problem? Perhaps you don’t. But if you happen to be a Conservative, a right-winger, or just a plain vanilla Republican, you will spot it right away.
This is a catalogue aimed at academics and academic-leaning book buyers. The intent is not to tempt only liberals, progressives, Democrats, but anyone interested in buying books somewhat pithier and more specialized than those generally covered by the New York Times Book Review – perhaps Edmund Burke: The First Conservative by Jesse Norman, or John Diggins’ adulatory biography of Ronald Reagan, or one of the American Library’s Mencken collections, all of which can be purchased through Labyrinth.
With a general, bi-partisan – let’s say non-partisan – audience in mind, how did “infamous” come tripping off Labyrinth’s blurb writer’s fingertips as a description of the Koch Brothers? Sure, the Koch Brothers are infamous to patrons of the liberal media; even I, someone who likes to think of himself as more precise and particular in his ideology than most people, would have no compunction calling the Koch Brothers infamous. But for that judgment to be made in a book catalogue intended for readers of all stripes substantiates conservatives’ claims of a liberal bias in academia.
Certainly there was no sinister intent at political propaganda in the pairing of “infamous” with “Koch Brothers.” The fact that there was no intent, that the adjective simply was taken for granted, points to a true bias, a real prejudice – so ingrained that it is not even recognized. I consider the Koch Brothers infamous, my friends consider them infamous, Labyrinth Books considers them infamous -- because they are the deep pockets for the most backward, retrograde, cockamamie and plutocratic (intentionally or unthinkingly) interest groups and political candidates.
Still – that is my opinion, it is my friends’ opinion, it is Labyrinth Books’ opinion. We all have a right to express that opinion, which I am absolutely confident is a correct opinion. However, for that opinion, correct or not, to be expressed in a book catalogue intended for the general academic reader does validate the right’s complaint that there is a liberal bias in academia.
If a professor calls the Koch Brothers “infamous,” in class, or in a book or an essay – fair enough. It is an opinion. If every professor in a political science department calls the Koch Brothers “infamous” – well, perhaps that political science department is somewhat narrower in scope than it should be. If an academic book catalogue calls the Koch Brothers “infamous” then we are dealing with what basically is an unconscious bias. It would not have been biased to refer to the Koch Brothers as “conservative” or “right-wing” or “reactionary,” but only history can decide infamy. For example, the James Brothers (Jesse and Frank, not Henry and William), Nero and Charles Ponzi are universally recognized as infamous, and can complacently be described as such in a book catalogue. The jury is still out on such people as Henry Kissinger, Hugo Chavez and King Edward VIII; I do not think one would find one of them described as “infamous” in a catalogue such as Labyrinth’s.
Labyrinth’s “infamous Koch Brothers” either makes Labyrinth an active participant in current politics – which I do not believe it means to be – or a reflection of a left-wing bias which permeates academia.
A liberal education is not an education informed by liberal values but, according to the Association of American Colleges and Universities (per today’s Wikipedia), is “a philosophy of education that empowers individuals with broad knowledge and transferable skills, and a stronger sense of values, ethics, and civic engagement ... characterized by challenging encounters with important issues.” An academy which without reflection dubs the Koch Brothers “infamous” mutilates the idea of a liberal education.