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What the Nidhi-Harvard story reveals about our world: Get off your high horse, you are not that special, anyway

Liberals think that only they have an education. Apparently, when put to test, they can’t tell the difference between Harvard University and the so called Whatsapp University.

So a prominent liberal journalist, Nidhi Razdan, thought she had received an offer from Harvard University to become an Associate Professor of journalism. She announced this publicly, her colleagues and friends wished her well. Among those who were ideologically opposed to her, some people made snarky comments. I bet a great many people across the spectrum were quite simply jealous.

And now, as it turns out, there was no job, no offer, nothing. She fell for an internet scam, or at least she says so. This time, people on the other side had a great time on social media, mocking her with all manner of jokes, memes and taunts. A number of her ex-colleagues and friends showed sympathy. Again, I bet most people across the spectrum were simply thrilled. Some openly, others secretly.

It is easier to laugh at one person than confront what the story has revealed about us all. She was not the only one who fell for this. Almost everyone else believed her too. What does it say about us? So, let us ask some real questions.

How did we come to believe in ‘magic’?

Suppose I were to tell you that I have won three gold medals in men’s racing events at the 2019 Olympic games in Kolkata. Would you believe me? Of course not. You would look at my general fitness, my age, etc and conclude that such a thing is impossible. You would also look at the fact that there is nobody else to confirm this. Let alone the fact there were never any Olympic games in Kolkata and certainly not in 2019.

How did we believe the Nidhi-Harvard story then? How could we possibly believe that someone with no PhD, no peer reviewed publications and no research record could be appointed directly to Harvard faculty, that too with tenure? Some people did point this out. Others noticed that Harvard does not even have a journalism department, much like there were never Olympic games in Kolkata. We know how the internet (and human jealousy) works. These doubts should have gone viral in no time, but they didn’t. People should have torn apart her claims with glee, but they did not. It was as if somewhere, deep in our hearts, we believed such a thing was genuinely possible.

It is as if Nidhi’s liberal privilege got us all to believe in ‘magic.’

Sidney Harris cartoon

This famous Sidney Harris cartoon is a great way to identify superstition. Start with someone who has no PhD and no research record. Then, a miracle occurs. In step three, the person is directly appointed as tenured faculty at Harvard.

A miracle is not an explanation for anything. You have to be more explicit in step two!

But we all forgot step two. In other words, liberal privilege got the better of our common sense. We know that liberals get so much for no reason that we believe anything is possible. And her liberal friends and colleagues, who all congratulated her, knew that too. Deep within our hearts, whether left or right, we all know who runs the world. We all know liberals have the privilege. We all know that the usual rules of hard work, achievement and disappointment don’t apply to them. The keyword here is “all.”

Unconsciously, we all ended up participating in a massive social experiment. And the conclusion is clear. We all chose not to see what was in front of our eyes. We believed her baffling claim instead. Could a spectacularly unqualified person be appointed as faculty in a non-existent department at the world’s most famous university? Sure, why not! Certainly wouldn’t be less plausible than all the other awards and honors that are showered on liberals every day.

This is what our life experiences have done to us. Liberal privilege is so obvious in our daily experiences that we have all internalized and accepted it.

What does this say about journalism as an academic discipline?

Sometime ago, Opindia had done a detailed expose, pointing out the shoddy research by the BBC in their report on fake news in India. The response from the liberal ecosystem, including Nidhi herself, was cutting.

Tweet by Nidhi Razdan

In other words, respect the hierarchy. The BBC has a bigger reputation than Opindia. How dare Opindia talk back to the BBC?

In itself, that is not a terrible thumb rule. Some institutions are indeed more credible than others. It is a deserved reward for having built up a reputation through decades, even centuries of hard work and achievement. But two important caveats apply. First of all, if your only defence against critics is throwing your ‘reputation’ in their faces, that’s never a good sign.

Second, for reputations and their hierarchies to make any sense, you must establish that the field in question is a real academic discipline. With barriers to entry. And rigorous standards for advancement at every step.

The current episode has proved that we don’t really believe that such barriers and/or standards apply to journalism. Undergraduate, PhD student, postdoc, tenure track professor, tenured professor, full professor, research record or no research record, they’re all the same. We have been pretending like these qualifications matter in journalism. But in our hearts, all of us (including liberal ecosystem) knows that it doesn’t matter.

There is no entry barrier and no standards for advancement. The only thing that matters is privilege. In other words, BBC and NYT and CNN are sitting atop a feudal system, not a meritocracy.

Moral: Be humble

If you know anything about social media, you know that liberals love to sneer. Liberals think that only they have an education. Apparently, when put to test, they can’t tell the difference between Harvard University and the so called Whatsapp University. So get off your high horse. Try to treat every human being with respect. You are not special anyway.

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Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or may not be an Associate Professor at IISc Bangalore. He is the author of Operation Johar - A Love Story, a novel on the pain of left wing terror in Jharkhand, available on Amazon here.  

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