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Educating For Woke Spectatorship

A college professor friend e-mailed the following, and gave me permission to post it after I promised to take out identifying details:

I watched the Antifa video [1] you posted today, and was struck by something that I think ties together aspects of themes you keep discussing. Notice that, once the fracas starts, the majority of persons in the audience respond by taking out their cell phones and videoing what’s happening around them. It’s a really curious reaction: they neither join in the demonstration nor resist it. They assume the role of spectators. Crawford and others, most seriously Heidegger, have discussed the ways in which technology is more than just an interposition between us and the world: it becomes the way in which the world appears, “world” itself. We don’t have direct access to Being anymore, but only through technology. And we do this willingly, if not unwittingly. It’s striking how often people look at the world through the filter of their phone; not the world as it is, but the world as it is on and in their technology.

It matters in instances like this because what is happening on campuses is best understood as performance, and that in two ways: first, as a way of demonstrating your virtue, that you are “on the right side of history,”; and, second, as a mode of self-fashioning. The self is performative, there is no solidity or substance, and as a result the self needs both stage and audience to validate its own existence. The politics are, in a certain sense, irrelevant except as they find a supportive and accepting crowd in front of which the self can “strut and fret its hour upon the stage.” It is indeed a tale told by idiots, and in some ways in the most literal sense of that term. Notice in a video such as the one you posted the complete absence of any solidarity: even the protestors are anonymized through masks and veils.

One might argue that such anonymizing negates my earlier claim, but I think it supports the claim in that they are actors taking on a persona. There are no solid or substantive selves engaged in reality or with other selves. They are mere players whose play is reinforced by others videoing them in ever redounding series of performative acts. It would be interesting to talk to one of these protestors and get to the core of what motivates them.

change_me

One way to think about this is that the central problem on college campuses today is not that there is too much individualism, but that there is no proper individualism at all, at least in the sense of stable and substantive selves. The core of the politics of authenticity is that the selves involved are so fragile that they need recognition in order to buttress themselves, and the withholding of such recognition is therefore an act of violence (a process Taylor has rightly diagnosed). What colleges don’t do is exactly what Augustine suggested: that enduring selves can only be so if they are in contact with That which endures. They can only have being if they are in relationship with He who is Being itself. And that’s precisely what we deny them.

I teach at a Christian college, and we don’t get that. We pour more and more institutional resources into “global learning and citizenship” and into identity politics, both of which are guaranteed to make these young persons less anchored and therefore more weightless. You may recall the time I told the story of a very smart and serious Christian student I care for very much who told me “Adderall to get my work done, pot to bring me down, and alcohol to socialize.” Believe me when I tell you she saw this as tragedy and wants something more.

How to respond? I’ve begun to describe my role at the college — and I can’t emphasize this enough, I am at a Christian college! — as creating an internal Benedict Option. We have become so overwhelmed with administrative bloat, me-tooism, and soft-core leftism that our curriculum has been largely eviscerated. I have students who really want to learn and, God bless them, demand their inheritance. They’re great kids. So people like me have had to carve out areas within the structure of the college to give students the education they are entitled to — and all of this as both supplement and alternative to what happens campus-wide. I have a reading group I’ve created that, among other things, spent a weekend discussing ideas at [a retreat site]. I had four professors there last December who gave fantastic lectures and told me they couldn’t have been more impressed with my students. The kids put their phones away, dressed in their Sunday best, and sat and listened all day to lectures about “the Permanent things” — and this right before finals. All the speakers commented on how blown away they were by these students.

After we went back to our residence, I was up until 1:30 in the morning with the students talking about truth and beauty. I finally went to bed, but was told they stayed up until 4 doing more of the same. I had 20 students staying up until all hours of the night discussing Prufrock as the crisis of modernity, the relationship between the artist and art and art and beauty. They wanted to know how where they were from shaped who they were and how they searched for truth. All this inspired by the lecturers.

The human condition is a constant. You often quote thinkers who grew up in communist countries about how they see parallels between totalitarian societies and what’s going on in our own, and rightly so, but those parallels cut both ways. The desire for truth gets crystallized in these circumstances. It is incumbent upon serious faculty to keep such learning alive in these dark times on campuses. The tragedy is that we do so in spite of the administration; the beauty is that we are able to do so.

Ron Srigley, in his recent article in the [2]LA Review of Books, captured well the ways in which instruction and learning have become ancillary in college and university life. More’s the pity. But the experiment in consumerist leftism (and here you’d have to look at the larger cultural phenomenon of how corporations have capitulated to progressivism) can’t be sustained. My school is already seeing the profound effects in enrollment. Schools will be closing their doors, and not only because of demographics. Once schools no longer see themselves as a link between generations and as guardians of truth, they are done for. But despair is a mortal sin, so we keep plugging away. As Russell Kirk was fond of quoting Dr. Johnson: cheerfulness keeps breaking in. It is incumbent upon those of us seeking to keep civilization alive, above all, to keep being cheerful. I can assure you that many young persons would rather spend their time with cheerful purveyors of truth than dour and bitter ideologues. Cheerfulness will win in the end.

I received the following e-mail from a different reader:

Born in 1980, I myself am right on the edge between Gen X and the Millennials (I will always claim X generically, though I do like the “Oregon Trail” moniker I have seen elsewhere).  I was never of any sort of leftist bent, but I did consider myself a budding academic, and I long harbored a dream of returning to graduate school and becoming a professor (of Classics for what it’s worth).  Indeed, part of what I felt as the call was simply to be an alternative voice, one lonely person standing up and saying that Western Civilization was good, that the liberal arts matter.  I took Harvey C. Mansfield and others of his ilk as inspiration.

That dream is dead.  The tumult in academia over the previous half-decade or so has done more than enough to dissuade me from ever pursuing a return to the university environment, at least for any sort of liberal arts graduate study.  When even leftist professors live in terror of what the screaming mob will do to them, what hope could a traditionalist ever have?

This is one for the culture war crimes tribunal. Damn it! These cretins are disinheriting the young. The late Czech dissident Vaclav Benda, creator of the idea of the “parallel polis,” really is a St. Benedict for our troubled educational times. (Read more about Benda in this interview I did with Prof. Flagg Taylor [3], editor of a newly published collection of Benda’s essays.) The “parallel polis” is a community existing alongside the mainstream — not entirely separate, but one constituted by different aims. From The Benedict Option [4]:

For Benda, [Vaclav] Havel’s injunction to “live in truth” could only mean one thing: to live as a Christian in community. Benda did not advocate retreat to a Christian ghetto. He insisted that the parallel polis must understand itself as fighting for “the preservation or the renewal of the national community in the widest sense of the word—along with the defense of all the values, institutions, and material conditions to which the existence of such a community is bound.

[Benda:] I personally think that a no less effective, exceptionally painful, and in the short term practically irreparable way of eliminating the human race or individual nations would be a decline into barbarism, the abandonment of reason and learning, the loss of traditions and memory. The ruling regime — partly intentionally, partly thanks to its essentially nihilistic nature — has done everything it can to achieve that goal. The aim of independent citizens’ movements that try to create a parallel polis must be precisely the opposite: we must not be discouraged by previous failures, and we must consider the area of schooling and education as one of our main priorities.

From this perspective, the parallel polis is not about building a gated community for Christians but rather about establishing (or reestablishing) common practices and common institutions that can reverse the isolation and fragmentation of contemporary society. (In this we hear Brother Ignatius of Norcia’s call to have “borders” — formal lines behind which we live to nurture our faith and culture — but to “push outwards, infinitely.”) Benda wrote that the parallel polis’s ultimate political goals are “to return to truth and justice, to a meaningful order of values, [and] to value once more the inalienability of human dignity and the necessity for a sense of human community in mutual love and responsibility. ”

In other words, dissident Christians should see their Benedict Option projects as building a better future not only for themselves but for everyone around them. That’s a grand vision, but Benda knew that most people weren’t interested in standing up for abstract causes that appealed only to intellectuals. He advocated practical actions that ordinary Czechs could do in their daily lives.

“If you didn’t like how university education was going, help students find an underground seminar taught by one of these brilliant professors kicked out of university by the government,” [political scientist Flagg] Taylor says, explaining Benda’s principles. “Print good novels by samizdat and get them into the hands of the people, and let them see what they’re missing. Support theological education in one of the underground seminaries. When people see [that] resistance is connected to something that’s really meaningful to them, and that is possible only if there are a certain number people committed to preserving it in the face of the state’s opposition, they will act.”

Whether you call it “antipolitical politics ” or a “parallel polis,” what might the Czech dissidents’ vision look like in our circumstances? Havel gives a number of examples. Think of teachers who make sure kids learn things they won’t get at government schools. Think of writers who write what they really believe and find ways to get it to the public, no matter what the cost. Think of priests and pastors who find a way to live out religious life despite condemnation and legal obstacles, and artists who don’t give a rip for official opinion. Think of young people who decide not to care about success in society’s eyes and who drop out to pursue a life of integrity, no matter what it costs them. These people who refuse to assimilate and instead build their own structures are living the Benedict Option.

A lot of people think that the Benedict Option is about surrender. They should read Benda. He was extremely courageous in facing down communism — and he realized that the most effective way to fight it was indirectly. He wrote that in a totalitarian state, the government has the power to shut down most things, but it can’t possibly get everything. The parallel polis must keep expanding, bringing light to the darkness. That is how you fight. The Benedict Option is not so much about running away as it is relocating to a place where you can breathe clean air and think clearly — and then defending that place with all you’ve got.

Babylon breeds consumers and spectators. The parallel polis must make citizens and men (and women) with chests.

After the fall of communism, Benda regretted that the greatest failure of the parallel polis was to be unable to establish an education system independent of the government. More from The Benedict Option:

We traditional Christians in America can learn from both Eastern European examples. We face nothing so terrible as the Czechs did under Soviet domination, of course, but the more insidious forces of secular liberalism are steadily achieving the same aim: robbing us and future generations of our religious beliefs, moral values, and cultural memory, and making us pawns of forces beyond our control.

This is why we have to focus tightly and without hesitation on education. We have far more freedom than Benda and his colleagues did, and our people, though under strain, are far less demoralized than the Czechs were.

“Education has to be at the core of Christian survival — as it always was, ” says Michael Hanby, a professor of religion and philosophy of science at Washington’s Pontifical John Paul II Institute. “The point of monasticism was not simply to retreat from a corrupt world to survive, though in various iterations that might have been a dimension of it,” he continues. “But at the heart of it was a quest for God. It was that quest that mandated the preservation of classical learning and the pagan tradition by the monks, because they loved what was true and what was beautiful wherever they found it.”

My younger son is a middle schooler at a classical Christian school, one that runs on an extremely lean budget. They don’t have posters in the hallway promoting Gay-Straight Alliances, or anything else. But my son and his classmates have already read The Iliad and The Odyssey. My son doesn’t like reading much — he’s much more into music and drawing — but he told me, “Those are my favorite books ever.” And you know, he’s the kind of kid who, if protesters tried to no-platform speakers, would not pull his phone out (he doesn’t have a phone), but would rush forward to protect the innocent.

We need to build a parallel polis, and we need it right now. That young man whose dream of being a classics scholar died — he should have a place to teach, and he should have students who want to learn. He is a bearer of our cultural memory, and if there are no places for men and women like him in higher education, something vitally important will perish. We can only have these colleges and schools if parents want them. We cannot expect that mainstream colleges will provide them. Look:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js [8]

Of course I lament this, but is it really such a bad thing when in so many places, the liberal arts have been deeply corrupted by cultural politics? We are fast getting to a place where traditional Christian colleges will be the primary place where a traditional liberal arts education is possible. These colleges will be like early medieval monasteries: strongholds of learning and cultural memory. Strengthen those that stand, and start new ones out of the ruins! The kind of students that the professor in the first comment on this post mention, they exist, and they are desperate for truth, goodness, and beauty. Why would we give our young people stones when they’re crying out for bread? Why would we be content to raise children who grow up to be the kind of people — dead souls — who reach for their phones to record trouble instead of jumping in to fight for the good?

Meanwhile, this is the way the world is going. Another reader writes to say that his university was barely woke when he attended:

Since that time the university has axed a number of departments thanks to budget cuts, but they’ve added a new division with a large staff:

You can’t get a Ph.D. in philosophy anymore but, hey, at least you’ll be ‘woke’ when you’re done.

Let me close with this quote from the professor whose long email started this post:

As Russell Kirk was fond of quoting Dr. Johnson: cheerfulness keeps breaking in. It is incumbent upon those of us seeking to keep civilization alive, above all, to keep being cheerful. I can assure you that many young persons would rather spend their time with cheerful purveyors of truth than dour and bitter ideologues. Cheerfulness will win in the end.

Below, the founder of the Scuola Libera G.K. Chesterton [9], and the most cheerful man I know: Marco Sermarini. Read more here. [10]

48 Comments (Open | Close)

48 Comments To "Educating For Woke Spectatorship"

#1 Comment By Matt in VA On March 7, 2018 @ 9:46 am

Of course I lament this, but is it really such a bad thing when in so many places, the liberal arts have been deeply corrupted by cultural politics?

The humanities at many/most institutions have become so corrupted and putrid* that there really may not be any hope for them other than nuking them and starting over elsewhere. And I say this as a former English major and somebody who thinks we should bring back Great Books/core curriculums and require four years’ worth of them for any liberal arts degree.

Notice that, once the fracas starts, the majority of persons in the audience respond by taking out their cell phones and videoing what’s happening around them. It’s a really curious reaction: they neither join in the demonstration nor resist it. They assume the role of spectators.

Something that I think could help is trying to create, or re-create, a more physical culture. Lots of people these days, especially in America with our car culture, our suburbs and exurbs, and our technology, are totally disconnected from the physical world around them. I think this is responsible for an awful of the atomization and anomie of our society. It’s worth reflecting, too, on the ways so-called “nerd” culture (and that may not be the right word) has come to dominate — I mean a culture that sees working for Google or Facebook or someplace like that as the epitome of success, as well as a culture that encourages people to continue arguably childish pursuits well into adulthood** (like being into Star Wars and not just watching the movies but buying the merchandise, or playing lots of video games, or constantly referencing cultural products based on young-adult novels, etc.)

*I say “putrid” because “corrupt” alone doesn’t seem strong enough; in too many liberal arts departments, it’s not just that academic rigor has decayed, it’s that the professors are actively hostile to the writers, artists, and thinkers they are teaching, the professors are presenting the material in such a way as to put themselves *above* the actual artists, thinkers, writers, etc. This is, of course, inherent in the
“there is no text, only interpretation” schools of thought (no surprise that this train of thought is extremely appealing to academics).

**No doubt people who self-identify as “nerds” or “nerdy” don’t think about it this way, but so much of this kind of “culture” seems to be about staying in a state of arrested development — the elongation of not just adolescence but of a uniquely childish adolescence. You have the Star Wars and the comic book movies and the costumes/cosplay and you just add craft beer to it.

In classical times, there wasn’t a concept of adolescence, but there was a concept of the “youth,” and it was a very physical, embodied concept. Strength, agility, fleetness of foot, etc., were at their peak, or were supposed to be; there was a focus on the physical body as an aesthetic object. Today’s culture, or what passes for it, is notable for producing a prototypical specimen, at least among men — the flabby/skinnyfat, rounded, bearded not like a Viking but rather to hide a babyish chin man, who likely as not does some kind of work related to technology and is Extremely Online himself.

#2 Comment By Chris – the other one On March 7, 2018 @ 9:56 am

What if the reason schools are adding diversity offices left and right is in hopes of attracting minorities to shore up declining enrollments, as the US trends towards a minority-majority country?

That, and attracting foreign students who pay full price without financial aid.

#3 Comment By Chris – the other one On March 7, 2018 @ 10:00 am

Finally, do these posters think it is possible for Christianity to endure without Western civilization? Where does the worship of one stop and the other begin? Can Christianity endure in Asia and the Global South without the West surviving?

Ultimately, are we worshiping God or worshiping the West?

#4 Comment By KD On March 7, 2018 @ 10:09 am

The modern university is completely rotten. It must be destroyed, and the earth salted. The tools are there, it is completely dependent on the federal money. Further, legal precedents that prevent employers from practices like giving IQ tests can be overturned, and would eliminate the overpriced credentialing process of university. Last, as a business model, university education can be provided online, without campuses and expensive overhead, at a reduced price.

There is no reason why the modern university won’t and shouldn’t go the way of the horse and buggy in 20 years.

I would advise anyone interested in the classics or humanities in general to look toward private classical/Christian schools, where they will find a crowd of serious people, not postmodernist clowns writing about sadomasochism in the Illiad.

#5 Comment By Annie On March 7, 2018 @ 10:17 am

“Global learning and citizenship.” What an oxymoron. No one can be a citizen of the globe; on such a scale there are merely the rulers and the ruled. Scale matters. Democracy cannot work on such a scale; only Babylon can.

Why never a “local learning” course, at a Christian college of all places? The curriculum could begin with learning to love one’s actual neighbor rather than theoretical neighbor on the other side of the planet.

#6 Comment By Major Wootton On March 7, 2018 @ 10:18 am

Take off the masks, heroes.

#7 Comment By Will Harrington On March 7, 2018 @ 10:35 am

Chris

You make a good point. For those who focus heavily on the West because it is their culture, remember that part of our Western culture (rather like Japanese culture) is the habit of adopting ideas, technologies, and traditions from other cultures. Cultural appropriation is a positive for all cultures that practice it.

#8 Comment By theMann On March 7, 2018 @ 10:43 am

If I paid good money to go to a place and purchase its product, and the person selling me the product allowed others to disrupt my purchase to the point of ruining it, I would be ….peeved. Annoyed enough to get together with other purchasers of that product and file a class action RICO suit for fraud. Once Discovery was launched, and it was shown that the seller (University) had knowledge of, and failed to prevent, the actions of the disrupters…. well, can you say “triple damages”? And I am pretty sure you could go after both the rioters and the Institution.

#9 Comment By Brian On March 7, 2018 @ 10:46 am

Beautiful post.

#10 Comment By Wonderer On March 7, 2018 @ 10:51 am

It is important to have instruction on the bible and the Christian faith, and where biographies of great men and women of God are shared with children, especially before they reach the hormonal teen years, when they are harder to reach. Whether it is thru parents, grandparents or Sunday School teachers, it is vital. Check out the nondenominational program Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for building a sacred space in the home for children. It is beautiful.

#11 Comment By midtown On March 7, 2018 @ 10:52 am

Great post, Rod.

#12 Comment By charles cosimano On March 7, 2018 @ 11:11 am

You’re thinking in the box again. Consider those pictures on a cell phone as evidence in an harrassment suit.

TheMann is saying what I have been saying. Haul them into court and sue their rear ends off.

#13 Comment By Liam On March 7, 2018 @ 11:16 am

People should bring carnival-type masks and put them on when these hooligans show up. And then be very Da-Da about their interactions – no insults, just entirely random and F.U.N.

In other words, there may be situations (not all cases) where it makes sense to reciprocate chaos. Don’t outdo the hooligans (in other words, don’t give a pretext for discipline on you because you’re worse than them).

#14 Comment By simon94022 On March 7, 2018 @ 11:32 am

The University of Wisconsin Stevens Point’s website reveals a robust Diversity and Inclusion operation. Besides touting the usual leftwing groups and initiatives and providing “training” to faculty to think correctly, the Diversity and Inclusion Office sponsors an extensive permanent bureaucracy on campus:

* The Office of Campus Activities and Student Engagement
* The Diversity and College Access Office
* The Multicultural Resource Center
* The Gender and Sexuality Resource Center
* The Center for Inclusive Teaching and Learning
* The Disability and Assistive Technology Center

So while they cut fat like English and History, it’s a relief to know the University is keeping the really important stuff.

#15 Comment By Marie On March 7, 2018 @ 11:48 am

Matt in VA, I agree with most of what you say, but I think the “spectators” recording the spectacle are doing so in a mode of immediate self defense and modern offense—so they can post it and expose the violence by the perpetrators. They have learned If someone physically does something about the interruptions, it doesn’t end well (arrest or defaming of reputation)

I agree that a more active and less passive culture would be good. However, there are certain societal rules being regularly broken (interrupting a college class or public meeting) and our fellow citizens do not agree with what used to be assumed norms. I have no idea how I would react if I were sitting in a class and this happened, especially since the institutions are on the interrupters’ side (by their own passivity to maintain order). I think there is more of this fear, really, than “haha, look at this circus.” I mean, the masked dudes are very sinister

#16 Comment By grumpy realist On March 7, 2018 @ 12:02 pm

I wonder how much of this has been sparked by the lack of an obvious career path or even path to success for present university students. They get out with ridiculous amounts of debt to spend the next N years of their lives acting as a Starbucks barrista?

Maybe all this protesting angst is because it’s the last time they can act as kids and have the equivalence of temper tantrums. (Either that, or they’ve been raised by helicopter parents and this is just their normal mechanism of interacting with the world. Boy are they gonna be in for a shock later on.)

This also vaguely reminds me of the results of an analysis I did way back when for the Japanese government looking at US programs in graduate science and engineering disciplines. I remember discovering that the “best” disciplines from the viewpoint of what-you-can-do-down-the-pipeline were the “pure” programs–you learned mathematics. or physics. Or mechanical engineering. You drilled down and got a complete, well-rounded education in at least one discipline.

By contrast, interdisciplinary programs just didn’t have enough. They were composed of a dabble of this here, a dabble of that there, a third chunk of something that someone obviously thought was vaguely related. And it all added up to being Not Bloody Much. You could be a technician…maybe…but not advance the field because the roots were lacking.

(We’re really going to have to sit down and figure out what it is we expect university educations to provide, both to our offspring and society. At the moment, the US trend seem to be nothing more than parking a bunch of hormone-addled young-uns in a location where they’re out of everyone’s way and amusing them for four years at great expense which will then later on be taken out of their paychecks. It is, as the man says, a h*ll of a way to run a railroad.)

#17 Comment By cka2nd On March 7, 2018 @ 12:23 pm

What’s wrong with Gay-Straight Alliances? They’ve served an important purpose and helped a lot of kids get through school. I can think of a lot worse things to put up a poster about, and don’t get why you would use GSA’s as your example of being, what, excessively “woke?”

#18 Comment By Phillip On March 7, 2018 @ 12:46 pm

I just wrote the following to keep on my desk and offer it in case in might help anyone who gets as frustrated and tense as I do:

I am cheerful because Christ is Risen, and there’s nothing the Progressives, Leftists, or Antifa can do about it.

#19 Comment By zosimas On March 7, 2018 @ 12:52 pm

For the despairing scholar who sent the second email, there are some points of light out there, such as St Katherine’s University in San Diego:
[11]

#20 Comment By Hound of Ulster On March 7, 2018 @ 1:52 pm

My very much on the Left oldest sister and my very Marxist brother in law (she teaches literature and Irish studies, with some women’s studies on the side, he is a sociologist specializing in the various liberation movements in Latin America in the 1950s-1990s) see the problem as not so much of ideology as a problem of excess, unnecessary, and often self-serving beraucracy. Vice-President to the assistant director to the Chancellor sort of idiocy/deadweight. The publish or perish business model for academia also tends to drive people into greater specilization and more intellectual blind alleys.

I wonder if the solution two the issues here is not to ‘salt the earth’ (what good are engineers if they can’t write in a clear and concise manner and critically evaluate ideas presented to them), but re-democratization of higher education. Getting rid of legacy admissions would be a start, as would the spinning off of the carbuncle of big-time ‘college’ Sports. In nearly half the states in the country right now, the highest paid state employee is the head football coach at the main state university. Think about that.

Would the environment in academia be much more salabroius for ‘conservative’ ideas, if conservatives hadn’t abandoned academia starting in the 1980s? And if academia was more ‘democratic’ in the sense of drowning students especially from a wider swath of the population than it does today?

[NFR: There really is nothing on earth that you won’t blame on conservatives, is there? — RD]

#21 Comment By Hound of Ulster On March 7, 2018 @ 1:54 pm

*drawing students (although drowning is probably something of a Freudian slip pace student loans)

#22 Comment By Thomas Hobbes On March 7, 2018 @ 2:39 pm

I agree with pretty much everything your Christian college professor says, but it’s not lefties that have killed the liberal arts (they may be the ones that will finally bury it though). The drive by Republicans to make college about preparing kids for careers and giving them marketable skills led to taking all the money away from history, English, and classics departments and giving it to science, engineering, and business education. Most conservatives would never let their child major in classics because “it’s a one way ticket to destitution”. Nobody even wanted their kids to be forced to take core classes on things that wouldn’t help them get a job. Now only leftists are interested in the liberal arts and funding is only given by the left so colleges are catering to their tastes because college is a business now and it is serving it’s actual customers. Are these colleges going to keep programs around that nobody wants to major in?

It’s heartening to hear people on the right talk about the value of classical education again. To bad it’s too late, all the people who wanted to teach it got fed up of waiting for the somebody to die in one of the few existing faculty positions still funded and got real jobs. The young man who dreamed of being a classics scholar would still be lingering in grad school waiting for somebody to die had he actually gone that route. [/rant]

#23 Comment By DRZ On March 7, 2018 @ 3:06 pm

Thank’s to the friend for the terrific post: I will just say one thing in regard to the passage, “But the experiment in consumerist leftism (and here you’d have to look at the larger cultural phenomenon of how corporations have capitulated to progressivism) can’t be sustained.”

I don’t think it’s a “capitulation” so much as an “appropriation.” In Augusto Del Noce’s reading, corporations have been “marxist” for quite some time: atheistic, materialistic, and opposed to any idea of the possibility of transcendence. To adopt a vocabulary and set of practices that restricts thought is the kind of thing “Human” “Resources” departments have always done. And in terms of marketing … Well, the same principles apply.

The problem with colleges and universities, in my experience, is that, in the guise of “critical theory,” allegedly progressive professors have been offering an identity politics that has much, much more in common with consumerism than with any traditional academic field of inquiry. That’s why it has so seamlessly seeped into the corporate world: it has been there all along.

Which is why when you give some students an introduction to lasting things, those who are really serious will come to life (and those whose identities are carved in stone as “in flux” or “fluid” might report you to the department head.)

#24 Comment By C. L. H. Daniels On March 7, 2018 @ 4:18 pm

I wonder if the solution two the issues here is not to ‘salt the earth’ (what good are engineers if they can’t write in a clear and concise manner and critically evaluate ideas presented to them), but re-democratization of higher education. Getting rid of legacy admissions would be a start, as would the spinning off of the carbuncle of big-time ‘college’ Sports. In nearly half the states in the country right now, the highest paid state employee is the head football coach at the main state university. Think about that.

I’m not defending the NCAA by any means (a more corrupt or venal organization would be difficult to find), but for those programs where the coaches are making bank, the money coming in from those programs is more than paying that salary; the school’s not propping them up at the expense of students and education, it’s rather the other way around. As far as I know, those big glitzy athletic programs often bring in the money that supports all the non-glitzy sports (like most of the women’s teams, for example) as well funding for the athletic facilities; there’s plenty left over after all those expensive salaries get paid, and that is money that doesn’t have to come out of the general fund that supports student education.

In any case, I really fail to see how your suggestions would do anything to improve on the current state of affairs. Higher education is already excessively democratic, in my opinion, in the sense that a lot of people get funneled into it who have no business being there. Not everyone is cut out for it, and those people tend to drop out and end up with debts that set them back for years with no tangible benefit.

In point of fact, our relentless drive to pretend that college is for everyone (and if that’s true, why don’t we just keep everyone in public school for another 4 years – it would be vastly cheaper) has only led to falling standards in order to maintain this pretense. Grade inflation is a real issue, even at supposedly high quality institutions such as Harvard. And don’t get me started on the general uselessness of what passes for a liberal arts education today. Here’s a fun little blurb:

In 2003, the United States Department of Education gave about 18,000 Americans the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. The ignorance it revealed is mind-numbing. Fewer than a third of college graduates received a composite score of “proficient”—and about a fifth were at the “basic” or “below basic” level. You could blame the difficulty of the questions—until you read them. Plenty of college graduates couldn’t make sense of a table explaining how an employee’s annual health-insurance costs varied with income and family size, or summarize the work-experience requirements in a job ad, or even use a newspaper schedule to find when a television program ended. Tests of college graduates’ knowledge of history, civics, and science have had similarly dismal results.

Taken from this darkly amusing article, if anyone’s interested:

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#25 Comment By Invicta Veritas On March 7, 2018 @ 4:20 pm

cka2nd asks:

“What’s wrong with Gay-Straight Alliances?”

They make perversion seem normal and perverts acceptable, that’s what.

#26 Comment By Zgler On March 7, 2018 @ 9:31 pm

“The Disability and Assistive Technology Center”

I understand why the average TAC comment writer dislikes diversity departments (diversity being a left-wing word) but why is providing text-to-speech devices for blind students and the like bad?

#27 Comment By JEinCA On March 7, 2018 @ 9:36 pm

Rod, my Orthodox brother if the West is to be saved or at least salvaged it can only be through the mercy and grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We must return to our roots. Our deep Catholic roots. Our big “O” Orthodox Catholic roots. I think the revival of the ancient Western Orthodox Catholic liturgies are key to this process. The revival of veneration to the Pre-Schism Western Orthodox Saints is also key to this process. I have been listening to an excellent podcast on Byzantium and in the process have learned how the Western Catholics (especially the Popes before the Great Schism) were a bulwark of Orthodoxy even as powers in Constantinople flirted with heresy. If I’m not mistaken it was the Pope of Rome who saved Christian Iconography from the Iconoclasts. That is our Western Orthodox Catholic heritage and that is what we must return to if the West is to be saved.

#28 Comment By Zgler On March 7, 2018 @ 9:43 pm

“Higher education is already excessively democratic, in my opinion, in the sense that a lot of people get funneled into it who have no business being there. ”

Your elitism is showing.

No, seriously, the real problem is that all employers that pay any kind of wage are demanding college degrees as a bar to applying for a job. Most basic clerical work requires a college degree. To be a retail store manager requires a degree. And both of those jobs barely pay above minimum wage. We need apprenticeship programs like in Germany. Employers need to put real job requirements out there and interview people without college degrees who meet them. The lack of a college degree should not be a highway to poverty.

#29 Comment By sjb On March 7, 2018 @ 9:58 pm

cka2nd: “What’s wrong with Gay-Straight Alliances? ”

For one, it’s age inappropriate. It’s another imposition of its all about sex all the time and that sexual proclivity defines a person. And if that isn’t demeaning enough, they offer dozens of genders to make sure to distort a child’s self-image. Academics isn’t about promoting personal coitus preferences or gender confusion. Get a therapist for personal problems and let children focus on learning and normal age appropriate activities.

Do you have any idea how far schools have lowered their academic standards over the years? What passes for a high school diploma now (which includes any honors programs) is one I could have easily received in the 7th-8th grade (I’m in my 60s). The same could be said about the difference between my parents generation and my generation. It’s nauseating.

#30 Comment By Pangur Ban On March 7, 2018 @ 10:02 pm

[NFR: There really is nothing on earth that you won’t blame on conservatives, is there? — RD]

Rod, now you know that criticizing Hound of Ulster is demanding a safe space. Haven’t you read his posts? Liberals suffer terribly at the hands of conservatives every single day. Liberals who destroy the careers of, well actually other liberals most of the time, who shut down conservative speakers, who threaten fellow peers with bats, who actually beat peers with bats are acting in self-defense, because Reagan.

#31 Comment By VikingLS On March 7, 2018 @ 10:12 pm

“We are fast getting to a place where traditional Christian colleges will be the primary place where a traditional liberal arts education is possible. These colleges will be like early medieval monasteries: strongholds of learning and cultural memory”

Okay, but “traditional” is hard to find now and going to be harder in the future. My alma mater, which has much to recommend it, nonetheless had no problem doing a kind of bait and switch with conservative Christians, with promotional material that suggested that the college was conservative, and then attempting to cure the students once they were in of any hint of fundamentalism. This wasn’t a recent phenomenon either, it went back generations.

#32 Comment By Rob On March 8, 2018 @ 3:51 am

Classics PhD here. I wouldn’t get too upset about that fellow being discouraged from returning to school to become a professor. Yes, I think he’s right in his concern about the cultural situation (I’m glad to have left the profession for that very reason), but he would never have found a job anyway. The market for classicists is unimaginably dire, and if you get a job, the reward is often an infinite workload for survival wages. The whole thing is a mess in many respects, and I think that multi-level mess is probably a significant part of the success of the activists: nobody has the energy to push back, or can afford the risk of doing so. Trust me: the energy required to keep a classics dept. alive is herculean without having to confront the activists.

#33 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On March 8, 2018 @ 10:26 am

cka2nd is a genuine leftist, unlike the spoiled brats imagining themselves to be such, and its only natural that being gay, he has an eye on how capitalism or socialism or whatever may be in power now or in the future affects him.

I would not subscribe to the notion that gay-straight alliances promote perversion. But I would say that gay just ain’t all that. Gay straight alliances, especially when there is peer pressure that EVERYONE needs to be part of it (as distinct from one of many interest groups like camera club, chess club, young Republicans, glee club, etc.) make a shining city on a hill out a rather irrelevant side note of life.

Even in the 1970s, I floored people who told me they were gay or bisexual by responding “I could care less.” Eventually some kind of appreciated it. I don’t hate gays, I don’t despise gays, there was a period in my life when I often hugged a friend I knew was dying of AIDS, but I don’t much care about anyone being gay either. That’s your private business. I appreciate you for all the qualities we share in common, and I don’t let this distinct difference drive me away.

Making “I’m gay” a focus of attention, either in the positive or in the negative, strikes me as a distraction from living life, a waste of time, and demanding attention for the irrelevant.

#34 Comment By KingP On March 8, 2018 @ 10:30 am

Referencing Hobbes and Hound, the Republican, STEM-crazy effort to promote a hole vs. nail “how come I gotta” approach to higher ed is as much responsible for the demise of the liberal arts as any perceived leftist silliness. To many, a vast, inexpensive network of 2-year welding/HVAC tech schools with only one large flagship university (specializing in accounting and mech. engineering, presumably – definitely no poli-sci or art) to instruct the future employers of the JUCO grads (the “officer corps”) is an ideal arrangement.

In short, it has mostly been a tag-team beat down administered by competing interests focused on creating a generation of docile consumers. Also, notice that neither camp is particularly interested in making the college experience any cheaper.

#35 Comment By John Gruskos On March 8, 2018 @ 10:55 am

Using a cell phone to record Antifa’s antics is an act of participation, not spectation.

Antifa *always* starts the violence, and the establishment media *always* denies this fact.

Individuals who record Antifa’s instigation of violence, and then post the videos on forums such as YouTube and Facebook, expose the lies of the establishment media.

Antifa hates these videos, because these videos expose them for what they really are.

I’ve seen several videos in which Antifa members notice the person recording them, and them call for their comrades to help them steal and smash the cell phone.

#36 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On March 8, 2018 @ 11:51 am

There’s been a lot of comparison of the plight of conservative Christians today to the plight of dissidents under the late Warsaw Pact regimes. I don’t think that’s a terrible analogy personally, but as someone rather sympathetic to late stage communism, at least in its Eastern European form more so than its Chinese form, I also have mixed feelings about the lessons Rod is drawing. I’d just point out that if you are going to go with the “Eastern European Communism” analogy, I’d take that experience as a warning as much as an inspiration. The warning really is, as they say, “be careful what you wish for, in case you might actually get it.”

The collapse of communism in Yugoslavia brought civil war; in Russia it brought a 50% collapse in GDP per capita and a concomitant collapse in life expectancy, fertility, and general well-being; in East Germany it brought mass depopulation of the country and incorporation into the West with all of the pathologies of capitalism and liberalism. Late capitalist countries are now starting to experience their own form of stagnation, this time involving some problems the communist variety of stagnation didn’t (large scale underemployment due to automation for one thing, high inequality for another). Even in the most successful of the transition countries- Havel’s former Czechoslovakia seems like the one communist state that negotiated the transition to communism the best- I don’t think that the modern day political landscape is one that Havel would be at all happy to see. If present-day trends hold, the long term replacement for communism in eastern Europe won’t be political liberalism and the “open society” that the dissidents dreamed of, it will be some form of ethnic nationalism based on bloodlines and thousand year old historical memories. (I don’t think that’s either a good thing or a bad thing, necessarily, it could turn out to be either one, but it’s certainly a thing. Eastern Europe is no more fertile a soil for ‘open societies’ than the Middle East).

#37 Comment By LFM On March 8, 2018 @ 12:09 pm

Hound of Ulster says, “Would the environment in academia be much more salabrious for ‘conservative’ ideas, if conservatives hadn’t abandoned academia starting in the 1980s?”

The reason conservatives left academia in the 1980s was because some of them had an early intuition that they were not wanted nor welcome. I left (although I went back later) after completing my M.A. because of the profession’s obsession with what was then called ‘quantitative social history’ (a very leftist-oriented approach that even Siarlys would approve). My school was threatening to shut down all its European history-oriented classes (it had no African- or Asian-oriented classes in those days, so don’t think Because Colonialism) in favour of historical studies of institutions and government, with statistical training included, so that we could become good government functionaries writing about the history of education. Not a bad or worthless subject, just not the only thing I wanted to study.

When I told my advisers that I wanted to do something more oriented towards the history of culture and esp. religion, I was politely informed that no one was interested in that any more. I said that I thought things were changing, and they smiled skeptically. It was suggested that I ought to invent a suitable subject that I wanted to study when I applied for a grant, and then go ahead and study what I wanted. (No, I am not joking.)

That was the last straw. I decided to leave before they drove me to drink. When I went back, I was older and better able to withstand that sort of folly. Also, the times had changed: I had been right in thinking that ‘social history’ of the kind they practised was on its way out. That it was soon to be replaced by something even more obnoxious was a pity but one can’t have everything.

#38 Comment By minimammal On March 8, 2018 @ 2:06 pm

I’ve also noticed and commented on this performative aspect of our current political insanity. Identity politics is nothing but a political performance, a dramatized power play. Each member of a supposed victim group must perform according to a prefabricated script committed to memory, a script from which they must NEVER deviate, in a grand pageant of outrage to determine which, preferably intersectional, identity is the most oppressed, and thus build a new, postmodern hierarchy (which, unlike the previous hierarchy, will be completely equal and just, of course) in which this most victimized victim group gets the largest slice of the power pie. That’s why everything must be politicized, because:

“All the whole world’s a stage,
And all the men and women and non-binary gender queer people of color merely players…”

#39 Comment By JonF On March 8, 2018 @ 4:39 pm

Re: Today’s culture, or what passes for it, is notable for producing a prototypical specimen, at least among men — the flabby/skinnyfat, rounded, bearded not like a Viking but rather to hide a babyish chin man,

A quibble, but you are comparing an ancient ideal with the reality of today. But our era too has its ideals for physical appearance, and it certainly is not the chubby tech boy. How many ancient Greeks actually looked like one of Phidias’ statues?

#40 Comment By JonF On March 8, 2018 @ 4:48 pm

Re: Okay, but “traditional” is hard to find now and going to be harder in the future. My alma mater, which has much to recommend it, nonetheless had no problem doing a kind of bait and switch with conservative Christians, with promotional material that suggested that the college was conservative, and then attempting to cure the students once they were in of any hint of fundamentalism.

Are you using “fundamentalism” ironically? Because otherwise it is neither classic nor traditional, but rather a species of mutant modernism. A Christian college should not be afraid to engage science or even modern culture, albeit it must give scientism wide berth, and give culture (in any era) a cold and jaundiced eye. The purpose of education is to teach us to use our minds, not parrot shibboleths, and that true of the shibboleths of right as the shibboleths of the left.

#41 Comment By grumpy realist On March 8, 2018 @ 6:40 pm

I’m in with those who claim bureaucracy is eating the universities, egged on by parents who want the paths of their little darlings smoothed of all rocks–and access to climbing walls, gourmet food, and hotel-like dorm rooms with sheets changed every night and a mint on the pillow.

Universities should provide you with access to great minds and great libraries, and give you the opportunity to learn how to deal with awful cafeteria food, cockroaches, invasive squirrels, and learning how to pull off building a solar car while attending classes and getting some sleep.

(If you don’t learn how to live off rice and lentils in college, where are you going to learn it?)

#42 Comment By Hound of Ulster On March 8, 2018 @ 6:44 pm

@Pangur Ban

The Right already has a ‘safe space’ with Fox News, talk-radio, and the constellation of think-tanks and research institutes that dot the country from coast to coast. Your average conservative voter can go, if they want to, their entire lives without seeing any piece of information that contradicts or tests the conservative/right-wing viewpoint of the day. And it has made a hash of conservative arguments, and rendered any attempt by liberals/left-wingers of goodwill to reach out and create consensus on the issues of the day all but impossible, which in turn creates space for radical voices on the left and far-left to come to the fore. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been told to ‘stfu liburul!!!’ when I have raised the most anodyne argument or simply pointed out a contradiction or fallacy in a conservative argument. When liberals, feminists, and leftists speak online especially, they are met with wave after wave after wave of trolling, hate mail, doxxing and worse. So they, out of self-preservation and health, either shut down, or retreat into a corner where they only interact with others on the Left, which then drives a lot of the radicalism many conservatives on this commbox are lighting their hair on fire about. Even the most stupid ideas sound like genius if everybody in your circle agrees with them. Rod and other conservative voices online have experienced similar bad acts, and it is not ‘fun’ experience for anyone.

Confirmation bias loops And epistemic closure are bad no matter who they happen to. They are especially destructive in a democratic polity. If we cannot agree on the basic nature of reality itself, because we have retreated into mutually hostile tribal camps, how can fix anything that is damaging to the world we live in?

#43 Comment By Franz Josk On March 8, 2018 @ 9:37 pm

Ironic that a professor extolling critical thinking waxes about Heidegger and then name drops that LARB article.

There’s a causal link in that article shown between increased administration power and decreasing academic standards. Look, you can discuss cultural degradation and antifa all you want, but you’re delusional if you think that more traditional content and less lefties would mean increased academic standards at universities, especially at lower tier schools where the elites don’t attend.

When higher-eds became more common and more attached to economic pulls, it divested itself of any real need for academic integrity. This has been well documented and well researched. Ask yourself what the market is for reading the Iliad and being able to discuss it in depth?

For better or worst, the market is in STEM and padding administrator’s pockets. And if you want a good look at a potential future, quit reading Havel, pick up Kafka, and read up on present day China. We are going to need more than markets and engineering skills to argue for meaningful freedoms.

#44 Comment By Pat On March 9, 2018 @ 7:18 am

I think Chris has hit the nail on the head regarding diversity.

In my youth, folks who disapproved of racism were all about fairness and colorblindness – initiatives to make sure that people were judged on their individual merits and allowed to achieve as much as those merits allowed. We looked forward to a world in which anyone with the ability could become whatever they wanted to be.

What we never discussed was what would happen as that goal was approached. Well, obviously one thing that happens is that as minority populations begin to have better lives, they become consumers; and as they become consumers they become markets to be wooed, and as they become markets to be wooed, businesses like higher ed create programs to woo them.

In my lifetime, higher ed has gone from chasing every new fad method for educating minority students to chasing every new fad method for attracting them. Venal though it is, I personally think this is an improvement. It means we’ve realized that good teaching is good teaching and is not race-specific; also that ‘student of color’ really tells us almost nothing about an individual’s learning style or ability. The marketing diversity fads will go the same way, and that too will be a good thing.

#45 Comment By Crotchety Part Time Prof. On March 9, 2018 @ 10:30 pm

I’ve been teaching for 13 years as an adjunct at a university most who read Rod’s work would know and would consider “conservative.” Yet, I can’t even post a syllabus that doesn’t contain some language that points to how my class will help students “cross-culturally.” The class I primarily teach actually has a place for some discussion of cross-cultural matters, but others I’ve taught there do not. Nonetheless, it has to be shoved in. This is just one example of things I’ve seen creep in at this institution.

We should stop pretending that social issues necessarily require discussion in every curriculum at every moment. It might be an actual “safe” place for kids to go to an English class and read Shakespeare without having to consider the “feminist” reading or the “LGBT” reading or the “Marxist” reading, but just let the words speak for themselves. I know that’s too absurd for the postmodern mind to comprehend, but just some thoughts from a crotchety part-time professor.

#46 Comment By Pangur Ban On March 10, 2018 @ 6:33 am

@Hound of Ulster

You honestly believe that all the things you just said about the evils of the right and the suffering of the left doesn’t go both ways?

I have been on both sides of things, and liberals dish it out as much as the right.

It takes either a willful ignorance to believe otherwise, or a stubborn insistence that whatever liberals do to conservatives, conservatives deserve.

#47 Comment By VikingLS On March 10, 2018 @ 9:18 pm

“Are you using “fundamentalism” ironically? Because otherwise it is neither classic nor traditional, but rather a species of mutant modernism. A Christian college should not be afraid to engage science or even modern culture, albeit it must give scientism wide berth, and give culture (in any era) a cold and jaundiced eye. ”

And as usual you moved the goal posts. Again JonF, is there NOTHING you will not do to defend liberalism?

Now, did you work in College PR? I did. Are you qualified to tell me I don’t know what is going on? Are qualified to tell me you know more about the college I attended and the one I worked for than I did?

Or does you abstract notion about what colleges should do, which apparently to you justifies deliberately dishonest advertising, justify any sort of behavior to further the progressive “cause”?

BTW they would have regarded your Orthodox Christianity as something you needed to be cured of too. DO yo think you need to be cured of your superstitions and idolatry?

#48 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On March 11, 2018 @ 2:27 pm

Viking, is working in college PR a prerequisite to reading a dictionary and making an assertion about the meaning of a word?