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The Mark of an Educated Mind

Plaster cast of Auguste Rodin's The Thinker (1880). Photo by Joe Mabel, via Wikimedia Commons.

In Standpoint, Andrew Doyle writes that the mark of an educated mind is the ability to “entertain the possibility that we might be wrong”:

Many years ago I gave a talk at the London Metropolitan Archives in which I outlined my reasons for rejecting the then fashionable theory of social constructionism in relation to human sexuality. In the coffee break that followed, I was approached by a lesbian activist, who claimed to have chosen her orientation as a means to oppose the patriarchy. She demanded to know why I would not accept that sexuality had no biological basis, even though I had spent the best part of an hour answering this very question. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said, ‘but I’ve already explained why I don’t agree with you.’ ‘But why won’t you agree?’ she shouted in response. ‘Why?

Primary school teachers are familiar with such frustrated pleas. The anger of children is so often connected with incomprehension, a sense of injustice, or both. When it persists into adulthood it represents a failure of socialisation. We frequently hear talk of our degraded political discourse—and there is some truth to that—but really we are dealing with mass infantilism. Its impact is evident wherever one cares to look: online, in the media, even in parliament. Argumentation is reduced to a matter of tribal loyalty; whether one is right or wrong becomes secondary to the satisfaction of one’s ego through the submission of an opponent. This is not, as some imagine, simply a consequence of the ubiquity of social media, but rather a general failure over a number of years to instill critical thinking at every level of our educational institutions.

Progressivism, on the other hand, Allen C. Guelzo writes, has long viewed thinking as a tool that merely “appeases the irritation of doubt”: “Truth is not ‘a stagnant property inherent in’ an idea; an idea ‘becomes true, is made true by events.’”

In other news: Nicole Gelinas reviews a new book on New York’s Second Avenue subway: “It’s rotten luck to have spent years writing a book and then have it come out on March 15, just as New York City retreated into the Covid-19 lockdown. Philip Mark Plotch has encountered this fate with his new book, Last Subway: The Long Wait for the Next Train in New York City. Yet Plotch’s chronicle of New York’s century-long attempt to build the Second Avenue subway is painfully relevant to pandemic-era Gotham. After all, New York could barely provide basic infrastructure during good times—so what will it do now? . . . In Last Subway, Plotch takes what is nominally a success—Governor Andrew Cuomo’s triumphant opening, nearly four years ago, of the Second Avenue subway—and shows how, in many respects, it’s a failure. It’s not that the subway isn’t a critical project, or that, pre-coronavirus, it wasn’t working well for its riders and for New York. In its first months of operation, it served 150,000 daily passengers, reducing overcrowding on the nearby Lexington Avenue line by 30 percent and cutting cab and Uber traffic aboveground, too. It’s rather that this completed project is not the Second Avenue subway. As Plotch notes, since 1903, when politicians began discussing it, the project has diminished in scope, from a system extending from the Bronx down Manhattan (even through Brooklyn, in at least one iteration) to just three new stations from 72nd to 96th Streets on the Upper East Side.”

Alan Turing, Algis Valiunas argues in The New Atlantis, was a rare thinker. He had a “gift for abstraction,” but also a “passion for tangible result.”

Rupert Murdoch may invest in Art Basel: “The company said on Wednesday that its majority owner, the Swiss canton of Basel-Stadt, holds a 33.5% stake and has decided to waive its subscription rights in the capital raise, allowing for a potential new investor to take majority control. The canton’s government has also approved the conversion of a 30 million-Swiss franc ($32 million) loan into share capital.”

Kim Beil writes about an early conflict between painters and photographers in Lapham’s Quarterly: “Most studios practiced an elaborate division of labor during this period, employing assistants to prepare the plates, operators to work the camera, and painters to complete the pictures after development. Only occasionally were these additional participants named, as a critic lamented following an 1857 exhibition in New York: ‘We regret that the artist has not been permitted to attach his name to each picture, that we might give the credit for whatever skill is evinced in its execution…We cannot consider that the exhibitor should receive all the praise. It should be divided according to merit.’ By ‘artist,’ this author meant the painter, not the camera operator or the owner of the photographic studio. As a result of this imbalance, the author concluded that hand-colored photographs should not be judged in the contest because their makers remained unnamed. The perception of a division, or even a conflict, between the photographic and the painterly elements in pictures was common during the peak popularity of painted photographs. Many how-to authors prefaced their coloring instructions by disparaging painted photographs, claiming that they resorted to tinting photographs only to satisfy the whims of public taste . . . Among most photographers and critics, the chief criticism of hand painting was that it obscured the photographic nature of the image, sacrificing truth-value for artistic effects. Tasteful coloring was meant to be subtle; transparent hues should enhance, but not conceal, photographic detail. Photographer Henry Hunt Snelling, who would later become editor of the Photographic Art Journal, wrote in his own instructional manual, ‘I very much doubt the propriety of coloring the daguerreotypes, as I am of the opinion that they are little, if any, improved by the operation, at least as it is now generally practiced.’”

Image:A Decade of Sun

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about the author

Micah Mattix is the literary editor of The American Conservative and an associate professor of English at Regent University.  His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Review, The Weekly Standard, Pleiades, The Washington Times, and many other publications. His latest book is The Soul Is a Stranger in this World: Essays on Poets and Poetry (Cascade). Follow him on Twitter.

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