It’s what I got right now. Thanks for looking (updated).
So what’s lacking in the humanities? Roger Scruton had some keen insights:
“The works of Shakespeare contain important knowledge. But it is not scientific knowledge, nor could it ever be built into a theory. It is knowledge of the human heart”
So forget the recent, and rather desperate, attempts to make the humanities into a science (however…it’s been done before with some success). Scruton suggests it’s been a long slide for the humanities to arrive where they’ve arrived:
“In the days when the humanities involved knowledge of classical languages and an acquaintance with German scholarship, there was no doubt that they required real mental discipline, even if their point could reasonably be doubted. But once subjects like English were admitted to a central place in the curriculum, the question of their validity became urgent. And then, in the wake of English came the pseudo-humanities—women’s studies, gay studies and the like—which were based on the assumption that, if English is a discipline, so too are they.”
And now that we’re left with somewhat balkanized and politicized departments of English, these departments have become a target of the political right, dragging many people into a nasty fight that eats up political capital:
“And since there is no cogent justification for women’s studies that does not dwell upon the subject’s ideological purpose, the entire curriculum in the humanities began to be seen in ideological terms.”
So how to restore the vision? Scruton advised to restore (and not eschew) judgment:
” Of course, Shakespeare invites judgment, as do all writers of fiction. But it is not political judgment that is relevant. We judge Shakespeare plays in terms of their expressiveness, truth to life, profundity, and beauty.”
This is deep insight and I think the better part of Scruton’s thinking in the article comes when he resisted his own political (anti multi-cultural, pro-conservative, pro-church of England conservatism) impulses. Here are the last few lines:
“It will require a confrontation with the culture of youth, and an insistence that the real purpose of universities is not to flatter the tastes of those who arrive there, but to present them with a rite of passage into something better.”
One could argue that this is necessary though how to arrive there is in doubt.
Here’s a quote from George Santayana:
“The young man who has not wept is a savage, and the old man who will not laugh is a fool.”
On another note: Despite the importance of beauty, the refinement of our experiences through poems and prose, the difficult work of cultivating”taste” for ourselves as well providing a rite of passage for our youth: Aren’t we still attaching the humanities to something else?
We know the humanities will never be a science. Politics is always in conflict with the arts. Much philosophy is indifferent to the humanities at best. In fact, Plato was quite suspicious of their influence on the republic (good overview here).
Just some food for thought.
See Also On This Site: Philosopher Of Art Denis Dutton of the Arts & Letters Daily says the arts and Darwin can be sucessfully synthesized: Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’
Martha Nussbaum says the university needs to be defend Socratic reason and still be open to diversity: From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’
Stanley Fish also says keep politics out of academia: From The Stanley Fish Blog: Ward Churchill Redux…
Scruton again has deep insight, but will Christian religious idealism have to bump heads with Islamic religious idealism?: From YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism
Thanks to iri5
Rod Dreher linked to Sean Collins at Spiked, who interviews Joseph Bottum: “Wokeness: old religion in a new bottle“:
‘…if I understand your thesis correctly, you argue that the beliefs, mindsets and manners that animated earlier Protestantism have not been abandoned, but instead have been projected on to the political realm.’
‘The Mainline churches helped define American culture in several ways. First of all, the churches were mostly apolitical, which has had a profound effect on American culture. For instance, there’s never been a great American political novel. The average French streetwalker in a novel by Zola knows more about politics than the heroes of the greatest American novels. What is it to be an American? At the highest artistic level, it is to be concerned about the cosmos and the self. Politics is incidental to Moby Dick, The Scarlet Letter and Huckleberry Finn. And that’s because Mainline Protestantism rendered politics secondary to what it deems is most important — namely, salvation and the self.’
Dreher, once Catholic, now Eastern Orthodox:
‘You should read it in tandem with this classic James Lindsay and Mike Nayna essay, “Postmodern Religion and the Faith of Social Justice.”They argue that the best way to understand Social Justice Warriors is as members of a postmodern religious cult.’
‘Yes. There’s an extraordinary point here. Walter Rauschenbusch [an American theologian and a key figure in the Social Gospel movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries] lists six species of social sin.’
Nothing religious about chanting and chasing Charles Murray away, with violence if necessary:
In light of all the flak Ross Douthat was getting for his opinion piece on the death of G.H.W. Bush ‘Why We Miss The WASPs.’
How did money actually work among those in America’s elite?:
But the old monopoly of power had gone, and the country was the poorer for it. “The tragedy of American civilization,” Auchincloss wrote in 1980, “is that it has swept away WASP morality and put nothing in its place.”
Here’s another Auchincloss quote from a reader (haven’t checked this one out…probably a quote site). The prose strikes me as kind of post-Wharton, mannered and dull:
“I used to go to church. I even went through a rather intense religious period when I was sixteen. But the idea of an everlasting life — a never-ending banquet, as a stupid visiting minister to our church once appallingly described it — filled me with a greater terror than the concept of extinction…”
If such things be true, then many of the best and the brightest seem busy contructing a meritocracy in the old WASP establishment’s place; an enterprise of many unresolved personal conflicts between political ideals of activist change, progress, and ever-expanding personal freedoms on one hand and deeply held religious beliefs, traditions and customs on the other.
There seems to be an ex post facto character to much of the ol’ meritocratic enterprise, where a healthy skepticism is warranted.
In fact, it’s probably made [more] room for the same old Socialism.
On that note, I have a healthy respect for contrarians, frankly, when merely speaking out in favor of…:
‘the importance of traditional marriage values in ensuring children’s future success…’
…involves controversy and professional censure.
It’s so bland!
In fact, what will you do with your own blandness, dear reader, entombing the flaming desire to be woke within; the little half-opened doors of ecstasy and ‘environmental justice’?:
Earth Quaker Action Team is ON IT. (I’m not sure the Quakers ever had much institutional authority…so this could well be a marketing ploy to start more Quaking)
Full discussion here.
Helen Andrews offers a critique of the meritocratic system she sees dominating U.S. education (more grades, achievement and performance-based…less legacy and WASP based).
Yes, the old system had its problems and horrors, but she cites its end in a Victorian redesign of the British civil service, a redesign whose counterpart is now thriving here in the U.S. since the 1960’s.
‘Others favor the slightly more radical solution of redefining our idea of merit, usually in a way that downplays what Guinier calls “pseudoscientific measures of excellence.” She even has a replacement in mind, the Bial-Dale College Adaptability Index, the testing of which involves Legos. (Why are you laughing? It is backed by a study.) This is even less likely to work than fiddling with the equality-of-opportunity end. For one thing, the minority of families willing to do whatever it takes to get into Harvard will still do whatever it takes to get into Harvard.’
‘My solution is quite different. The meritocracy is hardening into an aristocracy—so let it. Every society in history has had an elite, and what is an aristocracy but an elite that has put some care into making itself presentable? Allow the social forces that created this aristocracy to continue their work, and embrace the label.’
Is there proof of a causal mechanism from which this meritocracy will thus harden into an aristocratic elite?
If so, will it just be an elite of different ideals, assumptions, blind-spots and stupidities…now with top-down social-science and pseudo-scientific bureaucratic/administrative oversight?:
As I see it, yes, these schools were always about grooming ambitious, wealthy, and well-connected people to some extent; grooming them into institutions that often govern the rest of us.
***I’d add that much like the deeper logic behind a more general multiculturalism, its practitioners and the younger people raised within this system can easily lose sight of the lenses they’re using to view the world (shared ideals and assumptions about moral virtue, truth and knowledge claims, the idea of moving towards the telos of a ‘better world’ which can now become the social glue of the institutions themselves).
***I should add that I’m rather sympathetic to Andrews’ slow-change, tradition-favoring, conservative-ish, position.
If we are coming apart, who’s putting us back together? : Via Youtube: ‘Are We Really Coming Apart?’ Charles Murray and Robert Putnam Discuss…Repost-Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People
Related On This Site: Once you take apart the old structure, you have to criticize the meritocracy you’ve helped create: David Brooks At The NY Times: ‘Why Our Elites Stink’
The anti-intellectual’s intellectual: Repost-Via Youtube: Eric Hoffer-’The Passionate State Of Mind’…
A deeper look at what education “ought” to be, which is remarkably like it is now: A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.
Still reliving the 60′s?: A Few Thoughts On Robert Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”
The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”… From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.New liberty away from Hobbes?: From Public Reason: A Discussion Of Gerald Gaus’s Book ‘The Order of Public Reason: A Theory of Freedom And Morality In A Diverse And Bounded World’…Richard Rorty tried to tie postmodernism and trendy leftist solidarity to liberalism, but wasn’t exactly classically liberal: Repost: Another Take On J.S. Mill From “Liberal England”
Michael Dirda at The Washington Post (DDiD, man…DDiD):
In his youth, Auden planned to become a mining engineer, and he’s always terrific at depicting industrial landscapes — he gravitates to tram lines and slag heaps — but he can also survey rough terrain through the eyes of a secret agent: “Control of the passes was, he saw, the key” or “Watching with binoculars the movement of the grass for an ambush,/ The pistol cocked, the code-word committed to memory …”
Being set on the idea
Of getting to Atlantis,
You have discovered of course
Only the Ship of Fools is
Making the voyage this year,
As gales of abnormal force
Are predicted, and that you
Must therefore be ready to
Behave absurdly enough
To pass for one of The Boys,
At least appearing to love
Hard liquor, horseplay and noise.
Should storms, as may well happen,
Drive you to anchor a week
In some old harbour-city
Of Ionia, then speak
With her witty scholars, men
Who have proved there cannot be
Such a place as Atlantis:
Learn their logic, but notice
How its subtlety betrays
Their enormous simple grief;
Thus they shall teach you the ways
To doubt that you may believe.
If, later, you run aground
Among the headlands of Thrace,
Where with torches all night long
A naked barbaric race
Leaps frenziedly to the sound
Of conch and dissonant gong:
On that stony savage shore
Strip off your clothes and dance, for
Unless you are capable
Of forgetting completely
About Atlantis, you will
Never finish your journey.
Again, should you come to gay
Carthage or Corinth, take part
In their endless gaiety;
And if in some bar a tart,
As she strokes your hair, should say
“This is Atlantis, dearie,”
Listen with attentiveness
To her life-story: unless
You become acquainted now
With each refuge that tries to
Counterfeit Atlantis, how
Will you recognise the true?
Assuming you beach at last
Near Atlantis, and begin
That terrible trek inland
Through squalid woods and frozen
Thundras where all are soon lost;
If, forsaken then, you stand,
Stone and now, silence and air,
O remember the great dead
And honour the fate you are,
Travelling and tormented,
Dialectic and bizarre.
Stagger onward rejoicing;
And even then if, perhaps
Having actually got
To the last col, you collapse
With all Atlantis shining
Below you yet you cannot
Descend, you should still be proud
Even to have been allowed
Just to peep at Atlantis
In a poetic vision:
Give thanks and lie down in peace,
Having seen your salvation.
All the little household gods
Have started crying, but say
Good-bye now, and put to sea.
Farewell, my dear, farewell: may
Hermes, master of the roads,
And the four dwarf Kabiri,
Protect and serve you always;
And may the Ancient of Days
Provide for all you must do
His invisible guidance,
Lifting up, dear, upon you
The light of His countenance.
Thanks for looking.
I suspect a lot of wisdom can be found throughout ‘Western Civ 101’ about the problems of the human heart, human nature and political power.
Apparently, though, such wisdom is being lost on a lot of people these days. I humbly submit such people should not merely think their ideas will become more justified, their hearts more pure, simply by organizing coalitions with the purpose of gaining political power.
As previously posted:
‘There was a wonderful article by an editor at the magazine, Mary Norris, about commas. Wonderful, that is, until this passage, “That was during the Reagan Administration, when many of us suspected that Reagan had some form of dementia, but no one could do anything about it. The country was running on automatic.”
Such politicization can make for bad stewardship of the arts, certainly.
Perhaps New Yorker features are increasingly flogged to maintain readership in a competitive marketplace, or are being put to use for other purposes, like reaffirming political ideology and identities to signal the right beliefs and in-group/out-group loyalties. Many of the liberal pieties can be found on display at the New Yorker.
Unsolicited advice for The New Yorker: Build a wall around your political stable, don’t bet too much on current trends and politicians, and keep other spaces free for the genuinely ‘avant-garde,’ the strange and beautiful, and biting satire when it shows-up.
For further context:
Here’s one senior New Yorker editor, Hendrik Hertzberg, discussing years ago how to abolish the Electoral College, arrive at a National Vote (to better serve the People, of course) and enact ‘democratic change.’
This strikes me as in-line with much Left and Left-liberal majoritarian populism. activism and softly (ultimately hard) radical change.
He has knowledge, of course, regarding what the People (will, should?) want, and why eroding such checks will lead towards more
victims enfranchised voters and the ‘good’ society.
Perhaps some of the publishing decisions at the New Yorker make a little more sense…
As previously posted-A breath of fresh air from George Packer at the New Yorker: ‘Mute Button:‘
‘The problem with free speech is that it’s hard, and self-censorship is the path of least resistance. But, once you learn to keep yourself from voicing unwelcome thoughts, you forget how to think them—how to think freely at all—and ideas perish at conception. Washiqur Rahman and Avijit Roy had more to fear than most of us, but they lived and died as free men.’
Maybe this kind of moral courage will make a comeback…
As for free speech and public sentiment, perhaps we’ll see where a new speech beachhead lies as the tide recedes from the powerful pull of an activist moon.
The problem with ‘brownstone activism’ may be the material itself:
‘Brownstone is a word used both to refer to a type of building material and structures built or sheathed in it. While it is most closely associated with the Eastern United States, this material was at one point used all over the world in construction, particularly in upper class regions. A distinctive architectural style using brownstone is very familiar to many residents of industrialized nations. Its popularity as a building material waned when builders began to realize that it weathered poorly, and that other materials might be more suitable.’
Soft, crumbly, loosely aggregated, weathers poorly…
Christopher Hitchens at Slate: Yale Surrenders
***Whom do you trust for discussions of the arts and culture, and would you just rather publications be up front about their ideological bents and loyalties?
Sailing After Lunch
It is the word pejorative that hurts.
My old boat goes round on a crutch
And doesn’t get under way.
It’s the time of the year
And the time of the day.
Perhaps it’s the lunch that we had
Or the lunch that we should have had.
But I am, in any case,
A most inappropriate man
In a most unpropitious place.
Mon Dieu, hear the poet’s prayer.
The romantic should be here.
The romantic should be there.
It ought to be everywhere.
But the romantic must never remain,
Mon Dieu, and must never again return.
This heavy historical sail
Through the mustiest blue of the lake
In a really vertiginous boat
Is wholly the vapidest fake. . . .
It is least what one ever sees.
It is only the way one feels, to say
Where my spirit is I am,
To say the light wind worries the sail,
To say the water is swift today,
To expunge all people and be a pupil
Of the gorgeous wheel and so to give
That slight transcendence to the dirty sail,
By light, the way one feels, sharp white,
And then rush brightly through the summer air.
Behold, the Wallace Stevens/Ernest Hemingway dustup down in Key West. I don’t know what it means.
Out-of-focus boats in the bay.
Martin Gurri via Marginal Revolution: ‘Notes From A Nameless Conference:’
Gurri offers an interesting take on matters socio-cultural:
The dilemma is that this present is defined by a radical distrust of the institutions of industrial society, and of the elites that control them, and of their statements and descriptions of reality. The conference organizers got our predicament right. At every level of contemporary social and political life, we are stuck in the muck of a profound crisis of authority.
‘The senior people, largely white and male, seemed to believe that, in punishment for the sins of their fathers, trust had fractured along identity lines. Women today were thought to trust only women, for example. Muslims trusted Muslims, and no one else. Some archetypical essence of “woman” or “Muslim” made internal communications possible, and separated each group from the rest of the human race. It was, to be sure, a disaster of biblical proportions – the story of Babel told in the times of the tweet – and it left the men in charge desperate to put forward individuals of a different sex and skin coloration, to say the things they wanted to hear.
For younger elites, trust involves a sort of cosplay of historical conflicts. They put on elaborate rhetorical superhero costumes, and fight mock-epic battles with Nazis, fascists, “patriarchs,” slave-owners, George III, and the like. Because it’s only a game, no one gets seriously hurt – but nothing ever gets settled, either. Eventually, the young cosplayers must put away their costumes, take one last sip of Kombucha, and set off, seething with repressed virtue, to make money in the world as it really is.’
Previous ‘elite’ links on this site, arriving at some yet predictable, unrealized truths: Via Marginal Revolution via American Affairs: ‘The Western Elite From A Chinese Perspective:’
Roger Sandall from ‘Guardianship: The Utopia Of The New Class‘ finishes with:
‘One remembers Weber’s epitaph for the Protestant Ethic, as he contemplated a devitalised bourgeoisie spiritlessly tending the petrified mechanism their ancestors had raised. Adapted, without apology, it might also be used to depict that petrified Utopia of the New Ruling classes of the East.
‘Rulers without honour, administrators without heart, priests without conviction, this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilisation never before achieved.’
As previously posted:
Charles Murray argues that controlling the data for just for whites in America, a gap has opened up between working-class ‘Fishtown’ and professional-class ‘Belmont.’ Fishtowners have increasing rates of out-of-wedlock births and divorce, more isolation from churches, civic organizations and the kinds of voluntary associations that Murray suggests can make a life more fulfilling, regardless of income beyond certain basic needs. Fishtowners have higher incidences of drug and alcohol use and intermittent work.
Belmonters, on the other hand, are mostly college-educated and beyond, still tend to court, marry, engage in family planning and tend to stay connected with family, friends and colleagues. Folks in Belmont are still living more moderate personal lives and working to stay ahead in the changing economy through academia, the professions, government, tech, business and global business.
Being a social scientist with a more limited government/small ‘c’ conservative/libertarian worldview, Murray likely sees a smaller role for government and limited ways in which some people acting through government can actually solve problems in other people’s lives. As a contrarian social scientist in a small minority, then, he disagrees with many basic assumptions often found amongst a majority of social scientists.
Murray thus advocates for people in ‘Belmont’ to increasingly preach what they practice, to look outside the bubble of their daily lives and wealthier enclaves, and perhaps reconstitute the kinds of family and civic associations, moral virtues and opportunities for independence and success he’d like to see more broadly.
What this would look like in practice, exactly, is unclear.
Robert Putnam, author of ‘Bowling Alone‘, seems to agree with Murray about what much of what the data highlights: Working-class whites are behaving more like working-class non-whites, and college-educated non-whites are behaving more like college-educated whites.
Putnam also focuses more on economic factors, the decline of manufacturing and the disappearance of working-class jobs that has without question affected large parts of America and small-town life. Globalization has opened American firms to global competition, global capital markets and mobile labor. Whatever your thoughts on race, Putnam creates some daylight between the data and strictly race based interpretations (often aligned with ideology, especially in academia nowadays) and focuses more on ‘class’ in a way slightly differently than does Murray.
An interesting discussion, in which the empirical research of social science can highlight important differences in political philosophy and try and transcend the inevitable political and ideological battles of the day.
Just thought I’d Throw This In There:
An interesting take from Slate Star Codex-‘The APA Meeting: A Photo-Essay:’
There’s a popular narrative that drug companies have stolen the soul of psychiatry. That they’ve reduced everything to chemical imbalances. The people who talk about this usually go on to argue that the true causes of mental illness are capitalism and racism. Have doctors forgotten that the real solution isn’t a pill, but structural change that challenges the systems of exploitation and domination that create suffering in the first place?
No. Nobody has forgotten that. Because the third thing you notice at the American Psychiatric Association meeting is that everyone is very, very woke.
This reminds me of a poem by Robert Pinsky, entitled ‘Essay On Psychiatrists’
V. Physical Comparison With Professors And Others
Pink and a bit soft-bodied, with a somewhat jazzy
Middle-class bathing suit and sandy sideburns, to me
He looked from the back like one more professor.
And from the front, too—the boyish, unformed carriage
Which foreigners always note in American men, combined
As in a professor with that liberal, quizzical,
Articulate gaze so unlike the more focused, more
Tolerant expression worn by a man of action (surgeon,
Salesman, athlete). On closer inspection was there,
Perhaps, a self-satisfied benign air, a too studied
Gentleness toward the child whose hand he held loosely?
Absurd to speculate; but then—the woman saw something.