As De Borchgrave notes (no has interviewed Qaddafi more), the Libyan leader has used Libya’s oil money to meddle in the affairs of no less than 41 countries since 1969, is also a manic-depressive…and likely gave up his nuclear weapons program for fear after the Iraq invasion. He is not going to go quietly and apparently, will kill his own people.
He also seems to have been working with the U.S. to counter Islamic extremism (an important common interest as part of the war on terror but also an obvious way to maintain power and to adapt to Bush’s foreign policy).
How are the two most recent president’s definitions of freedom (Bush’s human freedom…Obama’s arc of history…) getting crafted into foreign policy that are at play?
So what’s lacking in the humanities? Roger Scruton has 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 advises 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 resists 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.
“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.
“The most obvious problem here, as in much of the Middle East, is vast youth unemployment, for the amelioration of which there are no programs at all.”
“If Qaddafi goes, there are not enough trained bureaucrats or statesmen to construct a new Libyan government that is not an extension of the old one, and this fact alone could propel Libya back into some form of tribalism.”
Qaddafi has been more dictatorial, more brutal than most. He’s closed off the country and prevented institutions from forming without his control. He does keeps the tribes together.
“Graduate education in the humanities may have its problems, but don’t try to tar science with the same brush.”
“The humanities aren’t sciences, they don’t solve problems like sciences, and they shouldn’t try to be sciences.”
Is the public lens currently being focused on the problem in a way that does justice to neither the humanities nor the sciences? There has been some successful modeling of some scientific rigor in the past.
“Over the past few decades, geneticists, neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists, and others have made great strides in understanding the inner working of the human mind. Far from being dryly materialistic, their work illuminates the rich underwater world where character is formed and wisdom grows. They are giving us a better grasp of emotions, intuitions, biases, longings, predispositions, character traits, and social bonding, precisely those things about which our culture has least to say. Brain science helps fill the hole left by the atrophy of theology and philosophy.”
Brooks, aside from being termed moderately conservative, is deeply interested in the social sciences, and I think that last sentence in the quotation displays one of the deeper underlying currents at play. The piece, while thoughtful, seems a bit overdone in places. Theology is not necessarily in vogue, and I’m not sure what he means by philosophy not filling the hole, other than that he thinks it is not a major influence on the public mind. Is there a larger move afoot now, away from organized religion, and does it inexorably pull people away from religious morality and toward social liberalism?
Well, times are changing as Zakaria points out (and I’d offer that Americans are seeing the change through the lens of their ideals and current politics…the Left seeking its abstract ideals of democracy, equality and justice through protest never to be reached but certainly to be pursued…parts of the Right seeing only dangerous, violent unrest that is potentially a security threat):
‘…but there are two fundamental reasons the tensions that have been let loose in the Middle East over the past few weeks are unlikely to disappear, and they encompass two of the most powerful forces changing the world today: youth and technology.’
In Bahrain, one family has had nearly complete control for generations, in Egypt, Mubarak was in power for over 30 years…and how to stay in power?:
‘Those payments are a reminder that in the Middle East, there are two modes of control: mass repression and mass bribery.
A reasonable question to ask is have the conditions that created the autocratic and monarchic rulers within the people themselves been overcome? Also: is there a broader raft of what we would regard as individual freedoms in the Muslim world? Are there sources for such freedoms that stem from Islam? in law? from the West? in pockets of an educated elite…and cultural exchanges? from somewhere else?
Many in the West are rightly worried that the movement in the Middle-East to recapture a glorious Islam and past seizes power in some locations (we are currently engaging the most extreme examples with our military, which is probably not the best long-term solution). This vision radicalizes many poor, uneducated youth with little hope of a future into a pan Arab identity of righteous vengeance, guerilla-style fighting and impossible purity. More moderately, such movements can address the injustice of many Palestinians, say, in the charter of Hamas by refusing the right of Israel to exist (a recipe for potential disaster if they follow such logic to conclusions). In times of war and suffering, and in sudden change, people will yearn especially for social stability, cultural identity and purpose and….often Islam is the glue. This raises reasonable skepticism.
Addition: As a reader points out, quite well-educated folks like Mohammed Atta and the underwear bomber radicalized as well, but I suspect their primary grievance is with their own rulers and their own conditions (the common enemy of American interest, or drive the infidel from the Arabian peninsula, is secondary, however consequential). For many Afghans, it’s just more war, and as has been reasonably pointed out here, many Afghans are illiterate, very poor, living in tribal bands in often geographically isolated areas.
Just a few thoughts, feel free to highlight my ignorance. Zakaria finishes with:
‘Warren Buffett once said that when anyone tells him, “This time it’s different,” he reaches for his wallet because he fears he’s going to be swindled. Well, I have a feeling that this time in the Middle East, it’s different. But I have my hand on my wallet anyway.’
Fukuyama has some disagreement with Huntington’s later “The Clash Of Civilizations” argument as too narrow and confining, and I think in the long run, worries that it despite its prescience it could lead us into trouble:
“Sam, in my view, underrated the universalism of the appeal of living in modern, free societies with accountable governments. His argument rests heavily on the view that modernization and Westernization are two completely separate processes, something which I rather doubt.”
“The gloomy picture he paints of a world riven by cultural conflict is one favored by the Islamists and Russian nationalists, but is less helpful in explaining contemporary China or India, or indeed in explaining the motives of people in the Muslim world or Russia who are not Islamists or nationalists.“
Fukuyama argues that Hungtington came of age when modernism was dominant. He also seems to take issue with the epistemological foundations of this largely social-science driven and philosophical worldview that has drastically shaped the last century and a half:
“Modernization theory had its origins in the works of late nineteenth century European social theorists like Henry Maine, Émile Durkheim, Karl Marx, Ferdinand Tönnies, and Max Weber.”
“…and if there could be such a thing as socialism combined with individual liberty, I would be a socialist still. For nothing could be better than living a modest, simple, and free life in an egalitarian society. It took some time before I recognized this as no more than a beautiful dream; that freedom is more important that equality; that the attempt to realize equality endangers freedom; and that, if freedom is lost, there will not even be equality among the unfree.”
We’re still importing a lot of our ideas from the failures and triumphs of Europe…and not just the Anglo tradition. Fukuyama thinks Huntington was quite at the center of those ideas, and an American vision.
‘Medicaid currently covers 53 million people at an overall cost of $373.9 billion (states are responsible for about half). But starting in 2014, ObamaCare rules will add about 20 million more, according to Richard Foster, the program’s chief actuary.’
Medicaid is already having some problems, is a political third-rail, and the gap between Obamacare and Medicaid state budgets might not be able to be closed at the moment. From his wife, Megan McArdle’s piece, a quote from the comments section:
“My sister is a physician and her clinical position is funded by the University (and a private foundation) where she is a Assistant Professor — she teaches one day each week and sees patients as general practitioner four days each week. Due to the unique financial status, her clinic doesn’t have the same profit/loss concerns that other physicians face but clinical revenues are still a concern for her department’s budget. She says virtually every Medicaid patient costs more to see than the reimbursements provide. Furthermore, because of their public service mandate, their clinic is one of only a handful of doctor offices in the area that accepts new Medicaid patients — which means that their new patients are disproportionately more likely to be Medicaid patients. The more Medicaid patients they see, the more unstable their budget gets. If you lower reimbursement rates then fewer physicians will accept Medicaid patients, leaving this clinic with an even greater proportion of Medicaid patients.“
Paul Ryan from a previous post tried to discuss the ‘doc fix:’