Saturday, May 31, 2008

Defund the humanities
John Zmirak’s radically libertarian proposal for the problem of modern academia, essentially that modern philosophy is a big wank:
Kamenetz ... briefly made a mark by proposing, with a straight face, an entirely new basis for morality in our times. Now, you might think this was overreaching for somebody with just an MFA in English, but that’s what tenure will do to people. So Kamenetz proposed that since we can no longer believe in God, we have no grounds for holding to an absolute notion of the Good.
A comment:
Turning an 18-year-old mind over to this nonsense is foolish.

This is the level of thinking which prevails in graduate schools at state universities — even in conservative states in the old Confederacy.
Fr George Rutler has explained, in the same vein as Newman on the university, that this lack of firm ground makes real learning and even real academic freedom impossible. No wonder modern liberals are so illiberal.

I first learnt of Stanley Fish from RC writer E. Michael Jones (whose biggest laurel is being the debunker of Medjugorje) who wrote it wasn’t fun to disagree with him unsurprisingly.
The departments which once were a fair mix of suburban Marxists, Kennedy liberals, and occasional Southern reactionaries, are now dominated by the children of the ’60s and ’70s, whose own education and pursuit of intellectual fashion have shaped them to hate the very Western civilization and humanistic values on which the modern university is predicated.

Let’s forget, for the moment, the fact that universities in the West were the daughters of the Church, originally centered on theology and philosophy, and accept the sad reality that in most cases the best we can expect from secular (and from many “religious”) schools is kind of melancholy, Matthew Arnold respect for the “best that has been said and thought.” It’s true that in the absence of Faith, such a humane secularism is doomed in the end to bankruptcy, once it consumes the sentimental capital stored up by centuries of Christianity, and stands face to face with the “fact” that man is only a clever primate.
Tolerant conservatism in the English manner in ‘old’ academia, for years after the ‘Enlightenment’ until the late 1960s:
... a religious believer could navigate perfectly well, learn to hone his arguments against learned unbelievers in an atmosphere of high-minded mutual tolerance, and emerge with his degree. He might even go on to pursue his Ph.D., and someday teach about Shakespeare or Racine or Schiller — careful not to infuse his classes with catechesis, just as his teachers had not gone out of their way to promote agnosticism. Such a peaceful coexistence among the intellectually incompatible was not as rich or fruitful, I’m sure, as the Paris of Thomas Aquinas — but it wasn’t half bad. I enjoyed the last flickering rays of this Victorian sunset in my own undergraduate years.
Rather like the sunset of the Anglicanism I was born into. The trouble with that was I think at least twofold, authority issues (is there an infallible church or not, the big divide between Catholicism and Protestantism) and, related to that, when Catholicism is reduced from the truth, full stop, to a school of thought, one of several equally valid options (churchmanships), it’s no longer Catholicism but high-church Protestantism. A house divided bound to fall under the weight of its internal contradictions. (Secular society has passed liberal Protestantism by. That and mainline Protestants tend to have few children. In contrast the Mormon religion is rubbish but they reproduce and thus thrive.)

Today it really isn’t your father’s old school:
... the chemical smell of openly anti-human ideologies. You think I exaggerate? In my first year of Ph.D. study at LSU, I was taught that the “current consensus” in literary theory was “anti-humanism,” a rejection and outright attempt to purge from the study of literature the last traces of Matthew Arnold’s “elitist”, “nostalgic” regard for so-called “higher values.” In their stead, we must study, in a promiscuous selection of works, all the political implications of the unholy trinity of “race, class, and gender.” In other words, to quote the ’80s rap band Niggaz With Attitude, “Life ain’t nothin but bitches and money.”
Nihilism and the culture of death: these people will decide to pull the plug or not when we’re aged and infirm. After all the Nazi notion of ‘life unworthy of life’ is enshrined in ‘pro-choice’ orthodoxy. Goody.
Find every incident where poor people, non-whites, or women get a raw deal. Deplore these incidents, cite some incomprehensible French homosexual theorist in a dozen or so footnotes... and get your guaranteed A- or B+.
Knock this well-meant charity — Christian ethics — off its foundation in Christian belief and this silly game is what you get.
One brilliant academic who survived the slog toward a Ph.D. with his wits intact has created a Web-based “Postmodernism Generator,” which will on demand produce an entirely persuasive, utterly meaningless tissue of jargon — and one which would certainly have gotten a decent grade in most of the English Ph.D. classes which I took.
The University of Colorado is proposing a $9m affirmative-action scheme to fix this problem by hiring ‘conservatives’:
First of all, it’s dead-bang certain that most such jobs will be nabbed by neocons, who are simply better at soaking up money, seizing cozy sinecures, and generally getting by in the world than those of us with real conservative principles. (“The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.”) Which means that the best we can expect from initiatives such as Colorado’s will be Fox News in tweed with elbow patches. I for one, would rather have Ward Churchill to kick around than find myself “represented” by Professor Dinesh D’Souza, or Dean David Frum.
IOW they wouldn’t hire real conservatives or libertarians, not Cleanth Brooks or Russell Kirk, but another version of themselves, statist, interventionist and relativist.

And now Zmirak’s point:
I have really come to question the usefulness, in our cultural situation, of advanced studies in the humanities.

Defund the humanities. State legislatures should cut off the money required to support higher level classes, and force the tenured radicals to offer the grimly pragmatic courses they really hate (and usually fob off on starving grad students): Freshman comp, business writing, and technical writing. As for courses in literature, art history, and the like — we should simply stop offering them. If young people want to learn about art or literature, they can go to a tiny liberal arts college where they are properly taught — and I know of one or two. Or they can do what people did in the 19th century, before any literature aside from Latin and Greek was taught at universities: They can take out books from the library. (They’d do best to stick to studies published before, say, 1975.) Or else they can use the Web. Form book clubs in their spare time, and pursue the rare beauty, complex considerations of reality, and extraordinary range of human experience that literature offers free of the methane cloud which has descended upon American academia.

I think this would lead to a rebirth of love for literature and the arts. And that would be wonderful. But mostly, I just want to see creeps like Stanley Fish reduced to teaching Freshman Comp. Hey Stanley, remember how to diagram a sentence?

Learn the difference between “scorched earth” and “surrender.” If
[one] thinks that the only two alternatives in life are financial speculation on the one hand, and pursuing the fine arts in a massive state institution funded by confiscation from the taxpayers... he certainly does need to broaden his horizons. The arts really did exist before state universities and A&Ms, I am happy to inform him. Indeed, what is left of the arts and of literature survives entirely outside them. The only question is whether we admit that, and turn off the spigot of cash to entrenched ideologues who hate us, our culture, and our children — the people they’re meant to teach.
From Taki.

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