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Ed Driscoll

The Great Learning and the Great Reprimitivization Continue Apace

December 28th, 2012 - 8:52 pm

This is not a drill. This is not the Onion. This is an actual article in the New York Times this week:

It’s dinnertime, and 6-year-old Joaquin Hurtado is staying in his seat. He hasn’t stood up, run around the table or wrestled with his little brother. Good thing. It wouldn’t take much unruly behavior to shatter the dishware or the mood in this upscale restaurant.

“This is a place where you come to eat,” the boy says softly, explaining nice manners. “It’s not a place to play.”

The place is Chenery Park, a restaurant with low lights, cloth napkins, $24 grilled salmon and “family night” every Tuesday. Children are welcome, with a catch: They are expected to behave — and to watch their manners, or learn them. Think upscale dining with training wheels.

Chenery Park has many allies in the fight to teach manners to a new generation of children. Around the country, there are classes taught by self-appointed etiquette counselors — Emily Posts for a new age — delivering a more decentralized and less formal approach to teaching manners than in years past. A few restaurants, like Chenery Park, and high-end hotels set aside space and time for families.

As Mary Katharine Ham writes at Hot Air, “Modern parents have discovered table manners & the NYT is on it!”

One of my favorite things about reading the New York Times and other liberal publications is how they frequently present age-old ideas we’ve all known about for centuries as new trends. For instance, sustainable eating? That’s what the rest of us call a garden. Co-parenting? That’s what the rest of us know as a two-parent family. Localvore charcuterie? Where I come from, that’s always been called bacon.

Now, the NYT presents the brave new world of…teaching your children table manners. I can’t decide if it’s encouraging that parents actually want to do this or depressing that they’ve just discovered it might be a good idea and are now outsourcing it because they’re too wimpy to do it on their own.

And thus, what Tom Wolfe dubbed the Great Relearning continues apace. But will it ultimately emerge victorious against the left’s concurrent great reprimitivization? At the New York Post, Kyle Smith focuses on the latter topic:

When it comes to analyzing modern life, how much attention should we give to primitive cultures? Not a whole lot, but that isn’t stopping a world-famous professor from telling us we ought to be paying more attention to the backward, the ill-educated and the superstitious in Jared Diamond’s latest certain bestseller, “The World Until Yesterday.”

Diamond, a UCLA geography professor, is best known as the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Guns, Germs and Steel,” which made the unlikely case that pure accidents of geography are the reason some peoples (like the English) came to rule the world while others (like Native Americans) were barely scratching out a subsistence.

In his new one, Diamond calls the savage tribal cultures of places like New Guinea, where irrational fears of rival groups can lead to a chain of murders and revenge killings, “traditional societies.” Does Japan not have traditions? Or France?

Even Canada probably has traditions, though I’m guessing they involve Tim Horton doughnuts and Labatt’s beer.

Every place has traditions. Diamond means “primitive,” but such a “judgmental” word would defeat the purpose: to push an enduring myth called primitivism. Pre-modern people supposedly had all the answers, and we need to consider more of their groovy simple wisdom in our exhaustingly complicated modern lives. The idea dates all the way back to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, not to mention such antediluvian pagan idols as Crosby, Stills and Nash.

Today, adding a dollop of scientific observation to this intellectual error is a sure way to earn yourself extravagant speaking fees, invitations to address the TED conference and fawning treatment on talk shows. Because there’s nothing ultra-modern people like better than to submit to the scourging of being told to detox from everything they love.

Curiously though, financial remuneration in the form of credit cards may be exchanged electronically to download digital versions of Diamond’s books, including his latest title, which are stored in binary form on hard magnetic disks maintained in an air-conditioned server farm full of banks of mainframe computers. So presumably, there must be something about modern life and man’s progress that Diamond approves of.

(Marget Mead, call your office.)

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