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Ed Driscoll

Oh, That Present-Tense Culture

October 20th, 2013 - 3:06 pm

Discussing the vapidity of pop culture in 2007, Mark Steyn wrote:

“Popular culture” is more accurately a “present-tense culture”: You’re celebrating the millennium but you can barely conceive of anything before the mid-1960s. We’re at school longer than any society in human history, entering kindergarten at four or five and leaving college the best part of a quarter-century later—or thirty years later in Germany. Yet in all those decades we exist in the din of the present. A classical education considers society as a kind of iceberg, and teaches you the seven-eighths below the surface. Today, we live on the top eighth bobbing around in the flotsam and jetsam of the here and now. And, without the seven-eighths under the water, what’s left on the surface gets thinner and thinner.

Until there’s nothing there at all. Behold the America education system summed up in two sentences:

Questioner: What was Auschwitz?
American College Student: I don’t know.

As part of her effort to promote her new Holocaust-themed novel 94 Maidens, Philadelphia-area TV personality Rhonda Fink-Whitman dropped in on the campuses of Penn State and Philadelphia’s Temple University, and asked the local college kids what they knew about the Holocaust and World War II. And based on the answers she received, as typed up by the Blogosphere’s Anchoress, Elizabeth Scalia, the answer is: not much.

Questioner: What was the Holocaust?
American College Student: Um…I’m on the spot.

Questioner: Which country was Adolf Hitler the leader of?
American College Student: I think it’s Amsterdam?

Questioner: What was Auschwitz?
American College Student: I don’t know.

Questioner: What were the Nuremburg Trials?
American College Student: I don’t know.

Questioner: How many Jews were killed?
American College Student: Hundreds of thousands.

When I was at St. Mary’s Hall in South Jersey in the 1970s, perhaps because so many of the teachers and parents were World War II veterans (including my own father), the basics of World War II was a perennial classroom subject. Around the mid-1970s, the Thames Television series The World at War seemed to play on a continuous loop on Philadelphia-area TV stations. Parents today wouldn’t go wrong in picking it up on DVD (or renting the discs from Netflix) and exposing their kids to the series again. Here are the first 13 minutes of “Genocide (1941–1945),” the 20th of the 26 episode series and the segment devoted to the Holocaust; the rest of the episode is available in bootleg form at Liveleaks:

It’s easy to say “Never Forget.” But take a couple of decades worth of academia’s political correctness, which transformed history from dates and places and events to a series of grievances and racial and gender-based animosities. (“Hey-hey, ho-ho, Western culture’s got to go,” a protest led by Jesse Jackson reportedly shouted at Stanford in 1987.) Add to that, Hollywood shifting World War II into a nihilistic and purposeless struggle. And more recently, the European Union wishing to metamorphize World War II into “The European Civil War” as a bit of ret-conned manifest destiny for the EU. Mix up that toxic cocktail, and it’s depressingly easy to see how we end up with the kids that Rhonda Fink-Whitman interviewed. Kids whose minds are so vacuous, they don’t even know what they’re supposed to avoid forgetting.

And who are old enough to vote, incidentally.

(Via SDA.)

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
I should like to thank you, Mr. Driscoll. I am an American who has returned to Germany. The Holocaust has occupied my mind for years, not because of any entanglement of my family with the horrible events (indeed, my father fought in the American Navy in WW II), but because I am human who wants to understand what happened in my grandparents' land of Schiller and Goethe to produce Himmler and Hitler. This horror is more than a German problem, mass murder can occur elsewhere, and did for a longer time in Stalin's gulags. I have a short comment about Germany today and an abbreviated suggestion about teaching the problem in American schools.

I cannot pass through a week of German tv without hours and hours of documentaries about the Nazies. (This is to be contrasted with Russia re Stalin that I often visit.) The presentations treat more than the barbarities committed, rather treat Nazism in its cultural totality, e.g., how school children were taught, how a cultural event at Nurnburg was carried out (in its way a perverted pure democracy where the "demos" was limited racially), even the moral principles of Nazism, thematizing the "Kristall-Nacht" and on and on. I have no complaints about the "not forgetting" program of Germany as set forth under gov. pressure. How effective all this is, particularly in school education, is a question I cannot easily answer. Anti-Semitism sneaks in the backdoor as excessive criticism of Israel (a land that just happens to have Jews in it). The augmenting population growth of Muslims seems immune to the lessons to learn.

For anyone interested in experiencing musically the sorrowful meaning of the Holocaust please turn to YouTube, H. Gorecki and his "Symphony No. 3. "Sorrowful Songs", used in a film on the Holocaust but also bemoaning the death of almost 2 million non-Jewish Poles and close to a million Slaves from allover. The Polish musicians play in Ausschwitz for the first time ever. The singing is moving. Gorecki as a child during the Soviet occupation often visited Auschwitz. Walking between the barracks had horrible effects upon him. He could see where vegetables were planted fertilized with human ashes. But, what highly hit his emoitional stablity were that the pathways made of Jewish bones. One could not escape the stench of death and the young Gorecki felt its "boney" presence under his feet. Please listen to his "Sorrowful Song", it will hit you in the heart. (The story of Gorecki might well be a means of explaining the Holocaust to American school children or even college students.)

A proto-educational thought: I would not focus just on the Jewish Shoah, but treat the Holocaust as parelllel to Stalin's Gulags. A comparison of Hitler and Stalin produces a fascinating insight into mass elimination undertakings. Once the horror of Stalin and Hitler annihilation attempts are sufficiently clear, a teacher could proceed to more recent attempts, e.g., Cambodia and, I hope, to the persecution of Christians, particularily in Egypt (which some Jewish commentor's have magnificiently compared with the "Kristall-Nacht"). What I am suggesting is an integration of the Jewish suffering with that of some other condemned groups in order to present a general course, not just one focused upon Jews alone. Within the context of a class on mass murders assignments for, say, Russia or Germany or Cambodia or Egypt, etc. could be assigned. In this way the Shoah becomes part of a more comprehensive study of repeated Holocausts of "inferior" peoples.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The vacant minds and sensation-seeking bodies of the current generation are the creation of their parents who are, of course, the progeny of their grandparents, those who were transformed by the cultural upheavals of the sixties. The damage that was done when the left seized total control of media, education and culture was so severe, so disastrous, that those of us who were there and realized what was happening were powerless to stop it. Under the guise of high-minded slogans about peace and fairness a hedonism took hold and a quicksand of decadence supplanted everything that had secured us as a society. I think those of us who grew up in the fifties are the last generation who were educated before unions took over the schools, whose families were more or less intact, to whom books were the primary source of entertainment and who knew there were rules of behavior and we'd better abide by them or else. The loudest and most aggressive of my generation created the nightmare of the sixties, a nightmare that was clothed in such tempting glitter it was hard to resist.

They used to say about powerful, wealthy families that it took three generations to go from "shirtsleeves" back to "shirtsleeves". The first generation created the wealth, the second spent it and the third was left destitute. I think this formula is the same for a culture and these vapid students are wearing shirtsleeves.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Things are even bad among the "educated" class. I work for a contractor to a federal agency at a National Laboratory. With few exceptions, my co-workers hold at least 4-year degrees in engineering, physics, chemistry, or some other technical/science discipline. Most of them hold advanced degrees, and many hold PhD's. These people are by no means stupid, but frighteningly many of them are ignorant.

I did a little experiment recently. I went around asking some basic, elementary-level civics questions. Three out of five couldn't name the three branches of government. Fewer still knew the name of the Secretary of State. Nor could most of them describe the process by which laws are made here in the US.

With respect to current events, they all were aware of the government shutdown, because it directly affected them, but most couldn't explain why it happened. When asked, a few had heard about Benghazi, but only one or two knew where it is, and what happened there.

Most of these educated fools consider me a bit of a nut case, because I don't watch television, and when I take my lunch break I read PJ Media and the National Review Online. Being well informed makes me an odd-ball.

I am convinced that the majority of Americans are blissfully ignorant. As long as they can push the button on the remote and the football game, or some mindless "reality" program comes on; as long as they can turn the handle and water comes out of the faucet; as long as they can flick the switch and the lights come on, most people just don't care. They don't want to know what is happening to The Republic. Of course once we reach the point where none of those things work, it will be too late.

I fear for the future of our nation.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (25)
All Comments   (25)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
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52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
First they disarmed the American public by depriving them of any meaningful education; then they destroyed their spirit by means of easy money and vice. Now the poor saps get tired of the infighting, and Sheik Obooboo will move into dictatorial powers territory by means of a war alarm, a faked Lusitania moment or something like that. Ignorance is the door that leads to serfdom.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You can't say that today's students don't know their history. They are well aware that all the great advances in science and culture were made by Muslims.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Communists murdered more than sixty million people in the Soviet Union and more than seventy million people in the People's Republic of China, and yet this mind-boggling mass slaughter doesn't receive nearly as much attention as the Holocaust. Are gentiles murdered by communists somehow less important than Jews murdered by Nazis?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The really amazing thing is that these college students have very strong opinions based on myths and rumors that were somehow imparted to them and that they've come to accept as fact.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This lack of Holocaust knowledge in colleges has been going on for years. I attended a public university in NYC 30 yrs ago where a large chunk of the students were Jews. Otherwise, most of the students were products of the NYC public school system. One day in a philosophy class we were asked if any one knew anything about the Holocaust. I & 2 other non-Jews in a class of 20 raised our hands. The Jewish professor was horrified; enough said!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I should like to thank you, Mr. Driscoll. I am an American who has returned to Germany. The Holocaust has occupied my mind for years, not because of any entanglement of my family with the horrible events (indeed, my father fought in the American Navy in WW II), but because I am human who wants to understand what happened in my grandparents' land of Schiller and Goethe to produce Himmler and Hitler. This horror is more than a German problem, mass murder can occur elsewhere, and did for a longer time in Stalin's gulags. I have a short comment about Germany today and an abbreviated suggestion about teaching the problem in American schools.

I cannot pass through a week of German tv without hours and hours of documentaries about the Nazies. (This is to be contrasted with Russia re Stalin that I often visit.) The presentations treat more than the barbarities committed, rather treat Nazism in its cultural totality, e.g., how school children were taught, how a cultural event at Nurnburg was carried out (in its way a perverted pure democracy where the "demos" was limited racially), even the moral principles of Nazism, thematizing the "Kristall-Nacht" and on and on. I have no complaints about the "not forgetting" program of Germany as set forth under gov. pressure. How effective all this is, particularly in school education, is a question I cannot easily answer. Anti-Semitism sneaks in the backdoor as excessive criticism of Israel (a land that just happens to have Jews in it). The augmenting population growth of Muslims seems immune to the lessons to learn.

For anyone interested in experiencing musically the sorrowful meaning of the Holocaust please turn to YouTube, H. Gorecki and his "Symphony No. 3. "Sorrowful Songs", used in a film on the Holocaust but also bemoaning the death of almost 2 million non-Jewish Poles and close to a million Slaves from allover. The Polish musicians play in Ausschwitz for the first time ever. The singing is moving. Gorecki as a child during the Soviet occupation often visited Auschwitz. Walking between the barracks had horrible effects upon him. He could see where vegetables were planted fertilized with human ashes. But, what highly hit his emoitional stablity were that the pathways made of Jewish bones. One could not escape the stench of death and the young Gorecki felt its "boney" presence under his feet. Please listen to his "Sorrowful Song", it will hit you in the heart. (The story of Gorecki might well be a means of explaining the Holocaust to American school children or even college students.)

A proto-educational thought: I would not focus just on the Jewish Shoah, but treat the Holocaust as parelllel to Stalin's Gulags. A comparison of Hitler and Stalin produces a fascinating insight into mass elimination undertakings. Once the horror of Stalin and Hitler annihilation attempts are sufficiently clear, a teacher could proceed to more recent attempts, e.g., Cambodia and, I hope, to the persecution of Christians, particularily in Egypt (which some Jewish commentor's have magnificiently compared with the "Kristall-Nacht"). What I am suggesting is an integration of the Jewish suffering with that of some other condemned groups in order to present a general course, not just one focused upon Jews alone. Within the context of a class on mass murders assignments for, say, Russia or Germany or Cambodia or Egypt, etc. could be assigned. In this way the Shoah becomes part of a more comprehensive study of repeated Holocausts of "inferior" peoples.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
An addendum: Gorecki was Catholic and the "Sorrowful Songs" suggested above do represent his Catholic reaction to Auschwitz. I would like to suggest another rendition of "Sorrowful Songs" in YouTube under: Henryk Górecki - III Sympfonia (Symfonia Piensi Zalosnyci/ Symph... . Górecki intersperses his symphony with his narration (subtitles in English) about his experience of Auschwitz and wanders about the camp. Towards the end the literal horrors of the annihilation are shown and there is no doubt as to who had been killed. On a personal level, the camera pans towards the end from piles of teeth, eyeglasses, wallots upto luggage with names. One name is of a female whose last name was Kafka. She was no relation to Franz Kafka. This piece of luggage strikes me hard because Franz Kafka, had he been alive, would have been there. You see I used to offer lectures on the confusing world of Kafka. From burning books to gasing people--the distance is not always too far. I can guarantee that no American student could see this 22 minute long clip without knowing, at least emotinally, something about the Holocaust. Other than historical generalities, the clip communicates the meaning of the horror better than any history class.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The vacant minds and sensation-seeking bodies of the current generation are the creation of their parents who are, of course, the progeny of their grandparents, those who were transformed by the cultural upheavals of the sixties. The damage that was done when the left seized total control of media, education and culture was so severe, so disastrous, that those of us who were there and realized what was happening were powerless to stop it. Under the guise of high-minded slogans about peace and fairness a hedonism took hold and a quicksand of decadence supplanted everything that had secured us as a society. I think those of us who grew up in the fifties are the last generation who were educated before unions took over the schools, whose families were more or less intact, to whom books were the primary source of entertainment and who knew there were rules of behavior and we'd better abide by them or else. The loudest and most aggressive of my generation created the nightmare of the sixties, a nightmare that was clothed in such tempting glitter it was hard to resist.

They used to say about powerful, wealthy families that it took three generations to go from "shirtsleeves" back to "shirtsleeves". The first generation created the wealth, the second spent it and the third was left destitute. I think this formula is the same for a culture and these vapid students are wearing shirtsleeves.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It should be noted too, that these kids have more information available to them than at any time in history. We live in a time in which, if you have the slightest curiosity about something, you can be reading an article about it in literally two seconds. In theory, these kids should know more about everything than we (above 40) did at that age. But of course you need that little twinge of curiosity. I wonder what these kids ARE reading about online.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Some students of today believe the moon landing and Holocaust were hoaxes. Those who wear Che t-shirts probably aren't aware that Communism murdered 110 million people and came close to incinerating the rest of the world's population.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
They are playing games and posting on Facebook. Reading? Not so much.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Agreed - you need look no further than Facebook, Twitter and the posting of "selfies" to see how narcissistic and inward-turned youth has become. I suppose youth has always been somewhat thus, but now the technology has taken it to a level unimaginable to generations past.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
And why do you suppose Obama spends so much time preaching (giving speeches) on college campuses?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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