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Roger’s Rules

Mile-high thoughts about culture & higher ed

July 25th, 2013 - 8:05 am

I am out doing missionary work in the eyrie of Santa Fe, that curious more-than-mile-high crossroads in echt-correct, never-saw-a-blue-cause-they-didn’t-like New Mexico. It’s a strange place, Santa Fe. Perhaps it is the thinness of the air that accounts for the fact that everything seems in sharper focus here. The odd, intermittently comical human composite in and around the city is striking. There the indigenous, mostly poverty-stricken element that an earlier, less-politically correct age would have called “Injuns” live cheek-by-beaded-jowl-and-serape with a large backwash from the 1960s: lots of damaged goods from the decades of free love and drug “experimentation” here. (I wonder what John Stuart Mill would think of all those “experiments in living”?) Then there is the glittering monied overlay composed partly of displaced Wall Street types (whether or not they ever set foot on Wall Street) along with society’s certified and approved dispensers of pathology and cultural detritus, the dealers in “contemporary art” (or perhaps I mean “contemporary ‘art’”). Finally there is a largish geriatric community, the oxygen-tank brigade padding about the city with breathing apparatus in tow. It is, as I say, an odd place if also (I hasten to add) a place of ineffable charms: the big sky, the artfully desiccated landscape, the distant mountains at once inveigling and eldritch.

Last night, I and my advance party went to see Verdi’s La Traviata at the Santa Fe Opera. If you haven’t been to the Santa Fe Opera (and if you like opera), you really should make the effort to go. The setting, in the mountains just a few miles outside the city, is spectacular, and the semi-enclosed (or perhaps I should say partly open-air) theater is a gem. (Client advisory: bring a wrap: the temperature usually drops twenty-five or thirty degrees from curtain to bow-taking.) I thought that the boxy, minimalist set was a bit severe for this anguished, Romantic tale of doomed love (consumptive courtesan finds true love, is prevailed upon to relinquish him, dies singing beautiful melodies). Surely something a bit lusher could have been contrived? But the performance was captivating. Brenda Rae as the carpe-diem-turned-carpe-deum courtesan Violetta steals the show. She commands an extraordinarily flexible and expressive instrument: sumptuous, captivating, hauntingly memorable.

One oddity in the production was that the men in Violetta’s life, her erstwhile lover Alfredo and his stuffed-shirt father, deliquesce in the final moments. Usually, I believe, the opera ends with Violetta expiring in Alfredo’s arms (So young! So beautiful! So doomed!). In this production, the chaps withdraw slowly into the shadows side-stage and Violetta does her final tubercular twittering utterly alone (except for an abundance of clown-like pancake makeup). Verdi wanted to call the opera Amore e Morte (yes, just like the Woody Allen movie), but for reasons known only to themselves the censors objected. So we’re stuck with Traviata, the woman-who-strayed. (What, I wonder, would the censors have had to say about the all sexcapades the choreographer inserted into the opera? Actually, I don’t wonder: the blue pen would have been waggling busily over the man-lies-on-girl, man-buries-his-head-under-girl’s-skirt scenes. You had to admire everyone’s ability to keep belting out the songs thus encumbered, but goddess Decorum would not have been pleased.)

The stylized grandeur of Italian opera, Western prairie version, reminded me of how far we’ve come, or how far we’ve fallen in our academic culture. In the June issue of The New Criterion, I had occasion to ponder this with respect to Williams College, the tony liberal arts college tucked away in the Berkshires. Not that Williams is special: far from it. It is a typical (though highly selective and very expensive) example of elite higher education in the United States. It is, as I said in The New Criterion, a perfect instance of what Harold Rosenberg meant by his phrase “the herd of independent minds.” There they are, huddled together in bovine complacency, mooing ankle-deep in its own effluvia, safe within its gated enclosure.

A year or so back at Williams, a racist graffito was discovered on the wall of a student dormitory during homecoming weekend. Result? Instant lockdown of the campus as the president of the college denounced the “horrifying,” “vile act” and enlisted not just the campus security and the local police but the FBI in the search for the perpetrator of this “hate crime.” The culprit was never discovered, or at least his (or her) identity was never made public. We are not surprised. As we speculated in this space at the time, the offending graffito was probably not scrawled by racists lurking about the ivied purlieus of Williams. Can there be a more racially sensitive environment than an elite liberal arts college? More likely, we suspect, is the rumor we heard that the secret culprit was a member of the minority community whose special perquisites depend heavily on a steady diet of racialist provocation.

Don’t get me wrong. I do not condone defacing private property. But the hysteria over the mysterious graffito was not only disproportionate, it was also a textbook illustration of political correctness run amok.

Sometimes what happens at places like Williams is merely farcical. Several months ago, a friend who teaches a Williams sent us a memo circulated by a diligent colleague:

Dear Studio Faculty,

Security came to my office this morning and said that they found a bucket with what appears to be medical waste in it in Driscoll Dining Hall. They thought it might be an art project. It has been turned over to Health Services for testing to see if it’s real.

Does anyone know of any such art project?

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
Very informative piece. We're talking about nothing less than the institutionalizing and mainstreaming of madness into a culture. For those of you who wonder how entire countries of seemingly normal people go mad and demonize entire swaths of humanity, you're seeing it in action. Because a an actual human proposed enemy is at the heart of all political correctness, not a challenge of skill, discipline or thought to set oneself against.

Behind all this is privilege, colonialism, homophobia, Islamophobia, sexism; the usual suspects. How much you want to bet BDS and Israel are present?

Unfortunately, at the top of this mental health pyramid is the President of the U.S. himself. While Obama may not be fully on board with every last detail of this madness, he is in fact the centerpiece of the general culture; it is his constituency.

The reference to "workshops" is funny, because it is how madness not only becomes normal but actual sedate conformity. Colleges are actually teaching people how to not think. The art part of this has been in action a long time, a precursor of political correctness. Even a hint of mere shallow craftsmanship had been hounded out of that community a half-century ago. In fact, the less one had to demonstrate an actual skill, the better. The winner was sheer intellect, and I use "intellect" is the most suspect way.

Oh, well. Maybe I'll spray some liquid sage, wave an eagle feather at it, and it'll all go away. I use my microwave oven as a sweat lodge. It makes my eyeballs jiggle.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I would dearlry love to believe that sooner or later common sense would prevail, somebody would jump up somewhere and shout "Enough of this nonsense! It is poisoning our brains and our souls!", and things would begin to change. But since I first set foot on a college campus in 1964 until this good day the problem has steadily grown more acute. I see no sign of any real countervailing force in the academy. Even something as significant in the real world as the Reagan Revolution left the academy unmoved.

How it will change is not apparent to me. Given that most academies the world over are unrelentingly leftist it seems to me int is endemic in the organization and the brief period of exemption we in the United States had from the scourge, running until roughly until the term of Wilson, was the anomaly, not the other way around.

As we see with the writing of history today where some of the best known historians are not academics, it may be necessary to invent another way to educate the young and abandon the groves with their faculty politics, metastasizing bureaucracies and huge endowments to the academics themselves, and ignore them.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (20)
All Comments   (20)
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I once read an article that posited that American education had been left wing since at least our sending kids to Europe back in the late 19th century (1860s) due to philosophers corroding those hopeful's minds (you know, Karl Marx, Frederick Nietzsche, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the like). It can be found here on the Blaze: http://www.theblaze.com/contributions/why-liberals-think-being-educated-means-being-liberal/ There are similar articles on other places dealing with the same subject, by the same author. Seems to me education is beyond salvageable, and must be ripped up from the roots, and burned down.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The article assumes that the higher ed curricula will self-implode because the courses are ridiculous. Is this true? I think not. The subject matter of the courses is not the issue. The issue is the take-down of traditional Western culture. Even if the college kids think that the course is absurd, the message is clear: college is a joke, there is no learning benefit, there's no such thing as truth. That's the whole point of the curricula; kids don't actually take queer studies, but, in a wide variety of ways, the college promotes the idea that America is homophobic, and they have academic department research that backs it up. Ditto for Black Studies and racism. Ditto for Environmental Studies and unsustainable capitalist greed. It seems like a very successful campaign to turn America into a European socialist country. Looks like the campaign is working well.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"The article assumes that the higher ed curricula will self-implode because the courses are ridiculous."

I think the idea is that it will implode for economic reasons - a high investment that bears little profit.

Tuition has gone up faster than the rest of the economy and is so high many people take loans they have to pay back for years after graduation. Of course, if they study something useful like electronic engineering and are good enough at it they make nice profit of their invetsment. But if they study things like Gender Studies and Black Studies and Queer Studies there are too few related jobs available and too many graduates competing for them. In the past merely having a college degree, even in nonsense, was enough to give you an advantage in the job market, but today many people have college degrees in nonsense, so for every job you're competing with other graduates. In the end you may not get a high wages job, but you still have to pay back the loan for your tuition. Still many people invest in college education on the increasingly false hope that it will pay back, and the tuition keeps going up - which is the definition of a bubble. And bubbles burst at some point.

If high education doesn't collapse, perhaps people will adjust and more of them will study useful professions that can be translated into good salaries.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The downward trajectory in the visual arts since the coronation of Andy Warhol in the early '60s has finally reached its bottom. It is impossible to degrade the human impulse to want something to look at, a work of art that can encapsulate what is basically un-seeable but universal and life-enhancing, any further. All of human deviancy and debasement has been put on display and called "art" for so long that the decadence hangs over the culture like poisonous gas.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Very informative piece. We're talking about nothing less than the institutionalizing and mainstreaming of madness into a culture. For those of you who wonder how entire countries of seemingly normal people go mad and demonize entire swaths of humanity, you're seeing it in action. Because a an actual human proposed enemy is at the heart of all political correctness, not a challenge of skill, discipline or thought to set oneself against.

Behind all this is privilege, colonialism, homophobia, Islamophobia, sexism; the usual suspects. How much you want to bet BDS and Israel are present?

Unfortunately, at the top of this mental health pyramid is the President of the U.S. himself. While Obama may not be fully on board with every last detail of this madness, he is in fact the centerpiece of the general culture; it is his constituency.

The reference to "workshops" is funny, because it is how madness not only becomes normal but actual sedate conformity. Colleges are actually teaching people how to not think. The art part of this has been in action a long time, a precursor of political correctness. Even a hint of mere shallow craftsmanship had been hounded out of that community a half-century ago. In fact, the less one had to demonstrate an actual skill, the better. The winner was sheer intellect, and I use "intellect" is the most suspect way.

Oh, well. Maybe I'll spray some liquid sage, wave an eagle feather at it, and it'll all go away. I use my microwave oven as a sweat lodge. It makes my eyeballs jiggle.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"We're talking about nothing less than the institutionalizing and mainstreaming of madness into a culture."

Indeed. Western civilization is out of its mind because its mind, its academia, is not completely there. Academia influences the media and the "agents of culture" who then influence the wide society.

I don't see how it can be changed from within because in academia resistance often results in excommunication.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Astute observation about Warhol. Read Tom Wolfe's 'The Painted Word' - a terrific work on the banality of modern 'art'.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I would dearlry love to believe that sooner or later common sense would prevail, somebody would jump up somewhere and shout "Enough of this nonsense! It is poisoning our brains and our souls!", and things would begin to change. But since I first set foot on a college campus in 1964 until this good day the problem has steadily grown more acute. I see no sign of any real countervailing force in the academy. Even something as significant in the real world as the Reagan Revolution left the academy unmoved.

How it will change is not apparent to me. Given that most academies the world over are unrelentingly leftist it seems to me int is endemic in the organization and the brief period of exemption we in the United States had from the scourge, running until roughly until the term of Wilson, was the anomaly, not the other way around.

As we see with the writing of history today where some of the best known historians are not academics, it may be necessary to invent another way to educate the young and abandon the groves with their faculty politics, metastasizing bureaucracies and huge endowments to the academics themselves, and ignore them.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Maybe, like in the media, we need alternative education as well. Start new schools and universities, perhaps some Internet-based ones.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Somebody does jump out and shout "enough" from time to ime. They are treated as heretics, fools or both. Sarah Palin could serve as a recent example. The rage and heer contempt the politicl and cultural Left has for "deniers" is the exact same reflex seen in all fundamentalist religions. Intolerance, fear and loathing are the infected core of secular leftism.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Maybe it was just a bucket of aborted fetuses?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
How often are minds are subjugated by the enemy's ideology making us complicit in our own oppression.

There is no such thing as political correctness "run amok." here is no such thing as nazism "run amok." There is no such thing as communism "run amok." It is what it is.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Roger Kimball's readers might enjoy this essay too: http://clarespark.com/2009/11/08/is-the-history-of-psychiatry-a-big-mess-2/. Note especially the list of those authors who influenced Freud. And the footnote at the bottom of the page, announcing what "socially responsible" business leaders were promising enlisted men if they would stick with the program in World War 2.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"buckets of medical waste" which are "mistaken" for Art? Forsooth, it may be actually "Art", artfully placed in the Driscoll Dining Hall as an ironic comment on.. cafeteria food???
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Are you referring to the Driscoll dining hall at UT-Austin in the early 80's?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I have tried for years to track down the origins of political correctness, finding it at least in the policies of wealthy white liberals who went over to Keynesian economics in 1942. All else flowed from their influence in the academy. See an essay on that subject here, with many relevant internal links. http://clarespark.com/2013/06/30/the-origins-of-political-correctness-2/.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Although elements of PC have been around since at least the '60s and maybe the '50s, it is the institutionalizing of it that is a seminal event, not its mere presence.

I date the year zero as 1992, when an dotty old woman failed to hold scalding hot coffee between her legs, blamed it on someone else, and a court agreed.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Yep been down that road too. As a tool I think a good construct to investigate PC is best defined as how to silence debate by using tautologies that have a propensity to not be clearly defined or at least are open to interpretation.

Aristotle quoted this construct in a torchered kind of way (most likely on purpose as a joke) with his infamous "is" speech. In short, a difference that makes no difference, changes nothing.

PC in and of itself is nothing but a tool, it is not the end game. The end game for the left is, and always has been total and complete control and power. PC is used as a tactic to cover the dirty work and power struggle going on behind the scenes. Makes it palatable so to speak so as to fool your followers, and to hold those you seek to take power from at bay until it is too late.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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