The Last Generation of the West and the Thin Strand of Civilization

Much of the Modern University Output Coarsens American Life

We will hear even more shrillness about “fairness” and “equality.” The more government support, all the more will grow the sense of being shorted. When someone idle receives a free iPhone, he doesn't thank government for its magnanimity. More likely, he damns it for allowing someone else the ability to purchase an updated, superior model. I have talked to several students about their iPhones; so far not one has said, “Wow, I have more computer and communications power in my palm than a multi-millionaire had just 15 years ago.” Mostly they wished they had an updated version like someone better off.

An indebted and crippled U.S. has so far survived the second decade of the 21st century largely due to some ingenious engineers and audacious workers who revolutionized the gas and oil industry, at a time when wind and solar merely amused us, when our enemies considered us ripe for perpetual petro-blackmail, and when our wherewithal to pay for more imported energy was increasingly questionable.

A very few people are saving very many. But how thin the strand of civilization hangs -- given that the forces of our modern Lotus Eaters (every bit as dangerous in their postmodern imaginations as the Cyclopes are in their premodern savagery) have stopped the Keystone Pipeline, stopped most federal leasing of new gas and oil finds, and are trying to regulate fracking and horizontal drilling out of existence where it might be most vital to the U.S. -- as in the Monterey Shale formation in California.

How ironic is the Sierra Club Bay Area grandee who finds light when he flips on his office switch, and would find no light were his utopian ideas about wind, solar, and biomass to come to full fruition. Only what he despises -- radioactive uranium, messy drilling rigs, and unnatural dams -- for now continue to bring him what he must have. Again, the theme: the more the green activists empty reservoirs to save a bait fish, or stop fracking, or prevent salvage logging, the angrier they sigh that it is not enough and the more they must count on someone ignoring them to provide them with what they must have.

The universities were the great backbone of the West, from the Academy and Lyceum to medieval Pisa and Oxbridge to the great 18th- and 19th-century founding of American campuses. Not necessarily any longer. Too many are bankrupt morally, economically, politically, and culturally.

The symptoms are terrifying: one trillion dollars in student debt (many of these loans accruing at higher than average interest rates and even before students have graduated); a small Eloi class of rarefied elites who teach little and write in runes that no one can decipher;  a large Morlock class of part-timers and oppressed lecturers who subsidize the fat and waste of the tenured and administrative classes; graduates who are arrogant but ignorant, nursed on –studies ideology without the liberal arts foundations to back up their zeal; and a BA/BS brand that no longer ensures better-paying jobs, if any jobs at all.

In sum, apart from the sciences and medicine, most of the university coarsens rather than enlightens American life.

The current campus is unsustainable and we are beginning to see its decline, as online courses and for-profit tech schools usurp its students. The liberal arts are not nurtured and protected for another generation in the university. Instead, their umbilical cords have become cut with the cleaver of race/class/gender no-nothingism. Again the theme: the more bloated, exploitive, and costly the university, the more it lashes out it that it is short-changed, the victim of philistine budget cuts, and the last bastion of civilized life.