Post-Literacy Continued

I offer a brief continuation of my main essay on post-literacy.  My old graduate school buddy “Ivar the Midwesterner,” who teaches humanities on faculty at a “nondescript state college east of the Left Coast and west of the Mississippi,” inveterately asks his freshman composition students on the first day of class to respond in writing to the following prompt, one of the aphorisms from the extant fragments of the Archaic-Age Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus (the “Logos Philosopher”):

All men should speak clearly and logically, and thus share a rational discourse and have a body of thought in common, just as the people of a city should be under the same laws.

Here are five typical responses, as Ivar assures me, to the prompt:

01. “I do agree that people should speak logically.  I don’t, however, think that everybody should think the same way.  For if everybody shared common thoughts, laws would not have to be in place.  While logic and sense is important, the world would be nothing without individuality. In my opinion individuality is what makes us human.  If one looks at animals, they all have common thoughts and are all pretty much the same.”

02. “I disagree that all men should ‘share a rational discourse and have a body of thought in common.’  If everyone thought the same way, what would the world be like?  It would be peaceful and there would be no tension or nothing to worry about.  But, would this be a good thing?  There would be a lack of creativity and diversity.  It would be a monotonous place to be.”

03. “The same uniformity, or logic, of thought when shared by all men does not breed diversity.  Diversity is necessary for expression and leads to more avenues of advancement in the arts and in culture.  A shared and clearly expressed language fosters both enforcement and creation of laws as well as allowing for an exchange of ideas.  A shared language is vital for a city while undiverse logic and argument lead to stagnation.”

04. “This seems to have a negative feeling.  It seems Heraclitus didn’t want people to think for themselves.  Not everyone in a city like all the laws opposed on them. Not everyone should vote or go for something if they don’t like the outcome. Heraclitus quote makes it seems like they should.”

05. “The majority of individuals have a distinct way of living. Everyone is different and unique in their own way but societal pressure drives an organized group in a similar direction.  There is a way the world has designated persons to act, where Heraclitus of Ephesus has portrayed the image of all men being in common with each other, just as laws.”

Notice how the student respondents interpret the idea that all men “should… have a body of thought in common” (that is, share an ethos and an education) as a hostile attempt to impose uniformity of opinion on everyone.  Ironically, it is the near-uniform opinion of the student respondents that this is what Heraclitus is saying.  Their attitude towards their misprision is, moreover, one of censure.  Notice that the students regard the philosopher’s precepts as hostile to “individuality,” “creativity,” and “diversity.”  Notice the phrase (from student respondent No. 03), “undiverse logic,” which comes close to Newspeak.  Notice that the philosopher’s statement strikes one of the student respondents (No. 04) as being in the character of “a negative feeling,” an appeal to emotion rather than to reason.

The five responses are not absolutely wretched from a grammatical or syntactical perspective, although some show more competency than others, but they all give voice to fairly strong resentment against what is – logically and self-evidently – a true proposition.  One student respondent (No. 4) writes, for example, that, “Not everyone in a city like [sic] all the laws opposed on them [sic]”; and “not everyone should vote or go for something if they [sic] don’t like the outcome.”

In the perfect unreasonableness and undeniable petulance of the iteration, we have a good instance of the mental and moral dispositions of the post-literate person.  The diction error (“opposed” for imposed) and the number discrepancies (see below) are signs that the moral confusion is intimately related to the verbal inadequacy.

Another student respondent (No. 5) writes that, “The majority of individuals have [sic] a distinct way of living,” a contradiction in terms; and that, “everyone is different and unique in their [sic] own way but societal pressure drives an organized group in a similar direction,” which is nothing more than the predominant narcissistic cliché of our times.  Again, the grammatical errors show that resentfulness and incompetency are interrelated.

The epidemic use of the third-person plural they or them as the back-reference to a singular subject (e.g., “everyone” or “a majority”) possibly indicates that post-literacy and post-numeracy are two sides of the same catastrophically inflated coin.

I draw the following conclusion: Even where post-literacy does not reduce the writer to a producer of illiterate and indecipherable gobbledygook, it instills hostility towards if not rejection of reasonable thoughts and propositions; post-literacy collaborates with ideology in motivating students to invoke topoi such as “uniqueness” and “diversity” to defend themselves against the internalization of a genuinely literate, a non-personal and non-emotional, point of view.

33 thoughts on “Post-Literacy Continued

  1. The historical ignorance is appalling, too. Note the claim that a lack of diversity leads to a lack of “creativity” which is, of course, very nearly the exact opposite of the experience of the whole human race for all of its history.

  2. None of the five responses is an example of anything like original thinking. Every one of the five is the regurgitation (pardoning the expression) of this or that rote formula that students have been trained to give by their instructors both in the K-12 and the college phases of their education. It goes without saying that students have very little knowledge whether of history or anything else.

  3. (1) their thoughts are rigorously controlled by political correctors that change their rules over the course of their stay in middle school and high school

    (2) they are presented with the following prompt: As everyone in a city should obey the same laws, everyone should share “a rational discourse”, whatever the hell a rational discourse is

    (3) they interpret “body of thought” to mean queer theory and Whiteness studies, and “as” to mean not “like” but “in the same way”

    (4) they resent it and respond that they would like more diversity

    (5) the political correctors respond that for diversity to include exclusionary hatespeech is a contradiction in terms, accuse them of concern trolling for the KKK, and suggest that edgy STEM majors should get out of their parent’s basement and volunteer for an OFA event.

    • Stage 4 of your analysis is particularly interesting and might be taken a bit farther. What would the word “diversity” mean to students, supposing that their thinking (so to speak) is as you suggest? It would mean something on the order of “put no constraints on me” or “hold me to no standards” or “don’t tax me with rigor.” “Diversity” would mean: “Just leave everything exactly as it is” or “Don’t make me grow up.”

  4. If Ivar can supply it, please give the entire prompt as given to the students. I think some home schoolers might find it fun to give it, sans comment, to their high school students. For example, perhaps the students were told, “Write a paragraph giving your opinion of the following statement by Heraclitus of Ephesus.” Or perhaps they were told, “Write at least ____ sentences explaining whether you agree or disagree, and why you agree or disagree, with the following statement by Heraclitus of Ephesus.” For experimental purposes, though, the instructions should be as close as possible to those given to Ivar’s freshmen.

      • It would be a fruitful experiment for as many people as possible to administer Ivar’s lesson to as many young people, between fifteen and eighteen, as possible. Ivar would welcome notification of the results. Anyone — please send such results C/O Dr. B.

        Earl: Please apprise me of the result. You can contact me through the SUNY Oswego website.

  5. The full prompt is simple: Read the following [the thesis of Heraclitus] carefully; consider the parts into which the statement falls and their relation to the whole; consider the statement’s vocabulary; consider the logical and moral validity of the statement’s claims; and then respond to it with a thesis of your own that develops your thoughts in two or three carefully structured paragraphs. (Courtesy of Ivar)

    According to Ivar, few students actually manage to write three paragraphs, but then paragraphing is one of the ideas that has not been included in any serious way in their college preparation.

    • “Respond with a thesis of your own” nudges student writers towards disagreement with Heraclitus. Agreed?

      If I were the undergraduate student reading the prompt, I would be likely to infer that my instructor wanted me to express some kind of affirmation of thinking for oneself (vs. “having a body of thought in common”) and perhaps balancing individual responsibility with unreflective social conformity. Y’know, Thoreau.

      I’m not saying that this is what the Greek says, but that, in the context of a classroom and the language of the prompt, I would be likely to interpret the writing task along the lines I have indicated.

      • Maybe so, although Ivar says that some students affirm the aphorism. I can attest that the five sample responses align themselves fully, both in terms of their hostility to stricture and their many lapses from grammatical competency, with student prose in general.

      • Wurm, I doubt you’d be that fickle; trembling as you consider agreeing with Heraclitus. Your spine is made of pure Rearden Steel, man.

  6. The epidemic use of the third-person plural they or them as the back-reference to a singular subject (e.g., “everyone” or “a majority”) possibly indicates that post-literacy and post-numeracy are two sides of the same catastrophically inflated coin.

    I wouldn’t read too much post-numeracy into this. Since the correct pronouns are masculine (or should I say “male” 😉 and since that is allegedly sexist, students have been indoctrinated to use plural pronouns instead for the past 30 years or so. It is something that I struggle with (and I’m nearing 50).

    • It’s a combination of confusion about one and more-than-one and the politically incorrect status of the standard “male” pronouns.

      A relevant report: Often when I quiz students on the recent reading, I assign 1/2 point to every correct answer. That means, if there were twenty questions, the possible total of points on a quiz would be ten points. My instructions for marking the quiz are: subtract the number of incorrect answers from the possible total, divide by two — and that is your score. About a third of students are incapable of this simple arithmetical operation.

      • Perhaps my collegiate exposure to British usage (i.e., treating companies and the like as plurals) softened my mind regarding the one/more-than-one distinction that ought to be maintained. On the other hand, I was consciously aware of the political incorrectness of masculine pronouns back when I avoided them.

  7. Tom: the intriguing general thesis of this discussion is that grammatical and syntactical defects indicate cognitive disabilities. We could say the same of superfluous prolixity or jargon, as in bureaucratese, corporatese, and the fog of jargon deployed by many liberal professionals of the liberal arts.

    Thus, e.g., the use of “impact” as a verb would indicate cognitive confusion about the difference between act and effect. Likewise, the use of “I” as a direct object, endemic among polite and educated speakers (“He was very kind to Georgette and I”) would indicate cognitive confusion about difference between subject and object. Or, likewise – stretching a bit – the use of “affect” for “effect.”

    This thesis can only be stretched so far, perhaps. “Lie” and “lay,” and their various permutations, can be very hard to track.

    What does it say about me that I can never keep straight on the proper application of “further” versus “farther”?

  8. “Further” is a verb, which can also function as an adverb. (This is a given of language — there is no “explanation” for it.) “Farther” is an adjective: “Far, Farther, Farthest.” “Will impeaching Obama further the cause of liberty in the USA?” (This is another given of language — there is no explanation for it.) “Sedna is farther from the sun than Pluto.” “The farthest planet from the sun is Quaor.” (These are facts of the universe — there is no explanation for them.)

    “Now I lay me down to sleep.” “Now I lie about having laid me down to sleep.” “Tomorrow I will have lied about laying me down to sleep.” (“I didn’t go to bed until after I watched Jay Leno.”)

    Language is arbitrary, but the necessity of an arbitrary sign-system is absolute; it is not arbitrary.

    Language is not natural; it is cultural. (Everything fundamentally cultural is Grace.)

    Everything cultural is non-natural hence the natural man rebels against it. (And the punishment of the rebellion is Grace.)

    Culture is transmitted by education. (Education is Grace.)

    The only perfect application of the alphabet to a spoken language is in the orthography of Finnish. (The Finns are exceptional recipients of Grace.)

    Part of education is memorizing the necessary arbitrariness of grammar. (That is, the absoluteness of Grace.)

    There is no more an explanation of grammar than there is an explanation of the multiplication table.

    There are axioms in logic.

    There are axioms in culture. (There are axioms in consciousness and consciousness is Grace.)

    A society that says to its children, “Don’t fret, babies, we won’t hold you to our axioms,” has signed its death warrant. (It has repudiated Grace.)

    Culture is Grace.

    Language is Grace.

    The Natural Order of Creation is speaking to us through language — through Grace.

    The arbitrariness of alphabetic order is Grace. (Consciousness is Grace because consciousness is the arbitrariness of the alphabetic order, which is the Natural Order, articulating itself through the recipients of Grace.)

    Discovering Sedna and Quaor (an accomplishment available only to the Grace of a late stage of Alphabetic Civilization) is Grace.

    My dear Kristor — you will understand me, by Grace.


    The Doubter

    PS. Think I’m making it up? Google Sedna and Quaor.

    PPS. I originally spelled the name of the trans-Neptunian planet as Q-u-a-o-r-k. There is no final k, however. I have therefore revised the spelling and Quaorected myself.

  9. Wow, Tom. Let’s have more of that sort of thing, please, OK? Cut loose, and let the associations roll. Brilliant.

    Riffing: “Grace perfects Nature.” Nature is form; grace is the free donation of the enlivenment of form, the act that endows forms with the power to act, so that they can become – so that they can become actual. The donation is effected by inspiration: “Then he breathed on them.”

    “One day tells its tale to another.” How? Grace; or, in other words, creation.

    • Your challenge was Grace.

      You wrote: ““One day tells its tale to another.” How? Grace; or, in other words, creation.” Story Telling — what so many of my students can’t understand

      • News keeps coming from your toll at my bell. “Sing in me, Muse:” the singing of the muse in me is that gracious donation, by which I understand the tales that the spheres – planets in their turn, buzzing particles, the whole gamut of mundane creatures, and their angels – all tell each other from day to day, and so tolling make their music that nets all things together, and makes of me a nodal knot. When it sings in me it is my music, yet not mine, but his in me (Galatians 2:20).

        Mozart and Byrd both wrote of how entire compositions would appear all at once in their minds, which they would then transcribe through time, scribing out the temporal divisions of the music, so that musicians could perform it – could perfect its form by instantiating it in a performance.

        When we apprehend where we are in the causal order, that’s just how it works. We begin each moment of existence knowing where we are in respect to our antecedents and our environment, this being the only way we could possibly end up actual where and when and as we do. How? How do we know this? This knowledge is not the result of our operations, but their forecondition, the proscenium upon which they supervene.

        To say a word or hum a note, to take a step or move a mote, one must begin with the given Grace of grammar; with metaphysical mathesis. “Mathesis” was coined by Clerk Maxwell, to indicate a revelation of nature calling forth from the mind new modes of thought by which the processes of our minds may be brought into the most complete harmony with the process of nature.

        Physis supervenes upon and presupposes metaphysis. Without structure, no padding, no stuff at all.

        Sorry; not terribly tidy here; it’s a brainstorm, not a zephyr.

        Story-telling: Tolkien’s sub-creation.

      • Ode

        by Joseph Addison (after Psalm 19:1-6)

        The Spacious Firmament on high,
        With all the blue Etherial Sky,
        And spangled Heav’ns, a Shining Frame,
        Their great Original proclaim:
        Th’ unwearied Sun, from Day to Day,
        Does his Creator’s Power display,
        And publishes to every Land
        The Work of an Almighty Hand.
        Soon as the Evening Shades prevail,
        The Moon takes up the Wondrous Tale,
        And nightly to the list’ning Earth
        Repeats the Story of her Birth:
        Whilst all the Stars that round her burn,
        And all the Planets, in their turn,
        Confirm the Tidings as they rowl,
        And spread the Truth from Pole to Pole.
        What though, in solemn Silence, all
        Move round the dark terrestrial Ball?
        What tho’ nor real Voice nor Sound
        Amid their radiant Orbs be found?
        In Reason’s Ear they all rejoice,
        And utter forth a glorious Voice,
        For ever singing, as they shine,
        ‘The Hand that made us is Divine.’

      • Hah! Yes, indeed. To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under Heaven.

        This puts me in mind of an aphorism from the efficient market guys: in equilibrium, all lanes are equally slow, and equally fast. So, folly to dash about in an effort to “beat” a traffic jam, or the market. All you accomplish in so doing is an increase in your cost and risk. Haste makes violence.

        By the same token then: by the equivalence of all lanes is their equilibrium obtained. Harmony is causal fit that approaches the Hamiltonian.

  10. Pingback: Teaching in the post-literate age « TeacherLore

  11. Prof. Bertonneau,

    I must confess, I remain unable to understand why you are so hostile to these students’ interpretation(s). Now, I will concede their grammatical mistakes. No dispute there. But as far as their common interpretation of the passage is concerned, I find myself unable to understand why you are so vehemently opposed.

    I have personally never studied Heraclitus, so I am not confident in my ability to understand this passage of his. I would want to know more about his own writings and his milieu before I attempted a final interpretation of this passage. Perhaps, for example, if I had the fuller context of this passage, or if I knew what contemporary issue he was discussing, I would be better able to explain what a “common body of thought” meant. And it goes without saying that I am impaired by the necessity to read him in translation.

    But having said all this, reading “common” as “uniform and non-diverse” does not strike me as patently absurd. Is this what Heraclitus really meant? I have no idea, because I have never studied him, as I said. But this reading seems at least reasonable, prima facie.

    Let me note that I myself do not agree with these students. If I were to respond to this passage, I would first cite and discuss Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language”. I would conclude that I agree with Heraclitus’s first several statements and arguments. But then, why I arrived at his statement regarding the law, I would have argued that Heraclitus misapprehends the nature and source of law. Heraclitus appears to assume that law must be legislated by one single body, which will lay down uniform legislation. But in fact, recent studies by such scholars as Bruno Leoni, David Friedman, and Bruce Benson have discovered that law may be produced by private individuals without any central planners. Some have termed this “polycentric law”. But as Hans-Hermann Hoppe has noted, polycentric law will tend towards a convergence without ever necessarily reaching full convergence. In other words, polycentric law will often asymptotically approach uniformity. But despite this lack of uniformity, such polycentric law will often be more efficient – economically speaking – than a law laid down by a legislature possessing a monopoly on legislation. Therefore, I disagree with Heraclitus’s assertion that “the people of a city should be under the same laws”. Recent economic analysis has shown that it is not at all necessarily desirable that there should be one uniform set of laws. I say this all to establish the fact that I do not agree with the students’ opinions. My analysis of this passage differs entirely from theirs.

    Nevertheless, despite my disagreement with the students, I find their readings to be at least reasonable. I might disagree with them, but they are not prima facie absurd. However, you say that, “In the perfect unreasonableness and undeniable petulance of the iteration, we have a good instance of the mental and moral dispositions of the post-literate person.” But you neglect to offer us any reason to believe that these students offered an absurd reading. It appears to me that you are simply offended by their disagreeing with you. You do not like the fact that they disagree with you, and you therefore erupt in an emotional outburst of disgust and outrage. You cannot offer us any literary arguments why the students are wrong. You simply assert they are wrong, period. You engage in no literary analysis whatsoever. To make matters worse, you impute the students’ alleged error to their “mental and moral dispositions”, which is simply to commit the ad hominem fallacy. You cannot show why the students are wrong by subjecting their words to close literary analysis, so you instead revert to blaming their motives and personalities.

    You rightly accuse student #4 of “an appeal to emotion rather than to reason”. But I believe that precisely the same allegation can be leveled against even you yourself. You have nowhere shown why “a body of thought in common” cannot be interpreted to mean utter uniformity of thought. You have merely asserted that it cannot mean that, and anyone who disagrees with you, you have declared that their error is owing to their mental and moral dispositions”. You are offended by anyone who disagrees with you, and you refute them with nothing more than ad hominem attacks. I find this ironic and shameful.

    (I am an economics undergraduate in my junior year.)

    • My dear Mr. Makovi:

      You write with remarkable, but not complete, freedom from the usual undergraduate, basic-language errors, but you are a poor reader. There is absolutely no sign in any of the sentences of my essay that could in any way plausibly be read to indicate my “hostility,” as you claim, to the students. As I make perfectly clear, my hostility is directed toward the near-universal failure of American education and to the trend-following, ideologically besotted educrats, who control American schools and teach in American classrooms. For the students I have nothing but sympathy, even when such sympathy must be conditioned by the obligation of actually instructing them. You can add to sympathy, endless patience. Nor do I “accuse” students of anything. I merely observe the characteristics of their prose, correlating them with their ability to read a simple sentence, and then correlating all of that with what is known about the states of orality and literacy. That would be an assessment, not an accusation. Again, any accusation would direct itself at the education establishment.

      Your references to Hans-Hermann Hoppe although impressively informed are regrettably irrelevant in the context since none of the students mentions him and it is a fair certainty that none has ever heard of him much less read him.

      When you write of me that, “You are offended by anyone who disagrees with you,” you are projecting — and I would add that you are doing so in a hostile and emotive manner. Incidentally, you misuse the verb to refute. If I had “refuted” the student arguments (as, indeed, I have), then those arguments, standing refuted, would be erroneous (which, of course, they are). But that is not what your words imply.

      Possibly, since you regard at least one of the five samples as adequate, you meant to write “dismiss” rather than “refute.” Many people nowadays are confused about those two items of English vocabulary.

      Your error puts an ironic and slightly shameful twist on your stream of words.

      Best of luck to you in your matriculation.


      PS. I am not a liberal, a feminist, or a multiculturalist — I do not go around feeling “offended.” After thirty years of working in colleges and universities and being the lone dissenter in an ultra-conformist environment, I am as thickly armored as an Iowa-class battleship.

      • I will concede your correction regarding the word “refute”. Thank you.

        Nevertheless, I do not feel your response has answered my core objection. Namely, what is in fact wrong with these students’ responses that they deserve to be dismissed out of hand as patently absurd? You have asserted they are wrong, but you have yet to demonstrate they are wrong.

        Again, I do not agree with the students’ interpretations, so you cannot accuse me of too much sympathy. Heraclitus said, “All men should speak clearly and logically, and thus … have a body of thought in common”. This implies that the body of thought which is in common, can only be as common as that which would be produced by the habit of speaking clearly. Whatever degree of commonality that may be (and I do not know), it will surely fall short of utter uniformity, because uniformity of thought will not be the product of simply speaking clearly.

        But notice my presumptions in making this interpretation. I am assuming that Heraclitus has the same understanding of human nature and causality that I do. I am interpreting Heraclitus’s passage in light of my own knowledge of the consequences of clear speech and of the causes of agreement of thought. But many socialists do not share such an understanding of human nature and causality. There are many socialists who quite possibly believe – or could be interpreted to believe – that uniformity of thought could really be attained by good education. Plato and Robert Owen come to mind. In fact, almost any Enlightenment philosopher cited by Frederic Bastiat’s essay “The Law”, regarding social-engineering and philosopher-kings, would do. Hypothetically, if the students had been told (falsely) that Plato was the author of this passage, then their interpretation could quite possibly be the correct one (correct, given the false premise that Plato is its author).

        So the correct interpretation of this passage is contingent on the identity of its author. (I know that the post-modernists will kill me for saying this.) But freshman composition students in their first day of class cannot be expected to know who Heraclitus is.

        So I ask again: how do we know the students are wrong? Or at least, how do we know they are wrong given only the knowledge they could be expected to possess? You speak of “the perfect unreasonableness and undeniable petulance of” their interpretations, and adduce the “mental and moral dispositions of the post-literate person” as sufficient explanation for their interpretations. But how do we know that you are right? Perhaps the students simply confused Heraclitus with Plato, which would explain their error just as well without resorting to psychological analysis. Occam’s Razor works in my favor here, I think.

        So in short: why is your interpretation of the students’ motives to be preferred? Nowhere in your essay – nor in your response to me – have you justified yourself. Thank you.

  12. Okay, son, here goes –

    I have published about thirty articles on literacy, going back to the early 1990s. I invite you to use your Internet skills to find and read some of them. You might start with the one, posted right here at The Orthosphere, to which “Post-Literacy Continued” is (yes!) the continuation. Or you could seek out and read Havelock and Ong.

    On the hope that there is a salvageable quick under the pachyderm of your dudgeon, and to avoid the cynicism of writing you off entirely, I will address you one more time.

    You might have approached me temperately as follows –

    “Dear Dr. Bertonneau: I agree with your assessment of the basic-language inadequacies of the five samples of student prose, but I believe that you might have judged one or two of them too harshly from the viewpoint of a legitimate reaction to Heraclitus.” After that beginning, you could have cited your case or cases.

    Had you broached the issue that way, you would politely have opened the space for a conversation.

    Instead, you impugned my motives and called me names. What kind of response did you expect to such rhetoric? Did you expect to be taken on as an adult partner in the search for truth? Your intemperance disqualified you from participating in the dialectic. Your words and your tone were impolite hence also uncivil. And now you demand explanations.

    You are obviously a smart guy – although not as smart as you think you are – so you have a vested interest in harnessing your intelligence to your courtesy. You should study yourself with an aim toward that synthesis. Maybe the Heraclitean Logos can be a guide for you. Maybe, if you were to think about affirmative action and the quota-system in hiring, two manifestations of liberalism that will undoubtedly hamper your career, it would occur to you why the people of a city should be under the same laws.


    • Prof. Bertonneau,

      I actually did read your previous post on literacy. I found it quite interesting, which is why I read its sequel in the first place. I have indeed read some previous literature by others on the same subject of declining literacy, and I found your piece was a nice complement.

      As for the reason I approached you as I did, I felt I was merely treating you the same way you treated the students. I was only responding in kind. You called the students petulant (by speaking of the “petulance” of what they wrote) and you impugned their “moral dispositions”. So I did not treat you any differently than you treated them. Perhaps this was a poor tactic on my part, and I will reconsider my behavior in the future, but I do not feel it was immoral – only imprudent – to treat you as you treated others.

      Nevertheless, I will reconsider in the future treating my interlocutors with respect even when they do not. Thank you for this instructive lesson you have given me.

  13. You have no idea how I treat students in my classroom, how much tact and diplomacy I exercise, or how much pedagogical finesse I deploy. How I treat students in my classroom is different from how I treat their writing, granting them anonymity and the distance of years so as to involve no one personally in the discussion, in an objective assessment of what their prose suggests about their mentality — for which, once again, I do not hold them responsible, but rather their education. Sadly, epistemological and moral dispositions tend to be interlocked. People who have been formed in post-literacy exhibit features of a privative, not an intact, orality in which traits of infantilism are markedly noticeable. These traits have already had an effect on the social fabric, coarsening and stultifying it intellectually and ethically. The trend will continue.

    Petulance, by the way, is a real phenomenon; it exists, and it contributes to the vituperative social tenor of our day. There are good reasons for calling attention to it and, more importantly, understanding it. Only in those accomplishments will we prepare ourselves effectively to reduce its influence in the forum. Plato grasped this. Callicles in the Gorgias and Thrasymachus in the Republic are personifications of petulance, among other things, whose obtuseness respecting argument and quickness to reduce everything to a clash of egos pose a threat to the health of the state.

    Observe yourself: In your own words, you felt compelled to mount a “challenge,” as though you were Achilles venting at Agamemnon, when the objective procedure of someone interested in truth would have been to solicit a reasoned exchange of ideas. Next time take a deep breath first. You will find that doing so opens, rather then slams shut, many doors.

    With respect,



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