Two Dangerous Nostrums

There are many things for a traditionalist to dislike in the postmodern university. Its bigotry and persecution of traditionalists, for instance. But too many traditionalists have allowed this dislike to darken their reason and betray them into placing their hope in two dangerous nostrums.

The first nostrum is that a university education should be restricted to STEM fields, with all professors of the humanities set to work in rice paddies and coal mines. This is a terrible idea, and not only because rice and coal production would collapse. While it is true that most humanities departments pullulate with subversive weirdos, that their standards are low where not arbitrary, and that their graduates are mostly penniless malcontents, civilization still requires humanistic education.

Remember, tradition is “handed down” (the word is related to trade, which means to “hand over”), and handing down cannot occur if there are no teachers to do the handing.

It is to the revolutionary thinkers of the eighteenth century that we owe the idea that boys and girls will grow into fine young men and women if society will only leave them alone. Deistical writers laid the groundwork for this idea when they said that there is in every man an intuition of “natural religion,” and that this natural religion will flourish if religious teachers will only leave men alone. The same writers made much of what they called Virtue, by which they meant an innate capacity for goodness that would, they assured us, flourish and prosper if the authorities would only leave men alone.

A traditionalist recognizes that boys and girls have the potential to grow into fine young men and women, but he also knows that this potential will not be actualized in the absence of suitable social institutions. We must educate the potential for piety, virtue and taste, and this means we must “lead” or “draw” it out. You will remember that Socrates described himself as a “midwife,” so he evidently did not believe that young men would give birth to great thoughts if their teachers would only leave them alone.

There is a great deal to admire in the STEM fields, and many scientists and engineers are highly cultured, but the culture of these scientists and engineers was not handed down in their STEM classes. Their potential for piety, virtue and taste was actualized somewhere else. For those fortunate enough to come of good family, the family was one of these places. But they also required other institutions that, in a healthy society, hand tradition down. They required churches, museums, concert halls, libraries and schools. They may even have derived some benefit from the humanities departments in the universities.

If we were to nuke these departments from space, as some on the right propose, the result would not be a New Jerusalem. It would be a philistine society of high-tech barbarians. We must sluce the Augean stables, not demolish them.

* * * * *

The second deadly nostrum is that we starve the rats in the ivied halls by shifting all higher education to MOOKs, or massive open online courses. I have read literally hundreds of comments from disgruntled men of the right who ask why we don’t simply record the lectures of the best professors and let students everywhere partake of their eloquent wisdom. Here’s the answer.

Because it is absolutely certain that the man holding the microphone in a MOOK will be the best the Left has to offer.

There are, today, non-leftist professors skulking about the ivied halls. They are not numerous and they are not powerful, but they do exist. That means there is a chance that your son or daughter may take a class from some funny old guy who is not a febrile race-class-gender neo-Marxist. In the humanities, the odds of this are, perhaps, around 1:20; but however bleak these odds are, they are a whole lot better than 0:20. And 0:20 would be the odds of some funny old guy who is not a febrile race-class-gender neo-Marxist getting hold of a microphone in a MOOK.

The man with the microphone in the MOOK will naturally be chosen through “peer review,” and since peer-review is mostly butt-sniffing, the vote for the professor who is the best the Left has to offer will be a landslide at nineteen to one.

15 thoughts on “Two Dangerous Nostrums

  1. Pingback: Two Dangerous Nostrums | @the_arv

  2. @JMSmith – That all makes a lot of sense. I like to think of myself as one of those funny old guys. I do get the impression that the students appreciate my having a different perspective with different content. It surely introduces some variation into an otherwise monotonous diet of positivism and/or po-mo gibberish.

    • The coexistence of positivism and postmodernism in a single institution–indeed in the mind of a single individual–will greatly puzzle or amuse the intellectual historians of the future. They will have to tell their students that men in the early twenty-first century believed that empirical reality was all that existed and that empirical reality did not exist.

  3. Are museums and concert halls required?
    Is the university the aproprate place for the upbringing of men and women? If so for how much of its history has this been true?
    To what extent does civilisation require STEM? More or less than now?
    Have the universities really added to the moral good of the world more than taken away from it?
    Have they not taken away from religious institutions?
    How many universities are required in a society?
    Do professors posses more wisdom than the christian tradition?

    • Are museums and concert halls required?

      Museums and concert halls are required if you wish to have artistic traditions, and artistic traditions are required if you wish to have a civilization

      Is the university the aproprate place for the upbringing of men and women?

      Probably not for all men and women, and possibly for none in its present form. But the full development (upbringing) of certain men and women requires institutions of intellectual culture.

      If so for how much of its history has this been true?

      Like the Church, the university has always been distorted by its political context.

      To what extent does civilization require STEM? More or less than now?

      Some sort of STEM is necessary in any complex society. STEM is also integral to the very essence of Western civilization. But this does not mean that we cannot have too much of a good thing. Civilized life is not made by great engineering alone.

      Have the universities really added to the moral good of the world more than taken away from it?

      They have not been an absolute moral good, to be sure; but the value of such things must be measured against the most likely alternative.

      Have they not taken away from religious institutions?

      Well, they began as religious institutions, and in many cases remained such into the nineteenth century. Until that time the universities were generally bastions of orthodoxy, and all the wild, heretical thinking happened elsewhere. It would be most accurate to say that the universities were taken away from religious institutions. Stolen, almost!

      How many universities are required in a society?

      Fewer than we have at present.

      Do professors posses more wisdom than the christian tradition?

      No individual possesses more wisdom than the Christian tradition, but the tradition is mute if there are no individuals to express it.

  4. If it’s fashionable, even on the “right”, it’s wrong.

    The Soviet Union was STEMed to the gills and it didn’t matter. Modern Russia still is and it’s still not great.

    Ironically, the history of the ancient world, stoicism, etc., is extremely popular among men (history channel, Steven Pressfield novels, many popular books and articles on stoicism the Obstacle is the Way, etc.). People like the liberal arts as long as they’re not called that.

    There is no STEM shortage. What there is is a shortage of H1Bs and foreign slave factories. There’s a reason Chinese and Indians thrive in America but not in their own systems.

    I’m ranting a bit, but as much as I believe in the liberal arts, I also recognize that the brand has been ruined by leftists at universities basically nuking the quality. The modern employer views a liberal arts degree as code for nonsense and the price tag makes it not a sensible investment when I can get an 80% solution through online lectures and a personal naive reading of basic texts.

    I was foolish enough to study liberal arts at a school with a highly selective great books program. It made me useful on the job, but actually getting an interview was virtually impossible. The school wasn’t an ivy and the coursework was unintelligible to the kind of drone who works in HR, so I quickly learned that the system thought my economic value was zero if not less.

    The only way I moved forward was through God’s grace and going outside the system at every opportunity and that “worked” although it took much, much longer and cost me more than I can write here, not just economically. Unless you have connections or it’s a stepping stone to further professional schooling, you’re better off skipping college altogether.

    I love liberal arts and conservative professors, but you can’t ignore economics. It’s like the in law I have, wonderful conservative professor, who started preaching localism and derided people for losing community and moving around. He didn’t quite get it, that in the current climate the choice isn’t between a great paying job across the country and an OK job closer to home. It’s between any job at all and none. Economics is real; ignore it and you’re ignoring everything from professional fulfillment to family formation.

    • My road was similar to yours, although it worked out in the end. Economic reality rode me pretty hard for many years, and I’ll never forget it. So I’m the last one to laugh at a strong dose of vocational training in higher education. But there’s a difference between a strong dose of vocationalism and 200 proof. The cultural tradition of the West is our inheritance, vocationalism will rob us of this inheritance as quickly as leftism.

  5. Pingback: Two Dangerous Nostrums | Reaction Times

  6. A quibble on the point of MOOKs. The criticism seems superficial, and I’m not convinced that MOOKs allow greater diversity of content.

    The universities act just like any other content filter. Whether it is large media companies, book publishers, or newspapers, they act as gatekeepers of what content is available for consumption. They also act as a force multiplier of their message. Part of the concern about common core is the effort to implant the same social messaging in every aspect of education. It doesn’t matter whether one professor may be able to hand down tradition when the student is at the same time required to earn a minimum amount of credits from professors who outnumber him with a message that is antithetical to that professor.

    The idea of the MOOK is that it breaks that gatekeeper model, allows the ability to learn what you want without learning what you don’t need, devalues the diploma to allow alternative methods to demonstrate knowledge of the subject, etc.

    I’m sure there are reasonable criticisms of MOOKs, and it would require a different view of education. But there is certainly the possibility of it acting as an alternative education system and potentially acting as a stimulant to the university system to provide better value/purpose.

    • Maybe, but my guess is that they will centralize authority and reduce diversity. Most students will simply sign up for the top brand, just as they do with everything else.

      • How are MOOKs any more likely to centralize authority and reduce diversity than the current postmodern university system? Do MOOKs have the potential to disrupt the current monopoly that the current postmodern university system has on higher education? Does the potential for MOOKs to allow certain universities, organizations, or groups to provide certifications of knowledge attainment provide more of an opportunity for more people to be students of teachers who are not not a febrile race-class-gender neo-Marxist?

        My answers to these questions are it is not more likely and they do have these potentials. The problem at this point is recognition of the quality of MOOKs in establishing educational attainment. The current postmodern university system is helping out in further devaluing its own diplomas, but there is still the need to obtain recognition for MOOKs. At this point, there seems to be plenty of desire for them from the ability of star professors or organizations to make money from online courses, but there needs to be the translation into the student actually being able to parlay them into social recognition.

      • If students want to get credit, the MOOK will have to be accredited, just like a brick and mortar university. Accreditation will work by some sort of peer review and it will screen course content. The accredited course(s) will be left of center because that will be the center of gravity of the reviewing peer group. Testing out will work the same way. MOOKS and testing will be market driven only within narrowly approved limits.

  7. Granted, but the hope is that MOOKs can be something more than just the virtual extension of the current postmodern university system.

  8. MOOCs are ideal for teaching the liberal arts. Have you tried many of The Great Courses from The Teaching Company?

    As you say in your comment, accreditation is the central issue in higher education as it relates to employment. But only 15% of the population is IQ-qualified for a rigorous 4 year education. All the others can get their broad based liberal arts education from MOOCs and other online sources, and accreditation be damned.

    Forcing most high school graduates into bricks and mortar colleges to give them “a well rounded education” is a huge waste and debt liability for individuals and the population at large.

    As for STEMs and the professions, there is some need for on-site training for laboratory learning and experiential learing (medicine, dentistry, etc.). Most maths could be learned via advanced online interactive teaching — consider an evolved “Khan Academy.” Interactive courses can be largely automated, as most students have problems understanding a limited number of concepts, which too often stop them from continuing on.

    Consider a vastly pared down bricks and mortar university system given the various considerations listed above.

    • The internet certainly is a great place to learn. I think podcasts are the great frontier because we all spend hours and hours with our eyes engaged but our minds starved for stimulation. Alternative perspectives will always be out there, but the courses that are heavily promoted, slickly produced, and accredited will be SJW converged.

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