Out With the Old and In With the New

For readers outside the American academy, the National Association of Scholars is an outfit that works, without much success, to defend the standards of scholarship and to oppose the standards of political correctness and social justice activism.  Since 2010, the NAS has published an annual report on college common readings, by which is meant the books that many colleges ask their incoming freshmen to read in the summer before they begin classes, and to discuss in the following fall.  This report has been accompanied by a list the NAS calls Better Beach Books, mostly classics that the NAS would like the common reading selection committees at colleges and universities to adopt in place of the usual melodramas of social injustice.

Well, the NAS has announced that it is throwing in the towel on its annual report and list of Better Beach Books.  They were not utterly ineffectual, but after nine reports and nine lists of Better Beach Books, “the number of classic books (defined as pre-1980) increased . . . to less than 4% of the total selection.”

So from here on out, naught will be read but melodramas of social injustice, the maudlin hagiographies of our age.  These are books stuffed with pious frauds, sentimental cant, and flashy mumbo jumbo; and the assignment of these books as common readings insures that our young people are stuffed likewise.

* * * * *

This university has initiated a motivational program called Team Flourish, with which it hopes to palliate the alienation and despair that so often grip the cogs of a vast bureaucracy.  The official webpage says that Team Flourish exists to assure university employees that “no matter where you are in this enormous endeavor, your efforts are valuable and meaningful.”  I call this implausible doctrine Corporate Stoicism.  Its resemblance to classical Stoicism is clear if you simply substitute the words the Organization for the words Nature and Providence in these lines from Marcus Aurelius.

“Jog on in the path which Nature has chalked out, till your legs sink under you; and always remember that to be uneasy at the appointments of Providence is a failure of reverence and respect.  Above all else, no murmuring.”

To keep us all jogging on, Team Flourish supplies regular injections of uplift in the form of motivational email messages.  One such arrived just the other day.  If we are “feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or unsure,” it advises us to ask “THE QUESTION.”  And THE QUESTION is:

“What is this here to teach me?”

If we fail to ask THE QUESTION, we will see before us nothing but what used to be called “vanity and vexation of spirit,” or what many in our degraded and coarse-minded day call “bureaucratic BS.”  But if we ask THE QUESTION, “it opens us up to see the bigger picture and allows for gratitude.”  As Marcus Aurelius said:

“Above all else, no murmuring”

In addition to asking THE QUESTION, Team Flourish this week challenges us “to commit to doing ONE act of self-care,” and to do this “knowing that there will be a ripple effect on everyone you interact with and everything you do.”  To clear up any doubt about how important this act of self-caring is, Team Flourish again employs the masterful rhetoric of the cap lock button and writes:

“IT MATTERS”

The message concludes with this touching intimacy:

“Love—Team Flourish.”

Hallelujah!  Good news!  Amen!  Life is meaningful, my existence matters, and Team Flourish loves me.

Corp’rate loves me, this I know,
‘Cause Team Flourish tells me so,
Little cogs to it belong,
They are weak but it is strong!

Yes, Corp’rate loves me,
Yes, Corp’rate loves me,
Yes, Corp’rate loves me,
Team Flourish tells me so

8 thoughts on “Out With the Old and In With the New

  1. Pingback: Out With the Old and In With the New | Reaction Times

  2. My impression of NAS has always been that it is of a decidedly Neocon bent; hence my relative lack of interest in it or it’s positions. Perhaps I have been mistaken.

    • The neocon virus infected most conservatism, but respectability and reasonableness was the Achilles’ heel of the NAS. Conservatives always lose because they want to be the grownup in the room, and young terrors always run rings around grownups.

  3. There are two strategies at work here: Replace the Western classics with up-to-date, ever-to-be-replaced, propagandistic vapidities; and replace literacy with illiteracy, so that there is no danger that the indoctrinated masses will read anything whatsoever — nor will any individual mind, as Walter Ong puts it, be restructured by typography. The second is more thorough and its stunning success may be seen in the functional illiteracy of ninety percent of incoming college students. The devices play a role in strategy number two as well. Constant interruption of mental focus deprives its victim of mental focus. From the viewpoint of our Reptilian Masters, that is as it should be.

    I was active in the NAS in the 1990s and my articles, primarily about college literacy, appeared in Academic Questions several times. By the time we crossed into the new century, however, I could see that the counter-revolution was ineffective and withdrew my dissentience into my own classroom, as much as possible. Twenty years ago, a like-minded friend, now deceased, began to refer to Academic Questions as Soporific Questions — cruel, perhaps, but not entirely unjustified.

  4. It will sound like the usual professorial grumbling, but this semester has me reeling from the hammer-blows of student illiteracy. And the problem extends to oral communication that students do not understand. References to the Great Tradition might as well be references to the mythology of the most obscure tribe in all of Polynesia. I published one article in AQ, but like you had the clear sense that it was just a rear-guard action.

    • Among my students, none knows how to address a book. They are ignorant, for example, of tables of contents and indices. I conduct a classroom exercise (this is for college students, mind you!) on “How to Read in a Book.” I hand over to a student a tome, say, The Great Orm of Loch Ness, by Holiday. I ask him to place it under the document camera so that everyone can see it and to start leafing through it. Then I say, stop when you come to the first page that tells you what you might expect to find in the remainder of this volume. The student blithely ignores the table of contents and keeps leafing because — he has no idea what a table of contents is. I direct him back to the table contents and ask him what chapters he might benefit by reading. The last chapter is called “Summary.” It means nothing to him. This is the degree of illiteracy to which we have descended.

      • I gave up on books some years ago. I went to shorter pieces, but they weren’t short enough, so I abridged them. But they were still too formidable, so I annotated all recondite words and passages. Finally I glossed the abridged shorter piece in a very short preface. These little masterpieces of concision are still not read, if the exam questions are anything to go by.

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