The Call that Calls For the Uncalled For

“Bewildered and dulled by the new life around him for which he is unfitted, the unfortunate savage becomes more than ever a creature of instinct and approaches the condition of an animal.” 

Gilbert Malcolm Sproat, Scenes and Studies of Savage Life (1868)

Sproat was describing the deadly despair that finished off the shattered Indians of Vancouver Island in the 1860s, but his words speak to anyone who has outlived his world.  Each of us lives and moves and has his being in a world of motives, meanings, and germane materials, and we disintegrate and die when that world disappears.  Darwin cited Sproat as an authority on the deadly malaise of anomie that completed the destruction of savage races in the nineteenth century.  I cite him as an augur of the deadly malaise of anomie that is destroying loyalists to the civilized races in the twenty-first.

A man moves, Sproat tells us, in a world of motives—of important tasks he can and ought to do.  This man possesses the necessary skills, his community calls for their accomplishment, and requisite tools and materials are ready to hand.  A man who outlives his world is immobilized because the skill he possesses has no application and cannot be exercised.  There is no call for a man like him because the world whose call he was made to answer has stopped calling.  It has stopped calling because it is dead.  And the man without a calling will soon be dead as well.

“The Indian loses the motives for exertion that he had, and gets no new ones in their place.  The harpoon, bow, canoe-chisel, and whatever other simple instruments he may possess, are laid aside, and he no longer seeks praise among his own people for their skillful use.”

It is doubtful that an idle Indian would find praise among his own people for dramatic antics with harpoon, bow, or canoe-chisel.  His people are also stultified by the deadening malaise of superannuation.  I use the word antic advisedly, since antic means grotesque because antique.  A tool will not serve as a toy to a man who has used it to work.  When the tools of his manhood are reduced to trifles, a man is reduced to a trifler.  Is there any wonder that he lays them aside?  No man pretends to do what he once did in earnest.  No man wishes to pantomime himself.

“Bewildered and dulled by the new life around him for which he is unfitted, the unfortunate savage becomes more than ever a creature of instinct and approaches the condition of an animal.”

I daresay most readers of this website know what it is to be unfitted for the new life that is surging and swimming around us.  I know I have an ever-growing awareness that I am no longer cut out for this life.  I feel like a threadbare suit of outdated cut that pinches and sags and exposes an inch of sock between shoe and cuff.  I am unfitted, and therefore bewildered and dull.  Bewildered when I do not understand what people say to me.  Dull when people do not understand what I say to them.  Soon I shall approach the condition of an animal because a man is fitted to his world, but manhood is no more secure than maidenhood.

“He frequently lays aside his blanket and wears coat and trousers, acquires perhaps a word or two of English, assumes a quickness of speech and gesture which, in him, is unbecoming . . . . He is a vain, idle, offensive creature, from whom one turns away with a preference for the through savage in his isolated condition.”

One turns away from President Biden for much the same reason.  He is yesterday’s man attired in the fashion and jabbering scraps of the jargon of today.  A vain, idle and offensive creature.  Much better that yesterday’s men should wrap themselves tight in their blankets, sitting still and taciturn.  Much better that they should listen for the call that calls for the uncalled for

12 thoughts on “The Call that Calls For the Uncalled For

  1. @JMS – Well said.

    This is how I regard the situation with my main (publicly-valued) ability, which was lecturing; an activity with which I took great care, and from which I got a great deal of satisfaction.

    In 2017 summarized the fruits of thirty-plus years of experience and thinking about ‘the lecture’ in a series called The Compleat Lecturer – .

    As I wrote this, I was aware that the time was soon approaching when this craft would be ‘uncalled for’. Part of the motivation in writing was to record something I had never seen described, which was the special positive qualities of this activity which stretched back into the ancient world.

    I was not at that time aware that within a few months I would become unable to do lecturing properly due to ill health, then that I would need to retire early…

    (But doing the job properly had become, anyway, all-but impossible due to the cumulative sabotage of modern bureaucracy and managerialism.)

    Nor could I have imagined that, in another year, the activity of lecturing would (apparently) be abolished altogether – everywhere in the world!

    I was fortunate indeed to have made my peace with this de facto termination of my ‘way of life’ – before it was forcibly and externally terminated. Something of this kind will, presumably, be going on all over the place now; as *so many* life-activities, which meant such a lot, to so many people – have been terminated.

    There are a lot of ‘idle Indians’ now.

    • My academic career has been similar. I was/am regarded as a pretty good lecturer, and I put a lot of work into it. I have mentioned here that I converted one lecture course to videos a couple of years ago, and just yesterday finished converting two more in response to covid restrictions. I’ve put a lot of work into these videos as well, but they are not lectures on tape. Its a different medium, with different opportunities and limitations. In fact, my presence in the videos is limited to narration. I write the script and choose the images, and indeed control the student’s experience more than in a lecture, but Professor Smith the man has faded out of the picture. And now I find the prospect of fading back into the picture distasteful. Not because I’m indolent, but because the videos more honestly express the social reality of the university. Covid restrictions have done the same thing. The dirty secret is that most people prefer “social distancing” and dread the day (if there is such a day) when they must once again deal with students and colleagues in the flesh. Most people prefer what I call “maximal mediation” because maximal mediation means maximal control.

      My university adopted a policy of “post-tenure review” many years ago. It essentially means that your colleagues get a chance to chuck you out once every six years. I’m up for review again this year, and this time the process will of course be maximally mediated. I do not know what will happen, but I’m an academic dud as far as bureaucratic academia is concerned, and an academic embarrassment as far as Woke academia is concerned, so I’m prepared for them to take me behind the barn and shoot me (a maximally mediated shooting, of course). Like you, I’m trying to make my peace with this but I will not pretend that it is easy.

      • “It essentially means that your colleagues get a chance to chuck you out once every six years.”

        That sounds like an abolition of tenure rather than a a refinement of it. How is it different from the situation of an assistant professor?

      • The review is not as rigorous–no external letters, for instance–but it can lead to termination after three years. In most cases it is pro forma, but it puts older full professors at the mercy of younger full professors who sometimes have festering resentments going back to the days when they were assistant and associate profs. My difficulties last fall were especially noisome because this review was in the offing. I’ll be gone in five or six years if they don’t throw me overboard, so doing so may not be worth the trouble. But you can imagine how irritating it is for a college of geoscience to have an old white male reactionary occupying the cultural geography slot, so they may grow impatient.

  2. Consider Job 2:7-8

    7 “So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and struck Job with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. 8 And he took for himself a potsherd with which to scrape himself while he sat in the midst of the ashes.”

    9 “Then Joe Biden said to him, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Luddite! No one can put new wokeness wine into old wineskins, because, y’know … y’know, the thing. And furthermore C’Mon Man, Learn to Code you Racist!”

    OK. I confess. I didn’t personally hear and record what Joe said in verse 9. But I heard that he did say it on a private phone call with the President of Ukraine.

    Further I’m willing to testify under oath that I heard an anonymous source say that they heard that someone said that Robert Mueller’s Crossfire Hurricane legal team confessor Kevin Clinesmith, who admitted to altering an email used to justify the U.S. government wiretap of the former Trump campaign, … altered the verse 9 text.

    OK fine that’s not true either.

    • Maybe that should be new woke into old wokeskins. We live in a world in which so much that is said is not true, we need a texting acronym to indicate the same: TNT, LOL TNT, IMHO TNT, etc. They can alter the e-mail or alter the meaning of the words in the email. I’m not a gun guy, but was shocked to read this morning that the 9th circuit has decided that the right to “bear” arms doesn’t mean a right to carry arms on one’s person. I guess we will have to grin and “bear” it. TNT.

  3. I am not, have never been a teacher in any classroom, by choice. I read what is going on now in many schools and recall in the 1980s, when I was last in university, already a low level of scholarship in my field at the time and perverse academic theories in many others. But a great explainer is a gift from God. Those who know how to do this work — my father was an extraordinary lecturer — do great work, whether or not the world recognizes it. We are all adaptable. It is incumbent upon us, upon you, too, if I may presume to recommend it, to find alternate means. Van Gogh labored in obscurity, but he and many nameless artists left behind the work that appealed and instructed people whom he would never know. You do not know how your work will find its way to its target, or even who that target might be. Gird your loins, keep writing and explaining and let no idea of extinction or uselessness get between you and your work. If God, then you. Let Him carry the burden. What else really matters in the fallen world of human animals?


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