In May of 2020, my wife and I took our retirement after more than thirty years of teaching college, the last twenty years of which we spent at what I will call Upstate Consolation University, a mid-tier state college somewhere in the Northeast near to the border with Canada. My wife taught French in the Romance Languages Program and I, a wide variety of courses, some twenty-three altogether over the years, in the English Department – concerning which more to come. Apart from wanting what remained to us of our active lives to be ours and not the institution’s, the main motive for our decision was the intolerable decline of Upstate from a more or less serious academic organization, typically liberal but not yet politically correct or “woke,” into one more copy of the ideological collective that, in the manner of Star Trek’s “Borg,” has digested and transformed virtually every center of post-secondary education, whether public or private, in the nation. “Resistance is futile – you will be assimilated.” In the following paragraphs, I will review my Upstate gig while highlighting the major symptoms of the aforesaid decline as I observed them over the two decades of my affiliation there. While my situation was specific to Upstate, Upstate qualifies as nothing less than typical. The anecdotes in what follows have application therefore well beyond the place where I gathered them. Although all state colleges and universities shout “diversity” and preach “tolerance” at the top of their lungs, they in fact demonstrate monolithic bigotry and homogeneous narrow-mindedness.
The James Martin Center has published Part II of my article, Leaving the Blight of Higher Education. Part I dedicated itself to a discussion of how the liberal regime that controls the institutions of higher education in our former republic has, through massive and continuous indoctrination, transformed the student body from a cohort of young people that was at least willing to learn into a mob-minded mass whose primary function is to monitor and denounce any infraction of the racialist totalitarian regime of political correctness on campus. I gave an account of the havoc that the anti-morality of denunciation works on any attempt to impart a genuine higher education. Once the slogans take over, thinking stops. I wrote how this conversion of the student-body into a quasi-police force increasingly disgusted my wife and me and led, in part, to our decision to retire from teaching – a task to which we had dedicated our lives. Part II, “Farewell, Faculty,” turns its attention to the instructor-side of the equation. My wife and I taught at what I call Upstate Consolation University for twenty years. The faculty committees that hired us in our respective departments (Foreign Languages in her case and English in mine) were firmly liberal in their political convictions but not politicized in the totalitarian way of the contemporary Left. This, too, would undergo a transformation. As older faculty members retired and newly graduated holders of the doctorate – most of them from state universities – replaced them, the character of the department changed. The intellectual level dropped, lower and lower, until the difference, in this regard, between the teachers and the students became minimal. The character of the two groups also merged. And at this point the urge to police, to betray, and to punish made any exercise of curiosity about the human condition or openness to knowledge impossible. An adolescent narcissism made itself universal in students and faculty alike as the behavior of undergraduates became the behavior of the faculty.
I draw an excerpt from Part II, which I preface here with a back-reference to a passage in Part I that acknowledged, with an allusion to the American philosopher George Santayana, the wide general knowledge of the “Old Guard” of professors, so as to contrast them with the “New Guard.” –
As the Old Guard went into retirement a cohort of new assistant professors filled up the department’s allotted tenure-track lines. The new phase of aggressive Affirmative-Action recruitment insured that this replacement-generation of instructors, overwhelmingly female, differed starkly in character from its precursor-generation. The new hires came to the institution from the politically radicalized graduate programs of the state universities. Whereas the Old Guard corresponded to a literary-generalist or dilettante model – terms that I use in a wholly positive way – the arrivistes brought with them only their narrow specialisms, as encrusted in their conformist political dogmas. Mention Santayana to the Old Guard and chances were good that any given one of them would be familiar with the drift, at least, of the philosopher’s work. Mentioning Santayana to an arriviste produces a blank stare.
Richard Weaver’s notion of “Presentism” makes itself relevant to the discussion. By “Presentism” Weaver intends a mental restriction that has steadily eroded the modern, liberal view of reality. This mental restriction, as he puts it in his Visions of Order (1964), manifests itself primarily in a “decay of memory.” Weaver writes, “Wherever we look in the ‘progressive’ world we find encouragements not to remember.” Today it is not an “encouragement,” but rather a demand not to remember, as the profligate monument-defacement and statue-toppling of the times so savagely demonstrate. The anti-historical dementia has fully infiltrated graduate studies and through them has colonized the literary branches of higher education. The unending pageant of neologisms and slogans that now makes up “literary studies” illustrates this anti-developmental development.
The covid pandemic is mostly a Boomer thing. The Chinese Flu kills a tiny percentage of people younger than the Boomers. Like every other medical difficulty, it kills rather more of their parents than it does of Boomers. Only the Boomers and their parents then are much at risk from the disease. Their parents are no longer much able to sway either public discourse or public policy. The Boomers are in charge. So the panic about covid, and the policies implemented in respect thereto, are mostly the result of Boomers worried about themselves. They have shown themselves – in the person of such governors as Cuomo – totally willing to throw the generation of their parents under the bus. Because, hey, those guys were going to die soon anyway. They have also shown themselves utterly indifferent to the manifold catastrophe their disastrous policy responses to the disease have inflicted upon all younger generations.
As with every other thing they have touched, the Boomers have ruined public health by ruining civil society.
The Idea of a University in Nine Discourses
by John Henry Newman (1858)
At a time when the proper mission of a university has been obscured by commercial and ideological interests, we can with profit consult the classic lectures on this topic delivered by Cardinal Newman to commemorate the establishment of a Catholic university in Dublin.
It is unfortunate, as Newman points out, that English lacks a convenient word for what he means as the distinctive excellence of the intellect, the equivalent of what “health” is for the body, because this is what a university education is meant to cultivate. Intellectual cultivation might aid professional success and moral refinement, but it is a separate good worthy of pursuit in itself. Newman refers most often to two particular facets of the properly formed mind. First there is what one might call a philosophical enlargement, an appreciation for the validity and proper limits of each discipline. Second, there is what he sometimes calls discipline of the mind, the habit of precision and systemization.
James Chastek’s Just Thomism is one of the sites I read without fail. I like it because he teaches me lots of things. He closed comments a while ago because responding to them took up too much time. So here is what I would have commented at his blog if he still allowed comments, in response to this post:
Many of the books in the “decline of the West” genre – which was already old by the time Weaver published Ideas have Consequences in 1948 but which still sells (Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed) – tell a curious narrative of decline over very large time scales. If Nominalism or Hobbesianism were as harmful as claimed, why is the diseased host still alive a half-millennium later?
Now that’s a good question. I myself have contributed a fair bit to the literature wailing and bemoaning nominalism. How do I answer the question?
We hear often from our adversaries on the Left that race, sex, nation, and so forth are all merely adventitious social constructs, and so presumably, as fundamentally adventitious, therefore nowise suasive or authoritative, but rather, only, and simply, and completely, specious.
But the notion of the social construct redounds to and devours itself. It is autophagous. It cannot therefore be true.
If reality is socially constructed, and if that social construction is by itself a legitimate generator of truth, then one of the social constructs that can be legitimately constructed, and therefore treated as true, is the social construct that reality is not socially constructed. If on the other hand reality is socially constructed, but that social construction is not a legitimate generator of truth, then one of the social constructs that cannot be legitimately constructed, or therefore treated as true, is the social construct that reality is socially constructed.
Finally, if reality is not socially constructed to begin with, then the notion that reality is socially constructed is simply false.
All our notions are affected by society, to be sure. But that does not mean, as the Social Justice Warriors would like it to, that they are all just made up for no good reason, so that we can modify them as we wish and without serious consequence; that they are not, in other words, simply true, more or less.
To think that our social constructs are adventitious is to suppose that we are a society composed mostly of inveterate liars or fools. But if that were so, how could we have managed to survive thus far?
The Academic Senate of Upstate Consolation University has recently passed several new and exciting policies that will go into effect at the beginning of the fall semester. Among these dynamic and progressive measures are a ban on friendship and a plan to make the campus library entirely bookless. Minky Winceapple, formerly Chair of the Studies Studies Program, now serving as Under-Dean for Oversight of Policy Sensitivity, explains that the new regulations “are based off of grounded theory so as – intersectionally, of course – to promote the cross movement mobilization of marginalized people who have been disadvantaged by multiple sources of oppression.” Winceapple continues, “These policies will raise awareness by subverting structures of privilege through an extra-categorical strategy derived from critical thinking – such as the type of thinking I am using right now.” Measly Prudence, formerly Lead Vice-Coordinator of the Office of Dining Relations, now serving as Associate Provost for the Task Force on Inter-Varsity Diversity, seconded Winceapple’s enthusiasm: “We are implementing practices,” he said, “that will recognize and honor our multiple identities, co-facilitate an interconnective learning experience, and enable us to visualize how better to ventilate the bathrooms in the administration building – perhaps with the type of ventilation I am using right now.”
This is an extended comment on JMSmith’s previous post. I once taught a senior seminar in “advanced literary criticism.” I asked the students to read Rene Guenon, T. S. Eliot, Jose Ortega , and Roger Scruton. At the end of the semester an obviously “offended” female student asked me, “Where is the voice of women?” I retorted, “Where is it not?” And, “You ask the wrong question — where is the voice of TRUTH?” Followed by hostile silence. Truth was not familiar to to complainer. She only knew how to talk, talk, and talk.
Notice that the Neolithic image has no face and is therefore not an individual, but only a type. Notice that it is enveloped in the grossness of its own corporeality. Obesity seems to be one of the criteria for admission to my campus. The Prez of my campus has recently said in a radio interview that he or she has directed the administration to lower admissions-standards so as to recruit a nucleus of “students with drive.” The enrollment of my classes includes many undergraduates with “drive,” whatever that is, who refuse to read. A large number of students seem to have the “drive” to over-eat. As far as I can discern, weight-reduction-programs, although health-positive, have no place in the diversity-agenda.
“Drive.” Even in Freudian psychology, as crude as it is, The “drives” are relegated to baseness. The “drives” are what provoke the “discontented” to anti-civilizational rage when civilization, as it must, thwarts them. A recruitment-program that seeks to enlarge the nucleus of the discontented is an anti-civilizational agenda.
A conspicuously placed poster in the main corridor of the Campus Center appends numerous autographs around the crudely written slogan, “The Future Belongs to Women.” Not if they omit to liaise with men. And if I were twenty, with many I would not, under any circumstances, liaise. One liaises with women who exhibit spiritual acuity, moderation, and compliance with the structure of reality. I would not liaise, for example, with Occasional-Cortex. Or her peers. Or the obese Great Mother pictured above. So much for the human race. There were sexy girls in my youth, who could converse, or play the piano, or speak French, as opposed to talk, talk, and talk. Of course, one could speak French with them. And one could converse with them, rather than talk, talk and talk.
In 1974, Liz and I went to see an Italian-language film — it was Fellini’s Amarcord — in downtown San Diego, and afterwards, in a restaurant in Torry Pines, we exchanged intelligent conversation about what we had recently viewed. Liz, who could play Bach on the piano, was culturally acute and politically unbiased. We never spoke of politics. The film that we mutually appreciated would be banned under the contemporary regulations of witch-hunting political correctness. In it, men and women behaved like men and women.
I continue my “Anthropology of the Martian Romance.” The previous installment dealt with the seminal Martian Romance, A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs and its background in the studies of East Asian shamanic practices and later of the planet Mars undertaken in the early years of the Twentieth Century by Percival Lowell. In this second part of “Outward is Upward” I discuss a little-known but impressive addition to the Martian Romance, David Reed’s Empire of Jegga, and a late addition, Leigh Brackett’s Queen of the Martian Catacombs, later republished as The Black Amazon of Mars. While I confine myself to a sub-sub genre of science fiction, I believe that my interpretations are applicable to mid-Twentieth Century genre across the board. I take genre seriously. Genre offers, as I put it in Part I, “a colorful promise of redemption.”
II. Epistemological Displacement in Reed’s Empire of Jegga. Burroughs’ example, no less than his success, provoked many writers to imitate him. Knock-offs of A Princess quickly became legion. Burroughs even imitated himself, launching new series of books whose action takes place on the planet Venus, on the moon, in a vast cavern at the center of the Earth, or on an extra-solar planet away across the galaxy. In his Venus series, Burroughs might have been imitating one of his imitators, Otis Adelbert Kline (1891 – 1946), whose “Planet of Peril” trilogy, set on the next planet inward from Earth, saw serial publication in Argosy All-Story Weekly between 1929 and 1931. The first of Burroughs’ Venusian tales, Pirates of Venus, only appeared in 1932. Kline wrote his own Martian novels in the early 1930s. If Kline’s romances had come back into print after many decades, as they have, it would be a case of their riding on Burroughsian coat-tails. Kline’s prose is certainly entertaining, but it lacks the symbolic richness of Burroughs’ prose. Now imitation is not only flattery; it is also the index of a market. In its turn, a market is the index of a desire or need. The desire or need arises from the subject’s proprioception of alienation or maladjustment. In the case of maladjustment, however, the subject senses the condition not so much as his own but rather as a deforming affliction in the external social world. That deformation is modernity, which in rejecting Tradition drastically diminishes the opportunity of proper self-placement that the archaic rites of passage facilitate. The world of getting and spending obviously exerts on John Carter no attraction whatsoever, but Carter nevertheless seems incapable of bitterness. Stalwartness belongs to Carter’s Percival-like character. Nick Brewster, the protagonist of David V. Reed’s Empire of Jegga (Amazing Stories November 1943), presents himself at first, in contrast to Carter, as a materialist, even a hedonist, and womanizer. Not only in its protagonist, but in the fullness of its details, Reed (1924 – 1989) appears to have conceived Empire initially as an anti-Princess of Mars, but his story is nevertheless a version, or perhaps an inversion, of Burroughs’ saga about John Carter.