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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A Skillful Liar

My son sent me an interesting piece from Chronicle of Higher Education about what a modern scholar thinks the university should be. 
The author of that Chronicle piece is a liar.

First, he fails the very first test of a true humanities scholar: he refuses to define his terms. When faced with the problem of defining what constitutes humanities, his response is, "We know it when we see it." That is a lie.

Take Shakespeare, for instance. He is the cornerstone of English literature, yet it is possible to get advanced degrees in many places without ever taking a course on Shakespeare.
Conservatives want the humanities, but they define the humanities as including the Great Books, among which Shakespeare is extremely prominent. Liberals (who control the actual delivery of humanities course content at universities), refuse to build their "humanities" program around the literature of dead white European males. They instead think the cornerstone of the humanities is identity politics, and they build their courses accordingly.

So, the author wants to pretend there is some kind of paradox between conservatives espousing the humanities and those same conservatives refusing to fund it. However, once you realize the problem that the author refuses to engage, to wit, there is a huge disagreement about what the humanities really are, then you realize there is no paradox at all. Conservatives don't view university liberal humanities courses as actually having anything to do with the humanities, therefore they refuse to fund the farce.

The author's matching paradox, the idea that liberals defend the humanities, but have gutted it of Western European values, is also not a paradox once you realize how the left defines "humanities." From their point of view, they are cleansing the humanities of bias and taint, not gutting them
And liberals have successfully redefined the humanities into their own image simply because they do control the course content. Of course, by redefining the humanities, they've destroyed any reason there might have been for taking any courses. After all, if humanities is merely identity politics, I don't need to pay $40,000 a year to have a university professor tell me who I am. I can simply look in the mirror. My own life experience is worth much more than any dead white European male's introspections. I don't need to go to university to know what my own life experience is. So, the liberal definition is self-destructive. If the liberals are correct, if the humanities really are nothing but identity politics, then the humanities courses have no reason to exist.

But the author can ignore this entire problem and construct fake paradoxes if he doesn't engage the definition. And he KNOWS this, so he deliberately doesn't engage the definition.

Second, this allows him to make absolutely absurd remarks like this, "A school — be it a Gymnasium, a Realschule, a lycée, a grammar school, or a public school — exists to teach. The university is a different kind of thing. It was founded as a corporation or union of masters, both to allay the pernicious effects of competition for students and to exercise some sort of quality control on the doctrine propounded. "

This is simply incorrect. In the original university setting, the students hired the professor directly. Students pooled their money to bring someone in to teach them. If the professor turned out to be a bust, the students fired him and hired someone else. The "union of masters" came into existence to prevent this. Everyone in the union agreed to work only for a contract that the students couldn't break. This mean professors didn't have to worry about being fired because they stunk.That's where the tradition of "tenure" arose. The "pernicious effects" and "quality control" nonsense ("We're here to help YOU!") was all introduced as an excuse to the rubes, that reasoning was used to hide the fact  the professors had gotten together to protect their rice bowls, their income.

He kind of even admits that this was the situation when he says, " Indeed, some universities, like Cambridge, supported a vast ecosystem of teachers who played a vital role in the actual education of students (for pay), but who had no formal connection to the university itself." Yeah, no kidding.
Third. But this yahoo doesn't stop there. He then simply makes up nonsense out of whole cloth about the university curriculum. Part of "travers[ing] the arts curriculum" was always education in Catholic theology. Is the author advocating that? If not, why not? He wants the arts, he should have ALL the arts, right?
Again, he half-way admits this when he says, "Alongside the arts were the three highers — theology, law, and medicine." But he couldn't bear to admit this without deliberately lying again. After all, since theology, law and medicine are HIGHER arts, then the other seven (the trivium and quadrivium) sat BELOW the three major arts and drew their authority from them. 
And, actually, medicine was an also-ran. The original reason for the universities were theology (making God's ways known to man) and law (making man's ways in accordance with God's ways). Medicine was added later. Theology and law were NOT "alongside." Theology and law were central.  The trivium and quadrivium were not alongside, they were BELOW and DERIVATIVE.

This allows him to tell the biggest lie, "The reality is that the humanities have always been about courtoisie, a constellation of interests, tastes, and prejudices that marks one as a member of a particular class." Which is a careful half-truth. The humanities have always been about being CATHOLIC, being universal, having a universal palate, able to absorb all the things of men, weigh all the things of men, because all of mankind is called to Christ.

Compare the universal call to holiness to the modern "humanities" of identity politics. The modern humanities is not about binding everything back together again to make one harmonious whole, it is not about universality or university, it is instead about identity politics and fragmentation.
Again, the author pretty much admits this when he explicitly SAYS that the humanities are about fragmentation, not universality, "Deep down, what most humanists value about the humanities is that they offer participation in a community in which they can share similar tastes in reading, art, food, travel, music, media, and yes, politics" The emphasis here is on the "similar tastes." All the blacks sit at this table, all the Mexicans at that one, the whites can go sit by the kitchen, and keep the Asians near the door, because they should really just leave. The modern humanities don't want similar tastes, but similar distastes - hate the white guy, hate the Asian, hate the "privileged", hate the hetero.
The author is a liar, but a skillful one.

I can only wonder if he is a true believer in his own lies.

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