Bonfire of the Humanities

We sporadically talk a good bit about education here. It’s important, we care, and all, but it’s also a supremely frustrating area, although I’m convinced that going back to the basics would be a start. But that also begs a question, which set of basics? The trivium from the middle ages? the MacGuffey Reader from our history?, the “See Spot run” books that I grew up with? something else? Does it matter? I don’t completely know. I think a lot is probably inherited or absorbed very young. Reading to your kids undoubtedly helps for literature, but I had an

I think a lot is probably inherited or absorbed very young. Reading to your kids undoubtedly helps for literature, but I had an inbuilt drive to do things with my hands, and Tonka trucks are very educational, but I also had a built in sense of scale, a 1/64 Ertl tractor just wouldn’t work with the big 1/16 ones. Others, I noted, even then, didn’t have this. Why? I have no idea, but to this day, it’s something that bugs me.

Basic physics seems inbuilt as well. I can look at things and roughly compute the forces required to do thus and so. But maybe this is just all growing up when and where I did, with my parents. Hard to say, isn’t it? But how do we (or should we) pass along this sort of knowledge.

In any case, I’m pretty sure this method won’t work. Ryan Hammill wrote for The Federalist yesterday about a Harvard Professor and his asinine letter to The Wall Street Journal.

Anybody wondering how the study of the humanities arrived at its current, depressing state need only read the words of its practitioners. In a recent letter to The Wall Street Journal, James Simpson, the chair of Harvard’s Department of English, unveils the supreme and lamentable logic that now governs the field.

Simpson writes in response to a March 31 op-ed from Heather Mac Donald, wherein Mac Donald discussed the new “marginalization requirement” in Harvard’s English department. All English majors must now take a course covering authors “marginalized for historical reasons.” Mac Donald posed the question (the title of her piece), “Does Harvard consider Oscar Wilde ‘marginalized’?”

After all, she says, “‘Heteronormativity’ may have made his [Wilde’s] final years miserable, but it had no effect on the boundless success of his plays.” Mac Donald, God bless her, rehearses many of the familiar arguments against classroom identity politics: it gives students yet another excuse to ignore classics of which they are already ignorant; given their historically disproportionate access to education, it’s only common sense that “Dead, White Males” predominate; and race or sex of the author ought not to count for or against a truly sublime piece of literature.

If You Really Believe This, Act On It

These are good and familiar arguments, and they should continue to be made. But Simpson’s letter in reply on April 8 makes the exchange particularly edifying for readers concerned for the classics. Simpson tries to play the middle-of-the-road civility card. He calls Mac Donald’s op-ed “intelligent” but “mean-minded.” At first, he seems to concede: “Nothing could be more depressing than to see a literature curriculum determined by identity politics with dutiful representation from the required range of underrepresented groups.”

While the thought displeases me, I could find a few more depressing things. In fact, so can Simpson! “Nothing, that is, except a literature curriculum that betrayed the fundamental function of literature and other art forms, which is to hear the voices repressed by official forms of a given culture.” I find this claim nearly as depressing as Simpson claims the hypothetical literature curriculum depresses him.

With this sentence, Simpson supplies the asinine creed for the modern study of the humanities. The purpose of art, he says, is to “hear the voices repressed by official forms of a given culture.” That’s not a side benefit. It’s not an occasional consequence of studying art. It’s the whole point.

Do read it all, it’s excellent.

But the main thrust is, and it’s accurate, is that this fool of a professor, and many like him, has politicized everything. To some point that’s always true, reading about the Spartans at Thermopylae is unlikely to make one revere physical cowards. But a lot of literature is read, not because of political purpose, but for many other reasons, amongst them the sheer beauty of the language.

It’s rather sad to see people killing the goose that lays their own golden eggs, isn’t it? (And yes, that too is a literary allusion!) But it wouldn’t matter all that much if he wasn’t also damaging our society, perhaps beyond repair.

Blood and Earth

Steve Berman wrote an article for yesterday’s Resurgent. I think he makes quite a valid point. Here’s some of what he said:

[…] Europeans are very much into discussing Trump, and generally trolling any American who doesn’t display sufficient venom and hatred of him. I’ve been criticized by American liberals in the same way, and of course by Trump Kool-Aid drinkers who think I must have carried a Hillary sign because I recognized the factual negatives of a Trump presidency.

But, short of a nuclear war, which is only barely more perceptible inside the realm of fathomability, Trump represents little more than a blip on the slope produced by the American political equation. But someone like Marine Le Pen represents a much greater threat to Europe than Trump does to America.

It’s not just Le Pen. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, leader of the Syriza (officially “Coalition of the Radical Left”) party; Dutch nationalist Geert Wilders, whose PVV party controls 13 percent of the Dutch House of Representatives and 12 percent of the Dutch Senate;  Turkish President-cum-dictator Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Britain’s Brexit vote all represent a swing toward European nationalism. […]

In social liberalism, all the EU nations (Turkey having stalled their joining) share the same cultural liberalism and moral relativism. The term “conservative” in Europe has quite a different meaning than it does in America.

What we’re seeing in Europe is actually dangerous. I’m no fan of one-world government globalism, or some utopian panacea to produce Liberté, Equalité, Fraternité forever. But forgive me for pointing out that Europeans, untethered from the requirements of entwined interests, tend to pursue extremely self-interested courses, regardless of the political philosophy or structure of state government applied to each nation.

In other words, Napoleon, Mussolini, Kaiser Wilhelm, Tsar Nicholas II, Stalin, and Hitler were all woven from the same loom, if not cut from the same cloth. Nationalism, socialism, national socialism, communism, monarchy, or the Jacobins–take your pick. They all inexorably fell to the same result: war, death, conquest, and the conquered.

He’s got a pretty good point here. If I was a Frenchman, I would vote for Le Pen, because as I said on another site yesterday, policies don’t matter all that much when survival is at stake, and I think that is where France is.

You all know that I detest the EU, to my eyes it’s little more than a German Zollverein, a customs union, tending toward Das Vierte Reich, but that’s my view.

But the EU program got underway initially to curb European nationalism. That nationalism has often been toxic as well. It’s often called ‘blood and soil nationalism’. And it has a nasty habit of getting completely out of hand. Frankly, in some ways, Le Pen doesn’t sound all that different from Mussolini and bears watching. But the EU has gone bad and needs destroying before it destroys the West.

One place where I disagree with Steve is where he lumps the UK in with Europe. To me, that just doesn’t hold up. From what I’ve seen of Britain, although that Gott mit uns (like the Kaiser’s) sort of patriotism does exist, as it does in the US, theirs is more like ours, holding their ideals aloft, rather than their land and blood.

And that is the difference with America, our patriotism, while very pronounced, isn’t about the land, or the people. It’s about the idea, often expressed as ‘The City on the Hill’. Traditionally, we go out into the world to fight evil, hoping we are on the Lord’s side, not claiming he is on ours. Therefore, it is not really dangerous in geopolitical terms, if people stay in their own country and leave their neighbors alone, they have little to fear from the US.


A couple shorts:

It was reported that several ISIS fighters, in Iraq (I think) were killed by feral boars. Well, if you ever hunted feral boars, it’s not hard to believe. I mention it mostly because Ace won the day with his phrase, “They got attacked by ‘armored bacon’. That is a most felicitous phrase.

Also, Nordstroms, who are again quietly carrying Ivanka Trump’s designs have also unveiled a pair of jeans (for $425.00) that have been presoiled with fake dirt.

That man wins one internet! Mike Rowe wasn’t impressed, either.

 

A POLITICALLY CORRECT DEATH

A really good one, from Bill Whittle.

Finally, I’m seeing light at the end of the tunnel, of course, it could still be a train.

Dana Loesch Takes Aim, Ralph, and Sumdood

Make popcorn, make a lot of popcorn, because the United States’ largest and most effective civil rights group, the NRA has decided to take on that gray purveyor of fake news, the New York Times.

How refreshing!

Then there’s Ralph. One of the blogs I enjoy most is The Adaptive Curmudgeon, perhaps because we are brothers from another mother or something, because he so often corrals what I’m thinking, often better than I do. Such it is with Ralph.

[…] There’s a significant portion of the populace that gets frustrated when President Trump’s (he won folks!) ideas are fed into the bureaucracy and emerge with a treatment somewhere along a spectrum from ignored, through mangled, and into misdirected. There’s another portion that thinks “thank God the system is correcting against lunacy” and applaud a spectrum from moderate, through adapt, and into mitigate. Same actions, different point of view. People’s opinions invert with laser-like speed whenever a new party takes the reins. That’s your big tell. It’s not fully real.

Never forget; one man’s “gridlock” is another man’s “cautious and measured approach”. Furthermore “bipartisan” can mean a “widely agreed upon common sense solution” or it can mean “a stampede of lemmings”. Sometimes it means “witch hunt”. Same activity, different point of view.

This all leads to my reaction to dark utterances about the nefarious “shadow government” or “deep state”. There’s less than meets the eye. If you’re worried about that particular evil, let it go.

Yes, of course, there’s internal resistance to a new president. People don’t like change. I get it. I’m still pissed about automatic transmissions and fuel injected engines. Change is hard. […]

Keep going, this is some of the best stuff, I’ve read in years. How do I know? When the story of a fictional bureaucrat inspires comments that range from Hannah Arendt on Himmler, to Chesterton speaking as the devil, the movie Brazil, read this, and I mean the whole thing well your education is not complete until you have, hit the tip jar too, eloquence should be rewarded. And that brings us to the final thing mentioned in that article, the legend of Sumdood. You really shouldn’t go through life ignorant of one of the largest of American legends.

“So what happened, man?” I ask the guy as I shine a penlight into his eyes, checking his pupillary responses.

“Got hit,” mumbles the guy, stating the obvious. With one hand, he’s holding the absorbent gauze pad I’ve given him against the big laceration on the side of his head, as he absentmindedly tugs his shorts up with the other. Not too far up, mind you – just enough to perch precariously on his ass cheeks and still leave about four inches of boxers showing. Scalp wound and abrasions be damned, he has street fashion to consider.

“I meant, what happened exactly,” I explain patiently, suppressing the urge to roll my eyes. I palpate the back of his neck. “What did they hit you with, and did you get knocked out?”

“Hell no!” he blurts indignantly, pulling away. He starts getting wound up, because now he has a story to tell. He gestures animatedly to the porch behind him, and to his buddies currently being interviewed by the police. There is a small crowd gathered on the street. “See, I was just sittin‘ here, kickin‘ it with my peeps, noamsayne? Mindin‘ my own, noamsayne? And then…”

No doubt there were seven of them, far too many for you and your homies to defeat in a stand-up, fair fight.

“Then, dude just drops the brick and runs off!”

Whoa, just one guy! He must have been a baaaaaaaad ass…

“Did you get a look at this guy?” I ask. “Would you recognize him again?” Immediately, his eyes turn shifty and evasive.

“Nah man, I ain’t ever seen dude before,” he lies. “He just some dude.”

Sumdood?” I ask with sharpened interest. “You say Sumdood jumped you?”

He’s close, I can feel it. I knew it when the hairs stood up on the back of my neck when I got out of the rig. Evil lurks nearby.

“Yeah man,” the guy confirms. “Some dude.”

“There he is, over there!” the guy’s girlfriend says helpfully, pointing toward the crowd, “just standin‘ over there like he ain’t did nuthin‘!”

Shhh, don’t point at him!” I hiss, pulling her arm down. “Just be cool, a’ight?”

Aww girl, that ain’t him,” the guy says, feigning disgust. “Siddown and shut yo mouf.” […]

Take the time, read those links, you need this information.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali on Political Islam

You should all know who Ayaan Hirsi Ali is.  This is an excerpt of an excerpt of her “The Challenge of Dawa: Political Islam as Ideology and Movement and How to Counter It,” published by the Hoover Administration. The opening paragraph tells you how it got here, and how to find the whole document which we all should. From The Federalist.

The following is an excerpt of the Hoover Institution publication “The Challenge of Dawa: Political Islam as Ideology and Movement and How to Counter It,” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. You may read the full report here. ​ This excerpt was originally published in Defining Ideas. ​Copyright © 2017 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University.

It is refreshing and heartening that President Trump acknowledges the need for an ideological campaign against “radical Islam.” This deserves to be called a paradigm shift.

President Bush often referred to a “war on terror,” but terror is a tactic that can be used for a variety of ideological objectives. President Obama stated that he was opposed to “violent extremism” and even organized an international summit around this subject. Yet at times he made it seem as if he worried more about “Islamophobia” than about radical Islam.

In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in 2012, Obama declared: “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.” In what follows, however, I shall refer to “political Islam” rather than radical Islam.

Political Islam is not just a religion as most Western citizens recognize the term “religion,” a faith; it is also a political ideology, a legal order, and in many ways also a military doctrine associated with the campaigns of the Prophet Muhammad. Political Islam rejects any kind of distinction between religion and politics, mosque and state. Political Islam even rejects the modern state in favor of a caliphate. My central argument is that political Islam implies a constitutional order fundamentally incompatible with the U.S. Constitution and with the “constitution of liberty” that is the foundation of the American way of life.

Yes, Islamists Have Everything to Do with Islam

There is no point in denying that political Islam as an ideology has its foundation in Islamic doctrine. However, “Islam,” “Islamism,” and “Muslims” are distinct concepts. Not all Muslims are Islamists, let alone violent, but all Islamists—including those who use violence—are Muslims. I believe the religion of Islam itself is indeed capable of reformation, if only to distinguish it more clearly from the political ideology of Islamism. But that task of reform can only be carried out by Muslims.

Insisting that radical Islamists have “nothing to do with Islam” has led U.S. policy makers to commit numerous strategic errors since 9/11. One is to distinguish between a “tiny” group of extremists and an “overwhelming” majority of “moderate” Muslims. I prefer to differentiate among Medina Muslims, who embrace the militant political ideology adopted by Muhammad in Medina; Mecca Muslims, who prefer the religion originally promoted by Muhammad in Mecca; and reformers, who are open to some kind of Muslim Reformation.

These distinctions have their origins in history. The formative period of Islam can be divided roughly into two phases: the spiritual phase, associated with Mecca, and the political phase that followed Muhammad’s move to Medina. There is a substantial difference between Qur’anic verses revealed in Mecca (largely spiritual in nature) and Qur’anic verses revealed in Medina (more political and even militaristic). There is also a difference in the behavior of the Prophet Muhammad: in Mecca, he was a spiritual preacher, but in Medina he became a political and military figure.

It cannot be said often enough that the United States is not at war with Islam or with Muslims. It is, however, bound to resist the political aspirations of Medina Muslims where those pose a direct threat to our civil and political liberties. It is also bound to ensure that Mecca Muslims and reforming Muslims enjoy the same protections as members of other religious communities who accept the fundamental principles of a free society. That includes protection from the tactics of intimidation that are so central to the ideology and practice of political Islam.

Background on Today’s State of Affairs

The conflict between the United States and political Islam in modern times dates back to at least 1979, when the U.S. embassy in Tehran was seized by Islamic revolutionaries and 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. In the decades that followed, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania reminded Americans of the threat posed by political Islam.

But it was not until the 9/11 attacks that political Islam as an ideology attracted sustained public attention. The September 11, 2001, attacks were inspired by a political ideology that has its foundation in Islam, specifically its formative period in Medina.

Since 9/11, at least $1.7 trillion has been spent on combat and reconstruction costs in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The total budgetary cost of the wars and homeland security from 2001 through 2016 is more than $3.6 trillion. Yet in spite of the sacrifices of more than 5,000 armed service personnel who have lost their lives since 9/11 and the tens of thousands of American soldiers who have been wounded, today political Islam is on the rise around the world.

Violence is the most obvious—but not the only—manifestation of this trend. Jihadist groups have proliferated all over the Middle East and North Africa, especially where states are weak and civil wars rage (Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and Syria, not forgetting northern Nigeria). Islam-inspired terrorists also have a global reach. France is in a permanent state of emergency, while the United States has been profoundly shaken by terror attacks in Boston (the Marathon bombers); Fort Hood, Texas; San Bernardino, California; Orlando, Florida; and Ohio State University, to name but a few.

Of the last 16 years, the worst year for terrorism was 2014, with 93 countries experiencing attacks and 32,765 people killed. The second worst was 2015, with 29,376 deaths. Last year, four radical Islamic groups were responsible for 74 percent of all deaths from terrorism: the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), Boko Haram, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda. Although the Muslim world itself bears the heaviest burden of jihadist violence, the West is increasingly under attack.

How large is the jihadist movement in the world? In Pakistan alone, where the population is almost entirely Muslim, 13 percent of Muslims surveyed—more than 20 million people—said that bombings and other forms of violence against civilian targets are often or sometimes justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies.

Disturbingly, the number of Western-born Muslim jihadists is sharply increasing. The United Nations estimated in November 2014 that some 15,000 foreign fighters from at least 80 nations have traveled to Syria to join the radical jihadists. Roughly a quarter of them come from Western Europe.

Yet the advance of political Islam manifests itself not only in acts of violence. Even as billions are spent on military intervention and drone strikes, the ideological infrastructure of political Islam in the United States continues to grow because officials are concerned only with criminal conspiracies to commit acts of violence, not with the ideology that inspires such acts.

According to one estimate, 10−15 percent of the world’s Muslims are Islamists. Out of well more than 1.6 billion, or 23 percent of the globe’s population, that implies more than 160 million individuals. Based on survey data on attitudes toward sharia in Muslim countries, total support for Islamist activities in the world is likely significantly higher than that estimate.

What Scholarship on Political Islam Says

There are two sets of academic literature aimed at helping policy makers grapple with the threat of radical Islam. In the first set, Islamic religious ideas form a marginal factor at best. Authors such as John Esposito, Marc Sageman, Hatem Bazian, and Karen Armstrong argue that a combination of variables such as poverty and corrupt political governance lies at the root of Islamic violence. They urge the U.S. government and its allies to tackle these “root causes.”

For these authors, devoting attention to religious motives is at best irrelevant, and at worst a harmful distraction. They are not concerned about political Islam as an ideology, only about individual acts of violence committed in its name.

A second set of scholars—which is growing in importance—sees a radical ideology derived from Islamic theology, principles, and concepts as the driving force of our current predicament. Scholars such as Michael Cook, Daniel Pipes, Jeffrey Bale, and David Cook, and authors such as Paul Berman and Graeme Wood, acknowledge that factors such as poverty and bad governance are relevant, but argue that U.S. policy makers should take seriously the religious ideology that underlies Islamist violence.

Via Political Islam Is Today’s Anti-American ‘Long March Through The Institutions’

Rather superfluous for me to comment much here, she is both a very brave woman, and a recognized expert on reforming Islam. Read the links and decide for yourself.

 

The Centre Cannot Hold; but All Shall be Well

Turning and turning in the widening gyre 
The falcon cannot hear the falconer; 
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; 
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, 
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere 
The ceremony of innocence is drowned; 
The best lack all conviction, while the worst 
Are full of passionate intensity. 

Surely some revelation is at hand; 
Surely the Second Coming is at hand. 
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out 
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi 
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert 
A shape with lion body and the head of a man, 
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, 
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it 
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds. 
The darkness drops again; but now I know 
That twenty centuries of stony sleep 
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, 
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, 
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? 

That bit of Yeats pretty well sums up my feelings this morning, both as to where our 
countries are going and my personal life as well, which perhaps means I take current events 
too seriously. But I detect that same near despair in many of my friends. Many of them 
continue to fight and speak for the right, often getting at best, no response, and often a 
kick in the teeth for their trouble. Still, it’s what one does, if one has our temperament.

Is it possible to win this war against the allies of liberal progressive ( I struck that out 
because there is nothing liberal about them), the so-called media, and Islam (or Islamic 
terrorism, if you prefer)?

Sure it is possible, but it is about as likely as that the British Empire would hold on 
between Dunkirk and Pearl Harbor. In other words, yes, it's posssible, if we act with 
determination and steadfast will. Is it likely? 

I have no clue. But I notice that as I go on, my spirits begin to flag, as they do in 
others. Not all, of course, and for me, it is a lessening of intensity, a spiritual 
tiredness, and others keep me on track, as I hope I too do others. 

But it is going to be long war. But I do believe in the long run it is our war to win 
or lose. 
And perhaps Elliot is the truer poet. One prays so.

 If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from,
If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.
It would be the same at the end of the journey,
If you came at night like a broken king,
If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
It would be the same, when you leave the rough road
And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade
And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment. There are other places
Which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws,
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city—
But this is the nearest, in place and time,
Now and in England.

 If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

As Mother Julian reminds us -

“In my folly, before this time I often wondered why, by the great foreseeing wisdom of God, 
the onset of sin was not prevented: for then, I thought, all should have been well. 
This impulse [of thought] was much to be avoided, but nevertheless I mourned and sorrowed 
because of it, without reason and discretion.

“But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these 
words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all 
shall be well,and all manner of thing shall be well.'
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