Please take a look at BLACK LEARNING MATTERS in InsideHigherEd for December 9, 2016 and post a cmment here on your reactions and ideas you have about steps that need to be taken in this area. Thanks! .
I thought Dick Rorty was one of the smartest of my colleagues at Princeton. Now he has proved it – from the grave. His 1998 book Achieving Our Country (Harvard University Press) has suddenly caught on, after Donald Trump and his pals fulfilled what Dick predicted:
“At that point, something will crack. The non-suburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for — someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. …
One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past 40 years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. … All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.”
I n the Times for November 21 Jennifer Senior tells the story of the reception of Rorty’s 1998 book, then and now. But, of course, Rorty’s predictions only came fully true because of our bizarre Electoral College system; it’s import to remember that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. Trump is a minority president much as he may hate the word.
But Rorty’s observations raise questions that start in the political realm and reach more deeply into our culture, not least What is a genuinely diverse education? That question surfaces now, not because of Trump’s contemptible rants, but because of the well-intentioned strategy adopted by Hillary Clinton.
Hillary, I am convinced, made a bad blunder in accepting the advice of those advisors who were sure that a coalition of women, African Americans, Hispanics and other “identity groups” could assure her election. Demography would triumph over Trump’s trumpeting of his devotion to the working class.
That strategy didn’t work - not because its emphasis on diversity was rejected by a bunch of bigoted rend-necks. It failed because its brand of diversity was not inclusive enough. It sent the message, implicitly and sometimes explicitly, that she did not really need, or especially want the support of white working class men. They got the message and so did many women of this class. Many of these men and women voted for Trump, others just stayed home and opened the door to Rorty’s strongman.
Hillary turned out to needed these votes; she needed more diversity, not less. That simple point, clear in the voting statistics, raises a wider cultural and educational question: how do we achieve a truly inclusive culture?
The answer will not come, I am sure, by rolling back the accomplishments of the past half century, nor by insisting that colleges and universities turn their bacs on affirmative action, or abandon their diverse course offerings that have been developed. Instead, we need to be sure every student, whatever sociological or demographic group he or she may fall into, experiences a genuinely diverse education, one that opens up the rich experience of cultures beyond the one with which they most readily identify. That would be a strategy of inclusive diversity. We need t in politics and in education. It’s a winner.
November 23rd, 2016
No matter what happens in tomorrow’s election, the United States is well on its way to becoming a plutocracy. One the one side a billionaire; on the other a candidate who has accepted huge honoraria from investment houses and banks, in this country and abroad. The roots of plutocracy go deep in America, but the movement toward plutocracy has rarely been so strong. That’s true in the two senses of the term. The Citizens United decision gives new, anonymous power to wealth in the electoral process. PACs in both political parties take full advantage of this ruling. Money flows and money speaks, but it also hides and obscures it influence.
But plutocracy flourishes in another, more insidious sense – as an idea, the unspoken assumption that wealth deserves respect, honor, influence and power. That’s deeply engrained in our culture, and it provides force and cover for the more strictly political sense of plutocracy.
Since ploutokratia ise a Greek word, I wanted to see what Greek political thinkers had to say about it. To the best of my knowledge, the word is used only once in classical Greek. Socrates used the word, according to Xenophon who presents him as discussing the difference between kingship (basileia) and despotism (tyrannis), then turning to aristocracy, contrasting it to plutocracy and democracy:
... where the officials are chosen among those who fulfil the requirements of the laws, the constitution is an aristocracy: where status (timemata) is the qualification for office, you have a plutocracy: where all are eligible, a democracy.
Xenophon Memorabilia 4.6.12 tr. Marchant, modified
So, in Socrates’ view it’s all about eligibility for office. That’s a very narrow understanding of plutocracy, but it’s more than one finds in Plato, Aristotle and other political philosophers or historians.
Why is plutocracy so rarely discussed in antiquity? A suggestion: plutocracy, of all the principal forms of governance is the queen of the masquerade ball. It’s a genius at disguising itself, making it appear as aristocracy in some settings, and as populism – demagogia – in others. It’s often hard to make out the plutocratic side of Greek politicians. They were loud-mouths (aazones) proclaiming their devotion to the ordinary citizen, yet making sure that a city’s policies never seriously challenged the structures that gave wealth its influence and prerogative. Cleon is the perfect, but not the only, ancient example. Trump has Greek forbearers.
Populism, along with nativism, racism and attacks on intellectuals and other “elitists,” are good disguises for plutocracy. Discussions of Athenian politics often described such tendencies as “radical” or “extreme” democracy. If something goes wrong, its easy then to blame “democracy,” rather than look under the surface at the power of wealth to get its way.
Students need to learn how to identify plutocracy and the fallacies behind its rhetorical appeal that is correct, liberal education has a new section in its job description= – unmasking plutocracy and challenging the ides that gives ii its appeal and power - -that wealth is a measure of personal worth and a mark of fitness to rule. Distance over soqce and time may help students and others put plutocratic tendencies in perspective. Where is Cleon when we need him?
A few days ago Michael Lurie sent me a link to an article demonstrating how rarely published scholarship gets read. Here is the link:
At first I dismissed the article as old hat. My hunch is that if scholars write about issues that genuinely concerned then, people will read what they have to say. But, if I could figure out how to get scholars to write about what they really care about, I would have done it years ago. All I can do now is try to figure out how to write that way myself. If I succeed, the headline will be OLD SCHOLAR LEARNS NEW TRICK!
But the issue is more complex than that. This morning I picked up the New York Times and read David Brooks’ op ed piece on Martin Buber: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/01/opinion/read-buber-not-the-polls.html?_r=0 . His essay made md wonder if the I-Thou relationship can apply to the past as well as to personal relationships in our lives. I recognize that scholarship often has to be an I-It relationship to the past? But must it always be that? Are there forms of engagement that, whether we recognize it or not, involve an I-Thou relationship to texts, works of art or cultural phenomena? We see that now and then, I think, in works where a scholars’ love of his or her subject matter shines through. We crave, I-Thou relationships, wherever we can find them, and, I suspect, will read whatever work emerges from such a tie.
WILLIAM G. BOWEN: A REMEBRANCE
It was in September 1956 or maybe 1957 on the shore of Lake Michigan that Bill Bowen and I first met. The Danforth Foundation had given us each a fellowship for graduate education and brought all the recipients to a camp for what turned out to be a hybrid of boot camp, religious revival, and academic conference. All I remember is that one crisp night I lay on a dune watching the most spectacular northern lights I have ever seen, before or since. I wonder now if Bill Bowen saw them too. I emailed him to ask him that qestion a few days ago. For the first time in my remembrance no answer came back. Bill died last night.
Bill and I both went to Princeton for graduate work, he in Economics, while I tried to master Greek. He was married to Mary Ellen; I lived in monastic splendor in the Graduate College. We saw each other once in a while, often enough for me to begin to grasp that I was getting to know someone who would do so much to strengthen American higher education –and transform Princeton along the way. Later, when I was a faculty member and he Provost and then President, I came to understand his secret – insistence on the absolutely highest level of academic excellence in every appointment and every decision he made. He did many other good things as well, of course, but that was the core of it, and the gold standard that let a small institution hold its own with the giants.
When Bill went on to head the Mellon Foundation and I was at the National Humanities Center, I saw him with some frequency, usually with my hat in hand, asking for his support. That Center might not exist today, at least not as a flourishing, independent institution, without that support and that of other leaders of the Mellon Foundation. Many institutions crucial to the humanities could tell a similar story – an economist made all the difference for us humanists.
Then came September 11, 2001. I wandered through the streets of New York, trying to find a hospital that would take my blood. None was needed. I found myself walking past the Mellon Foundation on 61st Street, went in, sat with Bill. Did I have a place to stay? “Yes, I can stay on at the Princeton Club.” Did I have diner plans? “I hadn’t even though about it.” He knew an Italian place nearby that might stay open. We met there that evening, staff and guests bonded together in the overwhelming grief
Later, looking back on that evening, I thought of another September night, one W. H. Auden wrote about:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.
And at the ending of his poem, September 1 1939, Auden wrote lines that come to mind now when I think of Bill:
Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.
October 21, 2016
Alexis de Tocqueville
The French traveler had foresight, a lot of it, and the current US election campaign demonstrates it. He is especially perceptive about the role of wealth in American society, and hence in politics.
Not convinced ? Listen to Ryan Balot and colleagues on the CBCs Ideas program:
There will be another installment this coming Friday, so stay tuned.
The assumption seems to rules in the US that Latin and Greek are not for people whose skins are not pale white. So it is worth looking at the situation in Barbados, to which Michael Fontaine has recently called my attention. One Latin lover from the island, Reudon Eversley, looks back on the role of Latin in his education and the consequences of removing it from the curriculum:
“The removal of Latin from the Barbadian school curriculum was an unwise and shortsighted policy decision which has deprived many Barbadians of a rich intellectual experience that would have positively impacted on their overall development. We are seeing the fall-out today in the appalling poverty which afflicts both the written and spoken word. “
Here’s the link to the full essay in Barbados Today:
CHOOSING A MAJOR: LET EVIDENCE HELP
The Aspen Institute in co-operation with The Atlantic has taken a hard look at the undergraduate major in Business. Their report, “Why America’s Business Majors Are in Desperate Need of a Liberal Arts Education” in the Atlantic for June 2016 should be required reading for every entering college student, and every high school student trying to figure out how to choose a college – also for every employer trying to develop an effective workforce. But that will not happen unless college faculty and administrators put a copy of the article in the hands of these groups.
Here’s what amazes me most about the lemming-rush to business majors. Running an effective organization, whether for-profit or not-for-profit, requires the use of evidence in making decisions. It is top priority in making decisions that effect the balance sheet, success, survival. So why is a similar insistence on evidence not present when decisions are being made about majoring in business?
Is the evidence so hard to find?
Some of the most telling evidence available can be found easily enough in a paper by Jeffrey Stedley and Michael Brady called “Majors Matter: Differential Performance ona test of general collegenoutcomes “. As Roger Benjamin has pointed out to me, this paper shows that “by the end of senior year in college, there are significant differences in student performance by major. Those studying the natural and social sciences, humanities, and languages scored the highest. Those majoring in business and education scored lowest. These differences persisted after controlling for various demographics ...”
Why would that be the case? The likely answer comes, I believe, when one looks at the expectations in different types of majors. Arts and science majors typically expect students will ask important questions and find arguments and evidence to answer them. They require a lot of writing, with (one hopes!) prompt and detailed critiques by a faculty member. Such majors often build up to a serious research project in the senior year. Those of us who have taught this way know how important such projects are in a truly robust education in college and for personal achievement and contributions to society after college. Others can catch on to the idea by reading Jim Grossman and Tony Grafton’s article “Habits of Mind: Why College Students Who Do Serious Historical Research Become Independent Analytical Thinkers“ in American Scholar 84.2 Winter 2015. They conclude: “When a student does research in this way . . . she’s doing what students of the humanities have always done: building a self and a soul and a mind that she can take with her wherever she goes, and that will make her an independent, analytical thinker and a reflective, self-critical person.”
But again, people who need this insight won’t get it, unless someone puts such articles in their hands. So, Aux armes, citoyens, or at least au Xerox.
Neville Morley has now found out more about the background to the comments on treason ascribed to Thucydides on the web – the ones I called attention to in the last posting on this blog. It turns out the alleged quotation is older than I thought.
Here is the link to his discussion: https://thesphinxblog.com/2016/08/16/let-traitors-and-pedantic-academics-sneer/
Talk of treason has proliferated of late and with it a new quotation from Thucydides. A Trump adviser is quoted as suggesting Hillary should be sent to the firing squad for her alleged treachery. In Greece Prime Minister Tsipras is under fire for betraying his country to the IMF and the Europeans.
Now the web is abuz with treason talk from Thucydides, including this passage (called to my attention and translated from the Modern Greek by W. Gary Pence):
“A traitor is not only one who reveals state secrets to the enemies, but also that person who, while holding public office, knowingly fails to take the necessary measures for the improvement of the standard of living for the people over whom he governs,”
It is an obvious fake, and joins others pseudo-Thucydides, such as the whopper pointed out some years ago by Neville Morley in an article called “Thucydides Quote Unquote” in Arion 20.3. That fabrication reached the highest levels of policy formulation in Washington. This one looks more like a left-wing attack on Prime Minister Tsipras of Greece. To me, however, the interesting question is why people fabricate such “quotations” and ascribe them to Thucydides – or even more often to Winston Churchill or Mark Twain, as Mark Peters points out in “”(Mis)quotable Quotes” in the Boston Globe of August 14, 2014. We can even speak of quotation magnetism, that is, the tendency of false quotations to be ascribed to certain individuals. The ability to turn a telling phrase may account for such magnetism in Churchill or Twain, but not, I think, in Thucydides. But he brings, even at this remove, an unparalleled authority as someone who studied affairs in depth and told the uncompromised truth.
Fabrication is, perhaps then, the sincerest form of authority, but to me, the new “quotation” has a greasy feel to it, quite unlike the sandpaper grittiness of Thucydides himself. The greasiness I feel is a cowardly compound, formulated to get someone else to fight the fabricator’s battle. It’s a dirty trick that tries at the same time to inflict damage and to preserve the fabricator’s feeling of being above the fray, on the Thucydidean high ground, clean and pure. Cleanliness, in this case, is next to greasiness.