Thursday, November 24, 2016

"Basket Cases of Ingratitude"

To celebrate today’s holiday Rachel DiCarlo Currie of the Independent Women’s Forum brings us a transcript of some remarks that William F. Buckley made about gratitude in 1988.

Buckley explains that we, American citizens, owe our forebears a debt of gratitude.  They have bequeathed us a great nation. And they have also bequeathed us a great civilization. Buckley adds that we can never repay the debt.

And yet, he intimates that we are stewards of the gifts that we have received from previous generations, so the best we can do is to cultivate them and pass them on to the next generations.

Buckley begins with some thoughts about our patrimony. Those who do not appreciate what our ancestors have given us form what he calls “basket cases of ingratitude:”

Our offense, however — the near universal offense, remarked on by the Ortega y Gasset as the fingerprint of the masses in revolt — is that of the Westerner, rich or poor, learned or ignorant, who accepts without any thought the patrimony we all enjoy, those of us who live in the Free World. We are left with the numbing, benumbing thought that we owe nothing to Plato and Aristotle, nothing to the prophets who wrote the Bible, nothing to the generations who fought for freedoms activated by the Bill of Rights. We are basket cases of ingratitude, so many of us. We cannot hope to repay in kind what Socrates gave us, but to live without any sense of obligation to those who made possible lives as tolerable as ours, within the frame of the human predicament God imposed on us — without any sense of gratitude to our parents, who suffered to raise us; to our teachers, who labored to teach us; to the scientists, who prolonged the lives of our children when disease struck them down — is spiritually atrophying.

Buckley then calls for a “rebirth of gratitude,” a new appreciation of the achievements of those who came before us. It might even include a reflection on what our lives would be like if we had been born at another time in another place:

To fail to experience gratitude when walking through the corridors of the Metropolitan Museum, when listening to the music of Bach or Beethoven, when exercising our freedom to speak ... is to fail to recognize how much we have received from the great wellsprings of human talent and concern that gave us Shakespeare, Abraham, Lincoln, Mark Twain, our parents, our friends, and, yes, the old lady in Stratford. We need a rebirth of gratitude for those who have cared for us, living and, mostly, dead. The high moments of our way of life are their gifts to us. We must remember them in our thoughts and prayers; and in our deeds.

Speaking of “basket cases of ingratitude” yesterday brought us news of Yale undergraduate English majors who wrote an open letter to their department demanding that the curriculum stop teaching so many straight white males. You know, like Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, George Eliot,  Dickens and Henry James.

The students wrote a manifesto:

We oppose the continued existence of the Major English Poets sequence as the primary prerequisite for further study. It is unacceptable that a Yale student considering studying English literature might read only white male authors. A year spent around a seminar table where the literary contributions of women, people of color, and queer folk are absent actively harms all students, regardless of their identity.

To have the opportunity to study the great writers of the English literature at a place like Yale and then to complain because there is not enough diversity tells us that these young people lack character. At the least.

One hesitates even to address their puerile rantings, but one must mention that every serious English literature curriculum includes Jane Austen, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf. And how could these idiots have forgotten that Henry James was gay and that Shakespeare wrote his sonnets for a male lover.

Apparently, they have learned nothing at Yale… except how to whine and complain. And they do not care that they have learned nothing about English literature. They refuse to take the opportunity to learn about how to communicate, how to use language or how to tell stories. Explain to me how they got into Yale. Explain to them that these puerile rants devalue the degree that they are pursuing.

As one might expect, being adolescents they are insolent. They end their letter with these words:

It is your responsibility as educators to listen to student voices. We have spoken. We are speaking. Pay attention.

These delicate snowflakes have closed their minds to anything that does not echo their beliefs. They reject the greatest achievements of English literature because they do not want to see themselves as loyal Americans or as recipients of what their ancestors have created. They do not want to see themselves as part of the Anglosphere—which they believe to be a hegemonic, colonialist, imperialist, capitalist vast right wing conspiracy.

They insist, instead, on living in an echo chamber where they only hear things that sustain their own identities as members of an aggrieved group.It's a form of tribalism, verging on pagan idolatry.

They refuse to learn and might be incapable of learning. They are only willing to be coddled and to have their ignorance recognized as an achievement.

Katy Waldman took out after these youngsters in Slate:

For all the ways in which their particular identities shaped their work, these writers tried to represent the entire human condition, not just their clan. A great artist possesses both empathy and imagination: Many of Shakespeare’s female characters are as complexly nuanced as any in circulation today, Othello takes on racial prejudice directly, and Twelfth Night contains enough gender-bending identity shenanigans to fuel multiple drag shows and occupy legions of queer scholars. The “stay in your lane” mentality that seems to undergird so much progressive discourse—only polyamorous green people really “get” the “polyamorous green experience,” and therefore only polyamorous greens should read and write about polyamorous greens, say—ignores our common humanity.    

Buckley would want us to add a slight correction to Waldman’s fine argument. It’s not so much humanity as our civilization itself that is being ignored and repudiated. Basket cases of ingratitude… is a nice way to put it.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Trigger Warning said...

Thought for the day:

What if all you had today was what you remembered to thank God for yesterday?
--- My Wife

Anonymous said...

If they hate Eurocentrism and Anglocentrism, why are they taking ENGLISH LITERATURE courses?

Why not study Urdu or Swahili and study their works instead?

Anonymous said...

SLATE and other such web-zines promoted radical identity politics for a long time.

They have no right to complain.

AesopFan said...

Anonymous said...
If they hate Eurocentrism and Anglocentrism, why are they taking ENGLISH LITERATURE courses?

Why not study Urdu or Swahili and study their works instead?

November 24, 2016 at 9:39 AM

The agenda is not about the curriculum; it is about power.

* * *
"One hesitates even to address their puerile rantings, but one must mention that every serious English literature curriculum includes Jane Austen, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf. And how could these idiots have forgotten that Henry James was gay and that Shakespeare wrote his sonnets for a male lover."
For the further benefit of the Yalees, George Eliot was biologically female, back when transgenderism was only a quaint eccentricity rather than an excuse to burn down offending bathrooms.

Whereas I might be excused for my ignorance regarding James and Shakespeare, who had not been "outed" when I took English Lit decades ago, the only legitimate reason for removing James from the list is his insufferable classism and stultifyingly boring prose.

Ares Olympus said...

Gratitude is a vital quality for life satifaction. I have wondered at time, when I've seen someone who seems to complain excessively, while their personal plight might be considered mild compared to many others, whether gratitude would help them.

Myself, I hope I've been sufficiently grateful, but when I've asked myself, I've seen guilt tag along, sort of like when your mother mentioned starving Chinese children as a reason you should really eat those mushy peas. Do we really need to be grateful for canned peas? But yes, even peas.

And wider, when I've asked myself if I'm worthy of what I've received, and of course the answer has to be no. Surely no one can be worthy of all the gifts they've received in 20 some years of growing up and all the dozens and even hundred of adults who made a mark on each of us as we grew, and then the entire modern culture of millions and billions of people, with modern technology that allows many of us to have more power at our finger tips than kings just a century ago. How does any person handle such power responsibly, and not take it all for granted?

But back to guilt, perhaps we do need to consider that further. Obviously gratitude alone isn't sufficient to convince us all to help continue this grand experiment called civilization, at least in a world of 7 billion people, it does seem like we've taken our religious charge to "be fruitful and multiply" and now many of us do not have a moral mandate to reproduce, and perhaps there are other mandates we've neglected, ones that see stewardship on the earth is more than just exponential growth, and slowly choking out all life that gets in our way, or isn't useful to us, and its hard to see how it all ends.

I appreciate E.F. Schumacher's perspective, that says humanity hasn't yet solved the problem of production, and that we've instead simply learned to reduce everything in nature into fundamental components, so now farming is reduced to fossil fuels and chemical fertilizers, and we can grow all the food we need, and transport it across the whole world. But because of our cheap fossil fuels, we've become dependent upon them, and no longer know how to feed ourselves without them. And if you're include to believe in the greenhouse effect, accumulated atmospheric CO2 may heat up our world beyond what can sustain 7 billion people, so that's a scary unknown. And now we have a president who wants to expand coal production and mountain top removal, so we can keep the game going at least one more generation, but still there has to be an end here. One-time inheritances don't come back when you burn them.

So where should young people's gratitude be held, in all the unearned material abundance they've been given for a few generations, or in a natural world that has sustained life on earth for millions of years? Where should their loyalty lie? And that's where guilt comes back - what if Today's youth are fearful that the world given to them is only an illusion of stealing millions of years of solar energy in a few decades?

Should they feel guilty at having so much, or guilty that they can't promise the same gifts to their children or grandchildren? And does gratitude help them out of that predicament?

If they accept the sweet dreams of their parents, who say it all can go on forever, if they just work hard enough, when should they question this vision? What signs are big enough that mere gratitude no longer suffices?

Ares Olympus said...

I'm not a twitter user, but someone shared this Thanksgiving wish from President-Elect Trump, and it confused me greatly, until finally I saw it was dated 2012.
@realDonaldTrump 4:23 PM - 24 Nov 2012 - Hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving. But get ready, our country is in big trouble!

So 4 years ago Donald was concerned about our future, his gut told him, while now 4 years later, with Trump heading towards winning the Electoral college on December 19, a large number of American guts have has the same message in our concern about his punch-down sort of leadership.

I think Donald Trump has put some sort of fear of God into many agnostics and unbelievers, but maybe it was just fair play with those already in their own fear for an uncertain and worsening future.

We all can hope someone higher up is in charge, rather than our guts, however much guts appreciate a good Thanksgiving meal.

And I can be thankful Trump won in 2016, since I was sure the Republicans would pick someone even more unfit in 2020. Maybe now we have a real experiment to test the new republican revolution. I'd never pick this experiment, but here we are.

Anonymous said...

Ares: "I'm not a twitter user,"

Maybe you should start so you won't have so much time to comment here. Twitter needs you.