Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Moral Superiority

Way back when, Wall Street's Masters of the Universe routinely sent large chunks of their bonuses to elite universities.

It made good sense. Being a major benefactor of a prestigious institution brings a reflected glory; it also facilitates one's child's access to a superior education.

Of course, these Grand Poobahs were so busy making money that they did not pay attention to what was being taught at said universities.

They had neither the time nor the inclination to decipher the double talk and mumbo jumbo that had become a staple of far too many humanities courses. How could these Masters of the Universe stoop to worry about deconstruction and Slavoj Zizek?

Had they done so, they would have discovered that the tenured professors occupying chairs with their names on them were teaching that capitalism and the American way of life were unmitigated evils, unworthy of any respect.

Fueled by Wall Street bonus money, among other sources, humanities departments at major universities had become hotbeds of Nietzschean resentment.

The irony is too rich to avoid.

Then one day the world changed. Wall Street crumbled and the Masters of the Universe found themselves diminished, demeaned, and disrespected. Men who wore finely-tailored suits on New York subways were greeted with stares of derision and contempt.

They should not have been surprised. This attitude had been carefully cultivated in major universities for decades. The financial crisis gave it an opening; it was at the ready with myths that would explain it all.

Wall Streeters had been so blind to the threat that they did not just finance the professors who were working tirelessly to undermine their status and prestige. Many of them also financed the political campaign of a president whose goal was to impoverish them and to empower the intelligentsia.

Our new president, a budding philosopher-king if ever there was one, has now channeled advanced university thinking into his foreign policy.

If you were surprised by Obama's recent apology tour, you were not paying attention when all these thoughts were being disseminated in our educational system.

Dorothy Rabinowitz put it well in today's Wall Street Journal: "Five decades of teaching in colleges and universities across the land, portraying the U.S. as a power mainly responsible for injustice and evil, whose military might was ever a danger to the world-- a nation built on the fruits of greed, rapacity, and racism-- have had their effect. The products of this education find nothing strange in a president quick to focus on the theme of American moral failure."

Of course, any product of this education will console you with the idea that, thanks to Obama, we now occupy the moral high ground. Through the moral strength of Obama we have shown ourselves to be superior to our enemies and friends alike.

It is also true that no one ever won a war by occupying the moral high ground.

The fact is, moral superiority is for saints and martyrs. (And also for aggrieved academics.) Being morally superior means being able to tolerate extreme pain to serve a cause that transcends the mundane.

Saints and martyrs accept the pain because they know that their suffering will be redeemed. They may gain the eternal joy of the Kingdom of Heaven or the transient of watching their ideas triumph as government policy.

In their minds this latter will transform the nation into a Heaven on Earth and will grant them the prestige that would have been rightfully theirs, had it not been stolen from them by financial professionals.

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