Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Down with Western Civ

Whether it’s a war of ideas or a clash of civilizations, Western culture is currently in a protracted struggle against Islam. As I mentioned in my post yesterday,  we are not going to defeat Islamic terrorism if we cannot embrace the values and ideas that have made the West great.

Trashing Western civilization tells Muslims that they should not assimilate. It tells them that Western civilization is failing and deserves whatever punishment it receives.

Surely, Muslims prefer this message, coming down from the halls of academe and the media elite to the reality: Islam as a civilization has failed and is in serious need of reform.

When it comes to embracing Western civilization, count Stanford out. Over a quarter century ago Jesse Jackson got the idea that Western culture was based on white racism and that, therefore, Stanford should not require its students to study its great works. Stanford bowed obediently and ended its Western civilization course requirement.

In its place Stanford started a program called Thinking Matters. Students were required to take a certain number of courses in this program, wherein they could learn about love, food, empathy and race.

In place of great ideas and the effort required to master them, Stanford started offering feel-good, therapeutic exercises that would make people better liberals.

Call it censorship, if you like. But the Western civilization requirement taught students the foundations of our civilization. Without knowing them, students will be at a loss to understand the customs, the mores, the values and the principles that ground our civilization.

Required texts were:

Hebrew Bible, Genesis
Homer, major selections from Iliad or Odyssey or both
At least one Greek tragedy
Plato, Republic, major portions of Books I-VII
New Testament, selections including a gospel
Augustine, Confessions, I-IX
Dante, Inferno
More, Utopia
Machiavelli, The Prince
Luther, Christian Liberty
Galileo, The Starry Messenger and The Assayer
Voltaire, Candide
Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto
Darwin, selections
Freud, Outline of Psychoanalysis and Civilization and Its Discontents

Clearly, Jackson was ahead of his time. Instead of recommending that students learn from the works of these great thinkers, he got no further than noticing that they were all written by white males. It beats homework.Thus,  he was arguing, somewhat paranoiacally, that these works constituted a transhistorical conspiracy. Among its bad aspects was: ignoring the works of anyone who was not a white male.

Besides, black students, the ones that had been admitted under affirmation action programs, could not relate to these texts. This suggested that black and white Americans do not belong to the same civilization and that white civilization was built on the oppression of blacks. This is an obvious echo of the thought of Jackson’s fellow Chicagoan, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, a man whose protégé is now occupying in the White House.

Jackson was also suggesting that reading black authors and elevating them to the pantheon of Western thought, regardless of their merit, would be therapeutic for the black students who would not be up to the challenge of reading the Bible or Martin Luther.

Recently, a conservative student publication, the Stanford Review decided that it would be a good idea to bring back the Western civilization required courses. It called for a university-wide referendum. The authors of the article were, naturally, harassed on campus, because defending Western civilization is now considered to be racist.

But, the vote took place, and the forces of Western civilization lost, decisively, by a 6 to 1 margin.

If you were wondering why the West cannot martial the moral courage to fight Islamic terrorism, you now have an answer. It isn’t merely leftist faculty members who are peddling this tripe… the students have bought it, too. They cannot even question it, or think critically about it. They have become cult followers and true believers. And, keep in mind, this is Stanford, the pinnacle of the American educational establishment. As Stanford goes, so goes the nation.

The Daily Caller reported the story:

The mere suggestion that Stanford require studying Western civilization had generated immense outrage among certain Stanford communities. A low-income advocacy group at the school suspended a member based on the suspicion that he wrote an anonymous piece supporting the proposal. A hostile column in The Stanford Daily warned that accepting the proposal would mean centering Stanford education on “upholding white supremacy, capitalism and colonialism, and all other oppressive systems that flow from Western civilizations.”

As Bret Stephens wrote-- see yesterday’s post-- American students are engaging in a special form of self-loathing. They despise the civilization that has given them the benefit of going to Stanford. Will they reject job offers from the notably un-diverse companies in Silicon Valley?

Writing on the Maggie’s Farm blog, the Barrister notes, that the Stanford students were voting for: “willful ignorance.”

Or, as Nietzsche said:

Great men's errors are to be venerated as more fruitful than little men's truths. ... 

You learn more from great minds than you do from mediocre minds.

It is well known that Stanford students care more interested in STEM subjects than in the Humanities. Thus, they are not very inclined to fight over ideas.

This might explain why, every time one of our tech oligarchs pronounces on cultural matters, he sounds like a fool. A politically correct fool, but a fool nonetheless. The sad truth is that these billionaires do not know how to think. They do not know how to formulate an opinion. They mouth off leftist platitudes, because, truth be told, it’s probably good for business. If they were to offer conservative opinions, they would be investigated and indicted… for something. Being politically correct is like buying protection.

The Barrister exposes the illogic of Stanford students:

And since all of modern physics, chemistry, medicine, and engineering are aspects and products of Western Civ too, perhaps they might consider eliminating those oppressive white male patriarchal things.

Ignorant kids, standing on the shoulders of giants while denying it. Fascinating phenomenon, the hubris of ignorance.

If I were there with a microphone and videotape, it would be fun to ask them what civilization they might prefer to know - or live in.

We all accept that science and technology offer us universal truths. And yet, these did not develop in just any civilization. Some civilizations have been far more welcoming and far more encouraging to science than others. When, at the end of the eighteenth century, the King of England sent an emissary to the court of Qianlong bearing some of the great inventions of Western science and technology, the emperor tossed them aside as being of no real interest.

True enough, the Church did have some problems with Galileo, but modern science and engineering originated in Western civilization. While the Muslim world led the world in science and math in its first centuries, it has declined because its leaders turned away from math and science, turned away from Western civilization, in order to focus entirely on religious teachings. Perhaps they understood that math and science had been concocted by white males.

As you recall, Richard Dawkins once tweeted:

All the world's Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.

Naturally, Dawkins was widely excoriated for stating the truth. But he was correct to point out that turning away from science was a decision. It was a choice. Not a very good one, at that.


Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Jesse Jackson has done so much for himself, and precious little for anyone else. Seems fitting that he is the harbinger of the decline of Western Civ in the academy. Like all Leftists, he is a destroyer.

Dawkins is a rather unsympathetic figure. He ridicules others for their beliefs, while propagating his own views as a dogmatic metaphysical materialist. Interesting how arrogant people can't get out of their own way and see their own humanity. Alas.

Wm Sears said...

Marx, Engels, and Freud? I can only hope this is a joke.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Stuart. Reading this and looking at what our ignorant President has done make me want to go drink a bottle of scotch.

You mentioned the Galileo issue, however, and I would just like to point out that this too has been distorted by leftists/secularists looking to denigrate the Catholic Church. See Jonah Goldberg's excellent article in National Review on it:

Moreover, the entire Spanish Inquisition has also been grossly distorted by the same people (among others). Look at this fine BBC documentary on YouTube

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: Naturally, Dawkins (for his tweet "All the world's Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.") as widely excoriated for stating the truth. But he was correct to point out that turning away from science was a decision. It was a choice. Not a very good one, at that.

Let's hope "The West" also avoids turning against science, although the antiscience crusade is going strong by religious fundamentalists and nature-loving environmentalists alike. Sagan's Demon Haunted world is only a candle away.

Incidentally, I saw an ex-science journalist, potholer54, has a new video making fun of YouTubers for an alternative science they make up as they go along: Being an atheist doesn't necessarily mean you're rational
@9:40 Consider three possibilities when science doesn't make sense:
1) Research scientists are all incompetent.
2) Research scientists are all in on a conspiracy to deceive you.
3) Research scientists know something you don't, so find out what it is.

It's one of those "trifectas", but suggesting the first two possibilities shouldn't be considered first or second.

Ares Olympus said...

I see Roger Cohen is looking at Liberal democracy and he sees Trump's rise as a threat.
Francis Fukuyama argued in 1989, that, “The triumph of the West, of the Western idea, is evident first of all in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism.” Therefore, per Fukuyama, the end point of history had been reached with “the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

This was a rational argument. It made sense. Hundreds of millions of people enslaved within the Soviet imperium had just been freed. They knew — everyone knew — which system worked better. The problem is that the hold of reason in human affairs is always tenuous.

Looking back at human history, the liberal democratic experiment - with its Enlightenment-derived belief in the capacity of individuals possessed of certain inalienable rights to shape their destinies in liberty through the exercise of their will — is but a brief interlude. Far more lasting have been the eras of infallible sovereignty, absolute power derived from God, domination and serfdom, and subjection to what Isaiah Berlin called “the forces of anti-rational mystical bigotry.”

Such anti-rational forces are everywhere these days — in Donald Trump’s America, in Marine Le Pen’s France, in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, throughout much of the Middle East, in North Korea.
In Western societies beset by growing inequality (neo-liberal economics has also sapped the credentials of liberalism), political discourse, debate on college campuses and ranting on social media all reflect a new impatience with multiple truths, a new intolerance and unwillingness to make the compromises that permit liberal democracy to work.

The threat for liberal Western societies is within and without. Liberalism may be feeble as a battle cry, but nothing is more important for human dignity and decency.

What few seem to say however is that our collective rise over the last 3-4 centuries has come in conjunction in an ever greater ability to extract resources from a finite environment, with an ever greater demand for those resources.

Anyone can be optimistic when it seems like that tomorrow will be bigger than today, but how does "liberalism" deal with a world of finite resources, or of stagnant growth for decades, where we can't keep borrowing more from the future to pay for today.

I don't think Trump or other rising authoritarians have the answers, but sometimes I think they have more of the right questions. The saying is liberals like spending other people's money, but we're all liberals now, and the "other people" are in the future who have to deal with a diminished world that has more needs that resources to meet them.

But who wants to sell that case, to tell people they can't have everything they think they deserve, just because of who they are. We're all lost under entitlements we can't promise to the future.

We have no clear evidence that truth-telling is a democratic ideal.