Sunday, January 12, 2020

They Killed the Humanities

In one sense it’s sad. In another sense it couldn’t have happened to a nicer group of people. If we are to believe the Chronicle of Higher Education, as reported by Ross Douthat in The New York Times, the study of literature is dead in America’s colleges and universities. 

And yet, somehow we are happy to see the free market at work. A group of imbeciles took over literature departments around the country. They buried the canon of great works of literature and replaced it with comic books, soup can labels and a mountain of fourth-rate works chosen, not for their literary value, but for the identity of the authors.

We should not be surprised. Even if we are not in college we do know that literature professors and linguists have recently made a serious contribution to the English language. Or so they think. I am speaking of the singular “they.” Humanists have declared it to be one of the great contributions to human... whatever. This tells us that their field deserves to die.

Now humanists are thrilled to see that we have not only overcome sexist prejudice and no longer refer to men and women by masculine and feminine pronouns. No more he or she. No more his or hers. It’s all they, all the time. As in, The doctor and their patient.

The result has been contorted and illiterate prose. It makes everyone speak like common proles. No one seems to understand that they, being a plural pronoun, must take plural verb forms. If they is now to be singular and neutered, are we now supposed to say: They was, as opposed to They were.

So, in place of the marketplace of language usage, we suffer the stupidities of a band of self-important experts who believe that they own the language. By their lights, language was invented by a class of oppressors to oppress underprivileged victims. They believe that they are correcting the marketplace. They are, dare we say, anti-democratic and despotic.

Of course, the only result will be a new class of bad writers who pretend not to know English grammar and whose works will soon find their way into the dustbin of history.

For now, Douthat reports on The Chronicle of Higher Education essays. It has concluded that:

… the humanities and especially the study of literature [are in an] apparently-terminal condition [that] makes the condition of the American Republic look like ruddy health.

The package’s title is a single word, “Endgame,” and its opening text reads like the crawl for a disaster movie. “The academic study of literature is no longer on the verge of field collapse. It’s in the midst of it.” Jobs are disappearing, subfields are evaporating, enrollment has tanked, and amid the wreckage the custodians of humanism are “befuddled and without purpose.”

They killed the humanities and they killed jobs teaching the humanities. But, then again, they do not respect literature anyway. They do not believe that literature has intrinsic value. They believe as an article of their fascist faith that great art becomes great when they say it’s great. As happened in great totalitarian tyrannies, literature is just another form of propaganda.

It’s not that Shakespeare, to choose a random example, is intrinsically great. It’s that we all say he is. If we pick a letter out of someone’s email folder and force enough people to say that it’s great, then it is a superlative poem. It's a bad syllogism, but that would assume the they know what a syllogism is. If you do not believe that illiterate scribblings are great poetry that only means that you cannot appreciate a faithful expression of what it feels like to be a victim of post-industrial capitalism… or some such.

Some people write better than others. Some people think better than others. In the past we all understood this. Today, not so much. Now, students or their put-upon parents are leading the march away from the humanities and literature. Why spend all that money in order to produce students whose warped minds will not be able to contribute in any meaningful way to the economy?

After parents, governors and state legislators are defunding colleges and universities. Why should taxpayers fund institutions whose purpose is to produce intellectual deformities and to teach young people how to hate America? Students are boycotting humanities courses. So, no more jobs in the field.

American humanists have rejected the canon. Or about the fact that today’s professors, who have obviously not earned their places by merit or achievement, do not accept the canon. Or they do not know enough to understand it. Or better, they are not smart enough to know the difference between good and bad literature, between good and bad philosophy.

Douthat explains:

A thousand different forces are killing student interest in the humanities and cultural interest in high culture, and both preservation or recovery depend on more than just a belief in truth and beauty, a belief that “the best that has been thought and said” is not an empty phrase. But they depend at least on that belief, at least on the ideas that certain books and arts and forms are superior, transcendent, at least on the belief that students should learn to value these texts and forms before attempting their critical dissection.

Of course, it is not limited to university humanities departments. Take a gander at the art market, where one hyper-rich collector recently plunked down $90 million for a metallic blow up bunny. And where the venerable auction house, Christie’s, presented it in a setting that would have been worthy of the Pieta. 

If you cannot tell the difference between a Jeff Koons metallic toy bunny and the Pieta you should find another line of work. Or better, Bernard Madoff has an investment opportunity for you.

And yet, the fallout from this academic madness, madness that finds its way into the world of publishing is doing serious damage to the American mind and to the American character.

Which was the purpose all along.


UbuMaccabee said...

“We set ourselves to achieve a society which would be maximally-tolerant. But that resolve not only gives maximum scope to the activities of those who have set themselves to achieve the maximally-intolerant society. It also, and more importantly, paralyzes our powers of resistance to them.”
― David Stove, Against the Idols of the Age

Sam L. said...

I am reminded of a character in "Catch-22", which might have been Yossarian, but maybe not. (I read it in '67, and twice more, maybe '72 and '77.) He just refused to go along with Minderbinder's crazy rules. It's what we have to do to the Democrats: refuse to play by their "rules".

Anonymous said...

"The urge to save humanity is almost always a false face for the urge to rule it."

H. L. Mencken

Anonymous said...

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be "cured" against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”

C. S. Lewis

Ron Liebermann said...

You know, I never liked C.S. Lewis. But in any case, society cannot exist without rules. Ideally, those rules are a natural extension of how people really feel. If this is the case, then there is no tyranny. But governments are not staffed by people who are beholden to public approval. It is staffed by renters. People who desire money and authority that far exceeds the contributions that they make. This is the source of tyranny with good intentions. If we want to fix the problem, we must first get rid of the term “Policy”. There is no such thing. There are only laws, and voluntary guidelines. And there must never be any confusion between the two.