Saturday, October 24, 2020

America's Shrunken Mind

Everyone is now worried about the state of the American mind. Anastasia Berg and Jon Baskin, editors of something called The Point, take up a challenge laid down by Professor Allan Bloom more than three decades ago. They want to reopen the American mind.

New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, being of a more whiny disposition, declared that the American mind has shrunk. Fancy that. If he had a wee bit more imagination Cohen would have opined on the fact that a certain profession has dedicated itself to head shrinking.

Cohen allows himself to be carried along by the spirit of the Times-- the New York Times, that is-- and blames it all on Donald Trump. Amazing manifestation of what happens when your mind shrinks. 

The American mind, such as it is, belongs to our intellectual elites, to our educators, to our media professionals, our therapists, even to our lawyer class. As an aside, if you think that our psycho professionals are men and women of science, you have missed the point entirely.

Anyway, if the American mind has seen better days-- and if it has not seen very many worse days-- the fault, dear friends, must lie with our intelligentsia.

How did this group become so completely dumbed down? Well, it was the first group in America to make ideology a job qualification. And it led the nation in diversity hiring. One likes to bemoan the fact that American college students do not know much of anything about the great works of philosophy and literature. But, one must add that precious few professors today can teach the great books. 

If an idiot named Ibram X. Kendi can hold a chair at Boston University and can write a best selling book complaining about racial oppression, you have to ask yourself whether he could teach a course on Plato or Virgil or Shakespeare-- or even sociologists like Max Weber, Emile Durkheim or Erving Goffman. Kendi is simply talking about what he knows, and a sad sight it is. 

As for the columns under consideration today, both from the Times, begin with Berg and Baskin. 

What did professors expect to happen when they informed those students that the texts humanists had pored over for millenniums were nothing more than vectors of ideology and oppression? Who could blame these students for transferring into economics or computer science — as so many now have?

Dare we say that there is not very much of a market for social justice warriors. One understands that the humanities and social sciences are now the province of students who cannot do STEM subjects. However much tech oligarchs have become intellectual tyrants, censoring any thought that they believe will harm their businesses, they still hire for merit, not diversity. 

For the most part, I must add. Nowadays they have bought themselves a heap of trouble-- well deserved, I would say-- by hiring Democratic party political hacks and put them in charge of censoring political speech.

Obviously, the dumbing down of the humanities and social sciences has led to the reduction, even the elimination of academic departments. Before it was even trendy, they were proving the point that the NBA just learned: go woke; go broke.

Berg and Baskin continue:

Even before the pandemic upended university budgets, many schools faced challenges — falling enrollments, reduced public funding and the prospect of corporate restructuring. Now liberal arts colleges are shutting down at even higher rates, and job losses at colleges are multiplying (nonprofit private and public institutions shed an estimated 337,000 jobs from February to August, according to federal data). Some predict that unless Congress passes a new stimulus bill with aid for higher education, things are about to get much worse. Words like “apocalyptic” and “extinction” keep showing up in otherwise dispassionate analyses of the situation.

Bloom’s insights are vindicated today not only by the shrinking enrollments in English, history and philosophy departments, but also by the rise within those departments of conceptions of humanistic education that privilege scientistic knowledge accumulation, political activism and the cultivation of “analytical skills” thought to be prized in Silicon Valley. 

Strangely, but not surprisingly, the authors feel optimistic about the future. They see reading groups and book clubs forming around the nation. If this does not become an instance of the blind leading the blind, it would be a good thing. One is slightly less optimistic.

Unfortunately, they imagine that the purpose of a humanities education lies in addressing grandiose philosophical questions-- what is the meaning of life? Why are we here? Where are we going? What is truth?

These are warmed over Platonism. They are not the be-all and end-all of humanities education. We would do better to understand that the purpose of philosophy is to teach people how to think, clearly and rationally. But, it should also teach people how to communicate, how to persuade and how to conduct one’s life. And the purpose of literature is to teach people how to use language, how to express oneself, and even how to construct stories. 

Some people are really good at these skills. If you do not learn by reading their great books, you will end up not knowing much of anything.

If anyone cares, I do not think that Berg and Baskin make a very good case for clear thinking and good writing-- by example.

But, such is life. We move on to Roger Cohen who is in a lather about the president. He does not think that head shrinkers have any responsibility for the shrunken American mind, so he blames it all on Donald Trump. As though the Trump administration is responsible for the American academy and the American media. It is difficult to blame Trump for the unhinged rants of people who despise him beyond reason, but this does not deter Cohen. Why miss a chance to show how poorly you think?

Anyway, Cohen, who writes better than the above authors, opens with an interesting observation about the two presidential debates:

Among the words or phrases that were never spoken in the two presidential debates were:

Syria, human rights, drones, democracy, inequality, dictatorship, Israel, Palestine, Middle East, United Nations, World Health Organization, Guantánamo, European Union, Britain, Brexit, France, Italy, Hong Kong, Africa (or any single African state), South America, terrorism, multilateral, authoritarianism, alliance.

That’s a pretty good measure of the shrinking of the American mind.

As noted above, the head shrinking profession must bear some responsibility for this. After all, granting your feelings pride of mental place will ultimately make you stupid.

Perhaps it is too obvious for Cohen's capacious intellect, but the candidates were not choosing the questions at the debates. If the debate commissars decided not to mention foreign policy-- because it might make Trump look good-- the fault does not lie with Trump. 

As I said, Cohen blames Trump. After all, he is a Timesman to the bone:

The shrinking of the American mind involves a kind of numbness. It has become difficult to think or see beyond the noise emanating from the White House. Indignation fatigue has set in. There he goes again. That plaintive whining voice. Without respect for truth, without respect for science, what debate can there be?

And, Joe Biden’s outright lies? Not a word from the great Cohen. I would note an astute observation posted by a commenter on this blog yesterday. Biden comes across as “abrasive, thin-skinned, rude and insulting.” He is also, as we have often noted, indecent, especially in his manhandling of women.

And, let’s not mention, the political party that pretends to represent the thinking class has nominated a candidate who cannot string together two grammatically correct sentences. Holding Joe Biden up as the antidote to the shrunken American mind shows raw political bias. Biden has had brain surgery. He is clearly mentally deficient. 

About that the great Cohen has nothing to say-- no surprise there.

Consider that the American left has been shrieking at Trump every day during his administration. Consider how many of them have harassed, defamed, slandered and abused him-- it takes a special warp of mind to blame Trump for their constant lies. As for who is shrieking contempt, consider which political party has turned senate hearings for court nominees into a cacophony of contempt. In truth, it has always been the Democrats. And, they did not start it during the Trump administration.

As for reconciliation and outreach, the American left has set about to destroy-- to destroy the people it despises, to destroy the cities it controls and to destroy the rule of law. Why is this so? Simply put, the Democratic Party base is comprised of idiots.

In them, I saw the reflection of an American society in which constructive debate is near impossible. Trump has governed through fomenting division and violence. He has almost never risen to themes of reconciliation or outreach. As a result, American debate is reduced to rival tribes shrieking contempt for each other. These tribes forget that nobody ever had their mind changed by being made to feel stupid.

And Cohen closes with some pseudo-intellectual pabulum:

The essence of America is openness. History, geography, immigration and fate have established that. The shrinking of the American mind under Trump therefore amounts, for Americans, to a dangerous denial of themselves. Prolonged for another four years, in a second Trump term, it would negate the American idea, without which, at least for this immigrant, the United States, as conceived, with all its flaws, ceases to be.

One assumes that Cohen thinks that America is constituted by open borders. In truth, no country is constituted by open borders. If it was it would not be a country.

If you would like to hold out a brief glimmer of hope, consider this fact. Among those who have spoken and written most eloquently against the current leftist madness have been writers on the left. Did you notice, that during the Russia collusion hoax and the impeachment fiasco, many of the best commentaries were written by people like Stephen Cohen, Aaron Mate, Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, Jonathan Turley and Alan Dershowitz.

Unfortunately, they are something of a dying breed in American liberalism. But they are all liberal, and they have all maintained their integrity. But they are all on the elderly side-- Cohen recently passed away-- and they can defend themselves against the baying mobs of the new left. They have never stooped to the blame-it-on-Trump hysteria of a Roger Cohen.


trigger warning said...

Shrunken to a pinpoint, in fact:

Mz Dar'Shun Kendrick, Member in [ahem] good standing of the Georgia House of Representatives, tweeted the following (in response to DJT's comments about "coyotes"):

"How the hell does a coyote bring a whole human across the border?!"

Dar'Shun has a law degree.

whitney said...

She was one of many who tweeted out about Mexicans riding coyotes over the Border or something absurd like that. David Hogg had a different take but also not correct. What all these people have in common is none of them question their own knowledge at all. That seems to be a epidemic. It is so rare for me to hear anyone say "I don't know" anymore but that is how you learn. By realizing you don't know and then if you're interested going in finding out.

370H55V said...

To put things in a more longitudinal perspective, consider that Joe Biden was chased out of the 1988 presidential race when it was discovered that he had plagiarized some of his writings from speeches given by British Labour party leader Neil Kinnock. How things have changed in 32 years that a now senile Joe Biden is now the Dem party candidate. That says a lot about America, doesn't it?

Cappy said...

Civil dialogue:

Joe Biden - "shut up", he explained.

21st Century Boy said...

I'm a liberal, a millennial, I read this blog, and I've read two of your books. There is plenty of overlap in our thinking, quarrels, and interests to keep me coming back. It just so happens you're also one of the few conservative writers worth reading. But, isn't it kind of stupid to say the "Democratic Party base is comprised of idiots"? Clearly the Republican Party base is also comprised of idiots. That's why it's called a base.

Ever been to a MAGA rally? Not exactly a teacher's convention. Imagine it were though. Imagine these are our teachers instead. Like what you see?

I have a personal credo. Thou shalt not commit social sciences. But you brought up Max Weber and he is pretty great. He said something along the lines of, "Human beings are like spiders caught in a web of assumption that they themselves have spun."

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks for the compliments. I accept that the point about the Dem base was overstated-- it was a way to highlight the fact that the leftists who consider themselves members of the party of brilliant people could use a good dose of humility. I would add that Hollywood high school dropout celebrities who consider themselves to be of surpassing brilliance on policy matters are, quite frankly, idiots.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

People who believe the promise of socialism are idiots. They have no idea how wealth is created, how disruptive entrepreneurs drive economic progress, nor how money works. Progressivism is ideological grandiosity based on the perfectibility of man. Good luck with that.

Democrat idiocy is roadmap for how the U.S. can achieve Venezuelan status in one generation. Giddyup!

Sam L. said...

"New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, being of a more whiny disposition, declared that the American mind has shrunk. Fancy that. If he had a wee bit more imagination Cohen would have opined on the fact that a certain profession has dedicated itself to head shrinking." I believe nothing printed by the NYT. I despise, detest, and totally distrust everything in the NYT, (Well, maybe not the advertisements...but then, I don't read those.) Same goes for the WaPoo.

370H55V, it says much more about the Left. the Dems, and the media, and as I keep saying, I don't know whether the media is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Dem Party, or it's the other way round, but I DO know, it being OBVIOUS, that they are in cahoots!

21CB, yes, it is "kind of stupid to say the "Democratic Party base is comprised of idiots"?" "Liars and conspiritors" seems much more accurate to me.

Stuart, thou hath NAILED it. Outstanding post!

Mild Bill said...

I don't want to argue about the Republican base, but you probably shouldn't use a teacher's convention as a contrast. Have you seen what passes for "education" in teaching school?

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

What I loved about the Obama years was all the racial healing.

What I look forward to in the Biden years — should they come to pass — is all the economic cooperation with China.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Speaking of (useful) idiots, David Hogg certainly was an idiot in his one week of post-Parkland fame. And remains one. I fear he will never relive his momentary fame. This can be debilitating for a young man. To whom will he go to complain? said...

A couple of years ago I was at a psychoanalytic conference in Chicago and attended a reception which followed. I have been involved in the Chicago Psychoanalytic community for decades and have practiced in a Northshore Suburb for as long. (Although I might add, I practiced only on Saturdays when my sons were young, doing postdoc work in infancy and early childhood development made me fearful of working full-time.) At the reception I grew tired of the many derogatory comments about Trump and Catholicism and finally “came out” to a former president type, “I voted for Trump.“ He then told me “I was no longer welcome,” fortunately a close-liberal colleague settled him down. Another well-published and respected colleague overheard this and was shocked I voted for Trump, to which I responded, “if you have an ‘open mind’ I would be happy to tell you why. Some of my colleagues, some who may be described as limousine liberals who do not take insurance but live in multimillion dollar homes have a hard time dealing with conservative patients! Yikes, I believe Jonathan Haidt tells us that over 90 or 94% percent of psychologists are now liberal. I highly recommend the open-minded Professor, Lisa Ruddick’s article titled “When nothing is cool.” She is a Buddhist, a professor of English literature at the University of Chicago, and she was formally married and had a daughter with Cass Sunstein.