Quotulatiousness

September 21, 2017

QotD: Teaching

Filed under: Education, Quotations, Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

At every level, our society has been idiotized, in fulfilment of the democratic ideal. As I am reminded by each and every remark, from all candidates in televised political debates, we are now living in Flatworld.

God created, and continues to create, men and women of extraordinary diversity, in natural interests, native motor abilities, and the potential for what the Greeks called “genius.” That is to say, not simply brains, but what can be done with the brain you were provided.

I have noticed from my own teaching experience that, the smaller the class, the harder on a teacher. This is because the needs of individuals can better be discerned. The hardest teaching is under the old, indeed mediaeval, tutoring system: the one-to-one that used to be standard in places like Oxford and Cambridge, which continued to distinguish them from the drive-in, red-brick, fake universities. For at that “tutorial” level, student and teacher are both fully exposed, each to the strengths and limitations of another, non-abstract, human mind. It becomes impossible to “go through the motions.”

And it is like this, ultimately, in the tutoring of Christ Our Saviour. Every one of His students is a difficult case; the smart ones usually the most difficult. And so, likewise, with parent and child; with master and apprentice. It is so, by analogy, wherever men try to teach one another. The sermons and parables, the public lectures, are only the beginning of it. Then comes a process of discovery: “Which part of this do you not understand?”

Compare: the ideal of the “lowest common denominator,” appropriate perhaps for the management of pigs and cattle, on a large industrial farm. But evil when applied to human beings.

David Warren, “Democracy versus God”, Essays in Idleness, 2015-11-10.

September 19, 2017

Even in a progressive educational bubble, this isn’t correct

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Education, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Holly Nicholas shared this photo, which is said to be from an Alberta school:

If this is indeed how public schools are presenting the political spectrum (and it’s unfortunately easy to believe that they do), the closest thing to a “centrist” party in Canada is the loony left Green Party … who somehow pip the NDP on the right. The far right end of the spectrum, Fascism, is graphically indicated to be all about “Market Economy, Free Enterprise, and Laissez-Faire Capitalism”, because as we all remember, Hitler and Mussolini were in no way fans of state intervention in the economy, right?

The graphic does, however, support certain shibboleths of the left including implying that libertarians (who are actually in favour of market economies, free enterprise, and laissez-faire capitalism) are in the same economic and political basket as actual fascists. Nice work, faceless agitprop graphic artist!

September 4, 2017

The mental health crisis on campus

Filed under: Education, Health, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In Spiked, Naomi Firsht shares the concerns of Jonathan Haidt about the rise of mental health issues at US universities:

The heightened vulnerability of college students has had a chilling effect on discussion in the academic world, and Haidt sees this in his day-to-day experience on campus. “There is a rapidly spreading feeling that we are all walking on eggshells, both students and faculty. That we are now accountable, not for what we say, but for how anyone who hears it might take it. And if you have to speak, thinking about the worst reading that anyone could put on your words, that means you cannot be provocative, you cannot take risks, that means you will play it safe when you speak… This is what I’m seeing in my classes when topics related to race or gender come up – which we used to be able to talk about 10 years ago, but now it’s painful and there’s a lot of silence.”

This is disastrous for academic life, as Haidt points out: “A university cannot function if people will not put their ideas forth, will not contest ideas that they think are wrong, will not stand up for ideas that they think are right.”
He is keen to emphasise that this is not a right-left issue. “Several people on the left are noticing that college students are less effective politically as activists, as progressives, when they have this morality and this ethos with such heavy concept creep.”

Haidt believes there is a mental-health crisis on campus: “I have never seen such rapid increase in indicators of anxiety and depression as we have seen in the past few years”, he says. But his suggested approach is unlikely to find favour with student communities fond of Safe Spaces and therapeutic puppy-petting. “If you think about it as a mental-health crisis”, he explains, “then you might be tempted to say: we need more help, more counselling, more protection for those who are suffering from mental illness. But if you look at it that way you will miss the broader pattern, which is that for 20 to 30 years now, Americans have been systematically undermining the development of resilience or toughness of their children.” Referencing the work of Lenore Skenazy, author of Free-range Kids, he concludes: “We have made our children too safe to succeed.”

In his forthcoming book Misguided Minds: How Three Bad Ideas Are Leading Young People, Universities, and Democracies Toward Failure, Haidt claims that certain ideas are impairing students’ chances of success. Those ideas being: your feelings are always right; what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker; and the world is divided into good people and bad people. “If we can teach those three ideas to college students”, he says, “we cannot guarantee they will fail, but we will minimise their odds at success”.

So how can we resolve the problem of vulnerability among young Americans? Haidt says part of the solution must begin in childhood and will require parents to give their children daily periods of “unsupervised time”. “We have to accept the fact that in that unsupervised time there will be name-calling, conflict and exclusion. And while it’s painful for parents to accept this, in the long-run it will give them children that are not suffering from such high rates of anxiety and depression.”

August 30, 2017

QotD: Democratic education

Filed under: Education, Quotations, Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… a passage transcribed from one of Étienne Gilson’s public lectures in the early 1950s, and let it be said that a man in the Deep South who signs himself N.W. Flitcraft, found it first. (He is here.) Gilson has been one of my own “heroes,” or guiding lights, these last few decades:

    “If our school system exists, not in view of a chosen minority, but in view of all, its average level should answer the average level of the population as a whole. Hence the unavoidable consequence that the best gifted among the pupils will be discriminated against. Nor should we imagine that creative minds will multiply in direct proportion to the growth of the school population. The reverse is much more likely to happen. In aristocratic societies, genius has often found access to higher culture, even under adverse circumstances; in democratic societies, it will have no higher culture to which to gain access. Since equality in ignorance is easier to achieve than equality in learning, each and every teacher will have to equalize his class at the bottom level rather than at the top one, and the whole school system will spontaneously obey the same law. It is anti-democratic to teach all children what only some of them are able to learn. Nay, it is anti-democratic to teach what all children can learn by means of methods which only a minority of pupils are able to follow. Since, as has been said, democracy stands for equality, democratic societies have a duty to teach only what is accessible to all and to see to it that it be made accessible to all. The overwhelming weight of their school population is therefore bound to lower the centre of gravity in their school systems. The first peril for democracies, therefore, is to consider it their duty, in order to educate all citizens, to teach each of them less and less and in a less and less intelligent way.”

Pause, gentle, then read that through again, until committed to memory. I cannot think of a better single-paragraph explanation of how John Dewey’s “democratic vistas” sent us all to hell. Verily, I wish I’d been armed with that when asked, some forty-six years ago, why I was leaving school with only a Grade X education (plus, to be fair to me, nearly one full term of Grade XI). It explains everything, in less than three hundred words.

David Warren, “Democracy versus God”, Essays in Idleness, 2015-11-10.

August 27, 2017

Stop Subsidizing Sports!

Filed under: Economics, Education, Government, Sports, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 25 Aug 2017

Let’s talk about “sports”—that thing where we gather around to watch a muscular stranger put a regulation-size ball in a specific location.

Why are taxpayers forced to pony up cash for athletic ventures that don’t benefit them? Franchise owners routinely extort massive stadium subsidies through threats of relocation and fake promises of economic revitalization. Universities jack up student rates to subsidize athletic programs that should be self-sustaining. And the Olympics is economically devastating to every municipality foolish enough to get suckered by one of the oldest scams around.

Mostly Weekly host Andrew Heaton explores the sports phenomenon and why we should quit throwing other people’s money at it.

Links, past episodes, and more at https://reason.com/reasontv/2017/08/25/stop-subsidizing-sports

Script by Sarah Siskind with writing assistant from Andrew Heaton and David Fried.
Edited by Austin Bragg and Siskind.
Produced by Meredith and Austin Bragg.
Theme Song: Frozen by Surfer Blood.

August 24, 2017

Teaching history in the South – the “Lost Cause” school of historiography

Filed under: Education, History, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Warren Meyer gives some background on how most people in the Southern US were taught the history of the “War Between the States”:

The Lost Cause School: I want to provide some help for those not from the South to understand the southern side of the statue thing. In particular, how can good people who believe themselves not to be racist support these statues? You have to recognize that most folks of my generation in the South were raised on the lost cause school of Civil War historiography. I went to one of the great private high schools in the South and realized later I had been steeped in Lost Cause. All the public schools taught it. Here is the Wikipedia summary:

    The Lost Cause of the Confederacy, or simply Lost Cause, is a set of revisionist beliefs that describes the Confederate cause as a heroic one against great odds despite its defeat. The beliefs endorse the virtues of the antebellum South, viewing the American Civil War as an honorable struggle for the Southern way of life, while minimizing or denying the central role of slavery. While it was not taught in the North, aspects of it did win acceptance there and helped the process of reunifying American whites.

    The Lost Cause belief system synthesized numerous ideas into a coherent package. Lost Cause supporters argue that slavery was not the main cause of the Civil War, and claim that few scholars saw it as such before the 1950s. In order to reach this conclusion, they often deny or minimize the writings and speeches of Confederate leaders of the time in favor of later-written revisionist documents. Supporters often stressed the idea of secession as a defense against a Northern threat to their way of life and say that threat violated the states’ rights guaranteed by the Union. They believed any state had the right to secede, a point strongly denied by the North. The Lost Cause portrayed the South as more profoundly Christian than the greedy North. It portrayed the slavery system as more benevolent than cruel, emphasizing that it taught Christianity and civilization. In explaining Confederate defeat, the Lost Cause said the main factor was not qualitative inferiority in leadership or fighting ability but the massive quantitative superiority of the Yankee industrial machine.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia (via Wikimedia)

Obviously this was promoted by the white supremacists after the war, but in the 20th century many well-meaning people in the South who are not racist and by no means want to see a return of slavery or Jim Crow still retain elements of this story, particularly the vision of the Confederacy as a scrappy underdog. But everything in these two paragraphs including the downplaying of slavery in the causes of the Civil War was being taught when I grew up. It wasn’t until a civil war course in college (from James McPherson no less, boy was I a lucky dog there) that I read source material from the time and was deprogrammed.

The comparisons of the current statue removal to Protestant reformation iconoclasm seem particularly apt to me. You see, growing up in the South, Confederate generals were our saints. And the word “generals” is important. No one I knew growing up would think to revere, say, Jefferson Davis. Only the hard-core white supremacists revered Jefferson Davis. Real lost cause non-racist southerners revered Robert E. Lee. He was our Jesus (see: Dukes of Hazard). Every town in the south still has a Robert E Lee High School. Had I not gone to private school, I would have gone to Houston’s Lee High (I had a friend who went to college at Lehigh in New Jersey. Whenever he told folks in the South he went there, they would inevitably answer “yes, but where did you go to college.”) So Lee was by far and away at the top of the pantheon. Then you had folks like Stonewall Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart who were probably our Peter and Paul. Then all the rest of the generals trailing off through the equivalents of St. Bartholomew or whoever. We even had a Judas, General James Longstreet, who for a variety of reasons was reviled by the Lost Cause school and was blamed for many of Lee’s, and the South’s, losses.

If you want to see the Southern generals the way much of the South sees them, watch the movie Gettysburg, which I like quite a bit (based on the book Killer Angels, I believe, also a good read). The Southern Generals are good, talented men trying to make the best of a losing cause. Slavery is, in this movie, irrelevant to them. They are fighting for their beloved homes in the South, not for slavery. The movie even has Longstreet saying something like “we should have freed the slaves and then fired on Fort Sumter.”

The movie Gettysburg is excellent, but if you don’t know much about the actual battle, you might end up thinking the entire conflict revolved around the 20th Maine…

The Story of Western Philosophy

Filed under: Education, Europe, History, Humour — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 26 May 2017

Relevant mystery link: https://youtu.be/myc7eHGg5y4
If you notice any factual errors in this week’s video, please just bear in mind that life is ultimately meaningless in the first place.

August 17, 2017

Words & Numbers: The Illusion of School Choice

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Education — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Published on 16 Aug 2017

In private schools, as in private enterprise in general, poor performance drives funding away by driving paying customers away. Yet in public schools, poor performance is used as an excuse for increased funding. With incentives like these, is it any wonder that public schools are failing our children so badly? Isn’t it time to inject some competition into the system?

Education for all is a worthy wish. So is food for all. But we don’t force poor people to eat state-produced food. Even food stamp recipients get to choose where to shop. Why shouldn’t beneficiaries of public education spending get to choose where to send their kids?

Our hosts James R. Harrigan and Antony Davies want to know…

August 10, 2017

“[M]ental illness is to grad students as black lung was to Victorian coal miners”

Filed under: Education — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

Drew Brown on the less-salubrious aspects of getting your PhD:

There is no higher intellectual pursuit than a PhD. It offers the promise of living a ‘life of the mind’: freedom of thought and inquiry; creative control over your work; middle-class comfort without middle-class drudgery; and above all, a meaningful life in the pursuit of knowledge.

This is the ‘noble lie’ of the Academy. None of this really exists in any meaningful way for most of the people pursuing it, but it is propagated—unwittingly or otherwise—in a manner that maintains what is effectively a pyramid scheme of hyperexploited labour designed to siphon money from children.

Everyone with eyes to see and ears to hear has known for some time that there is a human cost to this arrangement, but researchers have finally given empirical grounding to our ugly suspicions. According to a study in Research Policy from earlier this year, rates of psychological distress and symptoms of mental illness are twice as likely to occur among PhD students as the rest of the “highly educated general population.” Specifically, one in two PhD students surveyed experienced symptoms of psychological distress, while one in three is at heightened risk for developing psychiatric illnesses, especially anxiety and/or depression. According to the study’s abstract “Organizational policies were significantly associated with the prevalence of mental health problems.”

The findings shouldn’t be shocking for anyone who has spent any amount of time among PhD students. Horror stories abound. In reflecting on the full-immersion acid bath called graduate school, one friend of mine quipped that “mental illness is to grad students as black lung was to Victorian coal miners.” Another who left our PhD program two years in told me that he “didn’t realize how miserable school made him until [he] was out,” and I thought about that sentence almost every day until I quit the program myself earlier this year.

H/T to Colby Cosh for the link.

August 9, 2017

QotD: University “studies” programs

Filed under: Education, Europe, History, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

As someone who got partway through grad school, I am only a sort of half-layman when it comes to modern European history. On demand I can present an official document that testifies, by implication, that I have spent a certain amount of time in seminars talking about Himmler’s agronomy education or discussing why totalitarian regimes are always sexually puritanical. Even before it was ruined for me by formal training, I was a history buff. So I can sort of reconstruct the process whereby I know what Auschwitz is. But, by the same token, I am less able to know how anyone else comes by the knowledge.

It seems some part of our system for producing intellectually responsible grownups has failed […] That failure is probably not to be found in the extensive education in social work. A degree in social work amounts to a degree in helping people: assuming it is not totally idiotic for our institutions of higher learning to be generating such paper, there must be mastery of some technical arcana involved. I do not know that this would involve instruction in the details of the Holocaust. A nursing education doesn’t; an engineering education doesn’t.

It is, rather, that “social justice and peace studies” business that captures my eye. Wouldn’t the matter, the essential grounding of an education in social justice and peace just be … history? (With particular attention to the topic of concentration camps?) Wouldn’t expertise of this kind require digestion of a mass of information about the flux of war, diplomacy, economies, and ideas? Something Studies items were on the menu already when I began my undergraduate education, and I majored in history partly because, in my innocence, I couldn’t see how you would study anything else about human affairs without that foundation.

But we all know the secret of Something Studies well enough now: it is a way of avoiding the rigour and complexity of a history education, and going straight to the business of striking political stances. It is History For Left-Wing Dummies. And when you see such a degree on someone’s CV, you can be quite sure you have found one.

Colby Cosh, “Some part of our system for producing intellectually responsible adults has failed Alex Johnstone”, National Post, 2015-09-24.

July 29, 2017

Latin Declensions Made Easy

Filed under: Education, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 27 Jul 2017

An explanation of what the Latin Declensions are and how they work. This video is aimed at English-speaking students with no prior knowledge of English grammar. It is deliberately slow and repetitive, and it avoids any graphics or other adornments that may distract attention from the subject matter.

If you like this video, please check out my teaching website: http://www.classicstuition.co.uk/

July 26, 2017

QotD: From local private charity to national government social program

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Education, Government, History, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In a small town, the impulse to assist the poor and disorganized was direct, and the people being helped were known to everyone. Big cities with their concentrated slums of poor immigrants led to social service agencies, funded at first by churches and cities, and then by state and federal governments. As the source of the assistance became impersonal, so did the aid — and the direct contact between those assisting and those assisted declined. Instead of the local church matrons with their bourgeois ideas of proper behavior and work, harassed social workers with enormous caseloads processed cases quickly, and the ideology of government assistance changed so that any behavioral expectation of the client population was viewed as an affront to their dignity.

In time, the government assistance ethos spread to every corner of the country and crowded out the local community services. Meanwhile, locally-controlled schools were gradually taken over by higher levels of government and distant union bureaucracies so that the influence of local parents was minimized. This was viewed as “progressive,” since distant elites thought local school boards and parents were too parochial and backward to be entrusted with decisions, and would get in the way of teaching the correct materials.

The incorrect application of emotions of sympathy and support to faceless categories of people like “the poor” and “the undocumented” removes any possibility of understanding the real situations of each of the category’s members. A hazy idealized poor family is envisioned, then a response that would be appropriate if that family lived next door (help them!) leads to voting for politicians that offer new programs to help “people like that.” By misapplying family and community feelings to higher levels of government, voters put into place a bureaucracy that misses most of the social signalling features of local groups and takes tax money to grow itself, crowding out local groups (and the valuable social signals that maintained bourgeois standards.)

Jeb Kinnison, “Real-life ‘Hunger Games'”, According to Hoyt, 2015-09-25.

July 23, 2017

In military training, “similar” is not the same as “identical”

Filed under: Cancon, Education, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Ted Campbell looks at one of the legacies of the 1968 integration of the Canadian Army, Royal Canadian Navy, and Royal Canadian Airforce as the unified Canadian Armed Forces:

Our problem, in Canada, goes back to a fairly simple mistake that former Defence Minister Paul Hellyer and his minions made in the mid 1960s. First I must declare that a lot of what Mr Hellyer proposed was good ~ the unification of the armed forces, creating proper joint commands in which Navy, Army and Air Force units and formations served together, under one single commander, just as history taught they they would fight together in war, made excellent sense. Some of what he introduced ~ like the integration of the military into a single service and introducing common occupation and training systems ~ made less, little or no sense at all.

The logical trap into which Mr Hellyer and his team fell and the consequential problem which still infects the Canadian Armed Forces today is that they failed to grasp that similar ≠ identical. Consider, for example, a Navy helicopter pilot and an Army attack helicopter pilot ~ both must fly rotary wing aircraft at a basic level, in that they are almost certainly identical, but, after that, the differences between landing a very big helicopter on the heaving deck of a very small warship and flying a small helicopter at high speeds at near treetop level are very large and the two pilots are very, very dissimilar. Does it make sense to train them together at the primary flying school level? Yes! Does it make sense to mix them together into one pool of “pilots” on the grounds that they are very much the same? No! The same applies to cooks and radar technicians and pay clerks and, and, and … they are, very often, similar but rarely nearly enough identical to merit having them in a single “trade” or group. But, Mr Hellyer was, valiantly, trying to solve a funding crisis and savings in personnel and training were seen as the equivalent of the brass ring on the old fashioned carnival carousel. For almost fifty years Mr Hellyer’s deeply flawed notion of integration has been sacrosanct even as his very good ideas about unification were pushed aside by empire building careerists in the most senior ranks of the Canadian Forces and by lazy superiors, including disengaged ministers and bureaucrats.

We can start the fix by recognizing that some things do work: there should be, just as an example, one, single, integrated primary flying school, where all helicopter pilots learn to fly a basic rotary wing aircraft. But Navy, Army and RCAF pilots (and, yes, each service should have its own) should, then, be trained in their specific specialities by their own service specialists. Similar things should apply to many skills ~ integrate the education and training when the similarities outweigh the differences, but train, usually, in single service, specialist centres, when the differences are dominant. Some training ~ staff training, for example, to produce officers who can serve in joint HQs ~ must be integrated, however, if we ever want to have a proper unified force.

Will it cost more? Yes … superficially. But the savings for which Mr Hellyer so fervently hoped, in 1968, never really materialized; instead the training system used, as it was directed to do, minimum common standards to achieve economies and, thereby, financially “burdened” the other commands with special to function training: teaching Army cooks to drive trucks and use field (gas) stoves, for example, and teaching Navy supply people how to work in a ship. It is possible, even likely, in my opinion, that Canadian military education and training could be reformed at low cost. Some education and training can be contracted out or done, as is the case now, using a kind of public-private partnership (P3) arrangement. I will return to this later with a thought on the the Royal Military College, the Staff Colleges and so on.

July 20, 2017

QotD: Who was Epicurus?

Filed under: Education, History, Liberty, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Epicurus (341-270 B.C.) was a Greek philosopher who claimed the cosmos was eternal and merely material, made up of atoms and void. Yet, breaking with his predecessor Democritus, he considered the universe indeterminate. In the realm of ethics, Epicurus taught that the purpose of human life was the pursuit of happiness, which could be achieved by the measured study of the natural world and adherence to a prudent and temperate hedonism.

He counseled men not to fear their own death, saying,

    Foolish, therefore, is the man who says that he fears death, not because it will pain when it comes, but because it pains in the prospect. Whatever causes no annoyance when it is present, causes only a groundless pain in the expectation. Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not.

He considered friendship as the utmost means of securing wisdom, saying,

    Friendship dances around the world, bidding us all to awaken to the recognition of happiness…The same conviction which inspires confidence that nothing we have to fear is eternal or even of long duration, also enables us to see that in the limited evils of this life nothing enhances our security so much as friendship.”

He advised men to avoid vain ambitions such as the pursuit of fame, exorbitant wealth, and political power for their own sake. Rather, he thought wise men would be “strong and self-sufficient” and “take pride in their own personal qualities not in those that depend on external circumstances.”

To Epicurus, pain is a natural evil, pleasure a natural good, with the ultimate pleasure being the absence of bodily pain and tranquility of the mind. From his Letter to Menoeceus:

    When we say, then, that pleasure is the end and aim, we do not mean the pleasures of the prodigal or the pleasures of sensuality, as we are understood to do by some through ignorance, prejudice, or willful misrepresentation. By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul. It is not an unbroken succession of drinking-bouts and of revelry, not sexual lust, not the enjoyment of the fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest tumults take possession of the soul.

Nevertheless, because Epicurus claimed the ultimate aim of happiness is to find pleasure – and not virtue or knowledge unto themselves – many of his contemporaries and later critics would uncharitably accuse him of advocating debauchery, one even saying he “vomited twice a day from over-indulgence,” and that his understanding of philosophy and life in general was wanting.

One might hear the very same smear today from mainstream American partisans in regard to libertarians, i.e. that liberty lovers are simply “pot-smoking republicans” or libertines who barely understand life and are too drunk on utopian dreams to see clearly. In this same vein, many reproached Epicurus (as they do of libertarians today) for his aloof stance on politics as apathetic and his notion of justice as too transactional.

“Natural justice is a pledge of reciprocal benefit,” writes Epicurus in his Principal Doctrines, “to prevent one man from harming or being harmed by another.” Elsewhere he writes, “We must free ourselves from the prison of public education and politics.”

Accordingly, Epicurus set up his own school, “The Garden,” where he offered philosophy to anyone, even women and slaves – an unheard of practice at the time, which many contemporary critics saw as proof of his penchant for depraved behavior. Why else would one invite women and slaves into one’s abode other than revelry? Was he actually going to talk to them about ideas?

Thankfully, we have Diogenes Laërtius to defend Epicurus from his detractors:

    But these people are stark mad. For our philosopher has numerous witnesses to attest his unsurpassed goodwill to all men – his native land, which honored him with statues in bronze; his friends, so many in number that they could hardly be counted by whole cities, and indeed all who knew him, held fast as they were by the siren-charms of his doctrine…the Garden itself which, while nearly all the others have died out, continues for ever without interruption through numberless successions of one director after another; his gratitude to his parents, his generosity to his brothers, his gentleness to his servants, as evidenced by the terms of his will and by the fact that they were members of the Garden…and in general, his benevolence to all mankind. His piety towards the gods and his affection for his country no words can describe. He carried his modesty to such an excess that he did not even enter public life.

Joey Clark, “What Epicurus Can Teach Us about Freedom and Happiness”, Foundation for Economic Education, 2016-10-18.

July 9, 2017

Historical ignorance

Filed under: Education, History, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Jonah Goldberg laments the constant displays of historical ignorance in the media and on social media:

Ideological and political polarization is a big concern these days, and commentators on the right and left have chewed the topic to masticated pulp. But it occurs to me that one unappreciated factor is widespread historical ignorance, and the arrogant impatience of reaching conclusions before thinking. The instantaneity of TV and Twitter only amplifies the problem.

For instance, on the Fourth of July, NPR’s Morning Edition tweeted out the text of the Declaration of Independence, 140 characters at a time. The angry responses, from left and right, were a thing to behold. “Are you drunk?” “So, NPR is calling for revolution,” “Glad you’re being defunded, your show was never balanced,” and so on.

World War II and the Cold War, particularly Vietnam, used to define the intellectual framework for how we understood many events. For people in their 30s, that framework changed to the Iraq War and the War on Terror. In my more curmudgeonly moments, it seems like the new paradigm for millennials (and the journalists and politicians who pander to them) isn’t some major geopolitical test or moment but the adventures of Harry Potter. Having never read the series, I also don’t read the countless articles using the books to explain the political climate, but I do marvel at their ubiquity.

It should go without saying that a children’s book about a magical boarding school for wizards is of limited utility in understanding, well, just about anything in a world without wizards.

I once heard a story second-hand of a general who was talking to an audience full of 20-somethings. He was explaining how the War on Terror challenged his generation’s mindset. “I spent most of my career worrying about the Fulda Gap,” he said. To which one “educated” fellow reportedly replied, “I know that Gap! It’s in a mall near my house.”

The Fulda Gap is the location in the German lowlands where the Soviets were most likely to launch an invasion of Europe.

Today, we face a multitude of challenges, at home and abroad, that can only be met by people with a modicum of historical literacy. If only Harry Potter could cast a spell to give it to us.

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