Playing the Indian Card

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Catholic Culture Studies

All art that is not yoked to religion, like a big strong to to a plough, is useless. Any artist who is not religious is worse than useless: he is playing barehanded with fire, and will suffer for it.

But what religion? In the west, nearly inevitably, Catholicism. Protestantism has never understood the uses of art. For Catholicism, it is a native language. Judaism, of course, generates more than its fair share, but Judaism is a small faith.

I continue to be astonished to learn of artists who are devout whom I never suspected. Did you know Andy Warhol, that icon of the gays, was an almost daily churchgoer? Did you know Salvador Dali was very publicly Catholic? That Aubrey Beardsley converted? That Cezanne was very devout? That Anton Gaudi is a candidate for beautification?

Cinema: Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Robert Altman, Frank Capra, Mack Sennett—where would English-language film, be without the Catholics? Never mind French or Italian cinema.

And it isn't just the visual arts. English-speaking culture is especially strong in the language arts, traditionally—but don't the mostly-Catholic Irish tend to stand out within the English world in that regard? Even many of the big names of the literature of England tend to be Catholic, despite the rarity of the breed in that country, and the oppressions it faced: William Shakespeare, Alexander Pope, John Dryden, Geoffrey Chaucer, Oscar Wilde, TS Eliot, John Gray; in the USA Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack Kerouac.

Music? JS Bach was a Catholic convert. So was Gustav Mahler. Franz Liszt was a Franciscan. Vivaldi was a priest. Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Verdi, all identified themselves sufficiently with the Catholic church to compose Catholic sacred music.

Credit Protestantism with being more successful at commerce and good government; but it is Catholicism that gives Western civilization all of its preeminence in the arts.

With all those heavy guns, it seems to me odd that we do not see faculties of “Catholic Cultural Studies” in the universities, the way we see faculties of cultural studies of every other imaginable group. I think it would reveal a consistent cultural message. In fact, it is surpassingly odd that the main thrust of our literary and artistic criticism is Marxist or Freudian or existentialist or Jungian or structuralist or postmodern or “queer,” and not theological and parabolic.

It is also ironic that most folks today who have artistic pretensions are violently anti-Catholic. That is probably the primary reason that the arts are now so bankrupt. The Pharisees have taken over the temple.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Green World

It is possible to objectively prove the existence of God. Is it possible to objectively prove the existence of an afterlife as well?

I think it is, at least for some, by an appeal to their own experience.

Northrop Frye wrote a book, “The Green World,” in which he argued that most of Shakespeare's comedies feature a retreat to such a realm of nature, “typically a forest,” in which all the problems faced by the characters are somehow solved; and they live happily ever after.

He was close. Shakespeare's comedies, and romances, do usually feature such a world, but it is not really a realm of nature—it is not the real forest at all. For what do you make of an English forest that, in Shakepeare's conception, includes lions and palm trees? And sometimes the “green world” is instead some form of celebration, a holiday, or a performance.

“Nature” itself, in other words, is a metaphor for what these worlds really represent. What they really represent is the world of the imagination, aka “second sight,” which mimics the physical senses, and is also like nature in being endlessly fertile.

And as such, it is a keen analysis by Shakespeare. Every artist knows that it is in the imagination that problems are solved. According to Arthur Koestler's painstaking study, “The Act of Creation,” every important inventor or scientist knows this as well. You cannot be creative in any way without it. Einstein's “thought experiments,” for example, were and are green worlds in the same sense.

The imagination, I think, is also objective proof, for the strongly imaginative, of the existence of heaven and of an afterlife. One can become aware, powerfully, of a realm separate from the common physical world, but which has its own definite rules and exists apart from our own consciousness of it, out of our conscious control.

If one's imagination is powerful, one also becomes aware that this realm is a much better place than the everyday world—so much so that one develops a powerful yearning for it, and a corresponding disappointment with the visible world of the tiresome daylight hours.

I guess everyone has some experience of this second world—in dreams, at a minimum. But some clearly have far more awareness of it than others. When someone seems to think imagination is something under our control --- “stop daydreaming!” the teacher insists, or someone says “it's only your imagination” -- it seems to me they reveal that for them it is quite weak. But I think you can see clear references to it in the work of any really good artist—this is what makes artists, their awareness of the other world. Frye's “green world” could just as easily be located in the works of Edgar Allan Poe, or Samuel Taylor Coleridge, or Robet Louis Stevenson, or Stanley Kubrick, or anyone of that calibre; under various metaphors.

I think it is also the reason that artists of all kinds are also very likely to be depressives, or manic depressives. They become depressed, because they are painfully aware of this better place, and unable to go there, trapped mostly in this insufficient present world.

Conversely, I think most depressives I have known have been depressive because they are too aware of this other world.

“Schizophrenics”? I think schizophrenia may happen when one has no concept of the existence of this other world, and it suddenly manifests itself vividly. That's when one is liable to mistake the things of imagination for the things of the material world.

One corollary, I suppose, if this is right, is that people in general are wise to fear the mentally ill. For if this conception is true, it is also likely that mental illness is contagious. We may know that, instinctively.

The kingdom of heaven is among us.

For those of us who do not have a strong natural ability to perceive the imagination, the experience of art often does it for us. If and when we can become fully engrossed in a book or a movie, as most of us can, we are there.

That is our warrant. That is our proof that we can exist quite apart from the physical world around us, and apart from our physical bodies.

All human cultures have known this. It is more obvious than the nose on your face.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Crisis in Paraguay

A friend of mine is an American diplomat stationed in Paraguay. He reports on the recent scandal there: the President, a former Catholic bishop, has been accused by three women of fathering their children. He has admitted to fathering at least one of the children.

A BBC story adds that one of the women claims the affair began when she was only 16, under the legal age of consent, making it a crime. It also accuses Lugo of “breaking his vows.” The Washington Post avers that “in this heavily Roman Catholic country, the revelations about a man who had sworn chastity vows as a priest has stirred deeper concerns.”

My friend goes even further, taking the opportunity to do, as he puts it, “a little well-deserved Catholic-bashing.” He accuses the pope and the Paraguyan bishops of hypocrisy for not having excommunicated Lugo, the president in question, long ago, for not removing him as a bishop nad as a priest, and for keeping silent on the matter when he was running for president.
These accusations are based on a misunderstanding of Catholic morality. I'd say they're based on a misunderstanding of morality itself, but let's not even assume that. Since the charge is hypocrisy, it is sufficient to show that the Church and the Pope are following it, whether one agrees with it or not.

I post my response here, because I find that too often deep-seated prejudices are based on pure ignorance of a given religion. And we are, these days, remarkably ignorant of religions, including, often, our own.

There is no way Benedict or the Church could excommunicate Fernando Lugo merely for sinning. In the Catholic understanding, we are all sinners. If this were the rule, the Catholic church would necessarily have no members. Believing this, it would be the height of hypocrisy to excommunicate Lugo. One is excommunicated for rejecting Church teaching.

Nor would it be proper to remove Lugo as a priest or bishop because of his personal morality: one's personal morality is irrelevant to the conduct of this office. This logically follows, in part, from the Catholic understanding that we are all sinners: the church makes no claim, and has never made any claim, that priests are morally superior to the average layman. They are sinners like the rest of us, but they hold a specific sacramental function. I gather Protestants have a different concept of what their ministry involves, and so they are almost always confused on this point.

It is true that a breach of priestly discipline, i.e., violating one's vows, would be cause for dismissal. However, Lugo does not seem to have done this. Another common Protestant misconception is that the vow of celibacy is a vow to have no sex. That would be a vow of chastity; priests do not take such a vow. The vow of celibacy is a vow not to marry. Lugo has apparently kept this vow. There are no grounds to dismiss him there.

His personal morality, of course, does not look that good. But it is not the business of the church, or of any of us as Christians, to cast judgement on particular cases. To sin requires the motive to sin, and we can never be sure whether it was present in any given case. We can also never be sure that Lugo has not repented and been forgiven in Confession. Such matters are always between the individual and God. "Judge not, lest ye be judged.”

And consider Lugo's specific failing: having sex out of wedlock. Not to commit adultery is one of the ten commandments. It is binding on priests exactly as much, neither more not less, as on laymen. Now, how many of those accusing Lugo now have never had sex out of wedlock? How many of the readers of the Washington Post? How many listeners to the BBC? Doesn't the current culture, in Britain and in America, positively promote it?

Who here, indeed, is guilty of hypocrisy?

Neither is Lugo's personal morality obviously relevant to the performance of his duties as President. The issue of lying is of concern, if he has in the past publicly denied the matter; the most the Washington Post actually claims is that “during the campaign, he did not admit to having children.” Not even a sin; all of us have the right to remains silent. But the matter of fathering children out of wedlock doesn't even register.

It is therefore certainly not the job of the church or of his fellow bishops to have made their own knowledge or suspicions about him public. Unless there is a clear danger to someone else which could thereby be averted, speaking ill of another, even if one's words are truthful, is the sin of calumny. There was no such clear danger here, apparently.

So it would in fact have been a sin on the part of the Church or the bishops to have done so. Lugo's personal matters are between himself, the women and children concerned, and God.

My friend goes on to slam Paraguay itself for not being more scandalized about this. “In a developed country, this news would probably bring down the president and devastate the church. But this is Paraguay."

I don't think being underdeveloped has much to do with it. I think it has a lot more to do with Paraguay being a Catholic country. I cannot see such revelations bringing down a govenment in France or Canada, either. When former PM Trudeau had a child out of wedlock, and everyone knew about it, the common reaction seemed to be "Good for him." French President Mitterand's mistress was a well-known fact in France; nobody cared. Not the public's business. Former Philippine president Estrada boasted openly of having extramarital affairs. The Church did not like it, but it apparently did no harm to his popularity.

Part of the misunderstanding here is that Protestants are a lot more concerned about sex than are Catholics. Too often, when Protestants hear the word "sin," they think "sex," and vice versa. This connection is not there for Catholics. As sins go, adultery is fairly minor. Abortion would be vastly worse—and, to his credit, Lugo obviously did not opt for it.

Now go, Catholic-bashers. Go and sin no more.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Leonard Cohen's Hat

In his current and recent tours, Leonard Cohen always appears on stage wearing a generous-brimmed fedora.

Maclean's magazine asked him why. His answer sounds like a dodge: he simply said “I’ve been wearing a fedora for a long, long time. This particular hat is from a little hat store just opposite my daughter’s antique store in Los Angeles. They have a very good hat store there.”

Changing the subject, in other words.

The immediate, cynical suspicion, might be that he is going bald. But he is not. That can be easily proven—he doffs his hat at times, and shows it hides a silver mane:

Nor is it a question of style—for it is not, despite the hint in his answer to Maclean's, a question of one particular hat, or style of hat. In Dallas, he appeared in a cowboy hat. For a long CBC interview recently, he wore a slouch cap:

And he wore it, in this case, even though he was at home, indoors.

The real reason he wears the hat is obvious. Leonard Cohen has become (or has long been) an Orthodox Jew.

Orthodox Jews, in line with the Halacha, traditionally keep their head covered at most if not all times. Even indoors, directly counter to the traditional Canadian practice.

Cohen's “fedora” is in fact a black trilby, the most traditional style of hat among North American Orthodox Jews. The rest of his standard dress also conforms precisely to the traditional halachic norms: covered arms, covered legs, shirt buttoned at the throat, no view of skin below the neck, and black in colour.

He dresses like a Rabbi.

It is remarkable that no one has noticed this; it is a measure of just how out of touch mainstream culture has become with the single most important subject of all, religion.

Cohen, accordingly, is probably wise to dissemble on the point. He knows what happened to Bob Dylan when he went evangelical.

Cohen has always been deeply religious in his sentiments; but everyone wants to believe that he is a Buddhist. lists him as the fifth most famous Buddhist alive:

This is particularly odd, since Cohen so far as I can tell has never claimed to be a Buddhist, and, when asked, has always said he is Jewish. In this, his experience is very much like—and probably informed by—Jack Kerouac, whom everyone also thinks is Buddhist, although he always claimed to be, as he was raised, Catholic.

It is, I think, the general experience of great artists. Most of them end up, if they do not begin, deeply religious. But their public, and even more their critics, academic and journalistic, are rarely able to follow them there. Either they lose their audience, and become uncool, or they conceal their true message behind parables and smokescreens of superficial beauty, hoping the truly discerning will yet have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Buddhism is a good screen, in the modern West. People think it is cool; people think it is an amoral religion, and so they feel safe around it.

Judaism, like Christianity and Islam, is uncool, because it comes with all those tiresome moral precepts.

But Leonard Cohen, I suspect, really believes in all those tiresome moral precepts.

“You don't know me from the wind
You never did, you never will;
I'm the little Jew who wrote the Bible...”

Monday, April 20, 2009

Afghanistan's "Rape Law"

There is a lot of outrage everywhere in the West these days about the proposed new Shiite marriage law in Afghanistan. Canada, Germany, and New Zealand have all protested. The Toronto Star calls it “Afghanistan's 'rape' law”in headlines--the point being that it allegedly allows men to rape their wives. It also supposedly requires the husband's permission for a wife to work outside the home; though the details of this second provision are unclear from what is available in the news reports. The Huffington Post huffs and puffs: “to imagine that this injustice goes on in today's world is confounding.”

But all the outrage must seem rather odd to Muslims--given that it was a universal principle of common law in all English-speaking countries right up to 1991 that spousal rape was a logical impossibility. As recently as 1997, it was a recognized crime in only 17 countries. Okay, possibly we are right, and were wrong for the past five hundred or ten thousand years—but it does seem a bit hypocritical to so soundly condemn Shiites in Afghanistan for believing the same thing we all did up to twenty-five years ago. And it seems a bit anachronistic to refer to the law, as the Toronto Star does, as “Medieval.”

Though of course the Bible too, just like the Muslim sharia, recognizes a marital obligation to provide sex: see Corinthians 7:3-5. That would, of course, make Christians as guilty of “marital rape” as Muslims in this postmodern age.

More guilty, really. Neither the Bible nor the British common law allow the spouse to refuse sex for three nights running—the Afghan law would.

It is also, of course, wholly impossible to prove rape inside marriage, making it a bit awkward to enforce laws against it. Unenforceable laws do tend to bring the administration of the law into disrepute. Chillingly, though, a web source claims that, in Virginia at least, 88% of spousal rape cases result in conviction. This has to mean that a lot of men are being sent to prison solely on the testimony of their wives—suggesting a certain distinct lack of equal treatment before the law.

There seems to be much less concern over the part of the law that requires women to get permission from their husbands to work. I can't even find a clear statement on the Internet of what this actually entails, in the proposed legislation. The clearest reference I find says "The law also contains stipulations that women can pursue employment, education, or avail of doctor's services only with their husband's permission."

But this actually makes good sense: it is not a matter of discrimination against women, but of balancing rights and duties between the sexes. For it is also true that, in Muslim law, a man has an absolute obligation to support his wife financially. It does seem only fair, accordingly, that he has a say in what she does with her time, when it affects him directly. Indeed, sexual equality argues that we ought to have similar provisions in our own laws: why are women free to chose whether to work inside or outside the home, regardless of their husband's preferences, but men do not have the same freedom to choose? How many men might prefer to stay home every day, and let their wives worry about paying the bills? How many men would prefer, on divorce, to keep the kids and have their wives send them fat cheques every month?

Of course, there is something else about all this that must be puzzling the Afghans. The Westerners came in saying they were spreading democracy. Now they see a law duly passed by Aghanistan's elected parliament and signed into law by its elected president, but which they do not like—and they are demanding it be changed. It seems it is not really democracy that they want at all. You can't blame the Muslims if they throw up their hands and assume it is all just a plot against their traditional culture.

After all, it is.

To the typical Western leftist, they are simply “lesser breeds without the law.”

Saturday, April 18, 2009

What Makes a Good Teacher? - A Rhetorical Question

As we have noted previously in this space, the “scientific” approach to education over the last century has produced no significant, verifiable results. I believe it never will, for several reasons: human minds are too complex for all variables to be excluded; science is based on observation, and human minds cannot be observed; and there is an insurmountable observer paradox—the human mind cannot fully comprehend itself any more than one can completely swallow one’s body, or pull oneself up by one's bootstraps. And this is without considering the moral issues involved in experimenting on fellow human beings.

This being so, we are left with three useful sources for developing our philosophy of education:

1.Immediate student feedback (that is, these particular students, and even these particular students on this particular day);

2.Personal experience (what has worked for us in the past, as teachers or, even better, as learners; since only our own minds are directly observable by us); and

3.The wisdom of the ages (the advice or known practice of teachers of the past generally acknowledged as great).

We have already looked at personal experience; let's now consider option three.

We have dealt with the objection that relying on tradition is an intrinsically conservative approach: education is conservative by its nature, and seeking to avoid this only empties it of all content and makes it a waste of student time.

In fact, if we seek advice only from past teachers who have been great innovators—the Platos and Aristotles—we may actually come as close as possible to an education for innovation. For they, achieving great innovation themselves, are surely best placed to advice on how to show others to do likewise.

But it is also true that depending on long tradition is the most “scientific” approach. If a style of instruction has stood the test of time, for a great deal of time, this means it must have been perceived to have generated good results repeatedly, in a clinical context. This is really the best we can usually do when dealing with human beings—it is the approach commonly used in “scientific” medical practice. It is “empiricism” in that term's original meaning.

So, then, before we got involved in the notion of applying science to the classroom, and imagined we could study and understand fellow humans as we might an interesting kind of insect, what was the longest-standing style of teaching?

In a word: rhetoric. From the ancient world—from 500 BC or earlier—right up to the nineteenth century, training and ability in rhetoric was considered the essential qualification for a teacher, in all of Europe and North America. Rhetoric and “pedagogy” were virtually understood to be the same thing. Rhetoric: training in how to speak well; and, especially after the invention of the printing press, in how to write well.

Think about it: this makes perfect sense. The teacher is there to convey information, mostly in oral form. To be able to speak clearly, logically, and interestingly, is surely, next to knowledge of the subject, the most important skill for any teacher to have.
How interesting, then, that this is no part of the training of modern teachers at all. How could we overlook it?

As noted in this space in the past, when the US government undertook a huge, multi-year study to determine which of the various teaching theories produced the best results, Operation Follow- Through, most of the models produced and preached by the schools of education, based on the currently fashionable educational theories, actually did worse than the control. In other words, teachers' colleges test out as worse than no training at all. The one approach that clearly succeeded, “Direct Instruction,” was developed not by a teacher, but by an advertising executive.

But there you have it: experience in advertising is training in rhetoric, in presenting information compellingly. Skill in rhetoric is thereby proven to improve teaching, in scientific terms. Next to subject knowledge, it is the sine qua non, and perhaps only an academic could be foolish enough to think otherwise.

Happily, we have a vast body of thought, analysis, and literature on the subject—that lies in our libraries collecting dust. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Augustine, Erasmus, Aquinas—almost every major thinker in our history has written a treatise. Not to mention other cultures: Confucius, Al Ghazali, Ibn Sina, Maimonides, and so forth. All of their techniques, unlike our own, have been tested objectively. It is not only that they have stood the test of time: rhetorical techniques can be and are proven or disproven daily in the courts and legislatures of all lands, and so the best techniques can be pretty objectively known. On top of this, until modern times, lecturers had to earn their reputations and their livelihoods by attracting listeners to their classes. So these men must know whereof they speak.

Of course, in our high-tech times, and with the Internet, “rhetoric” must be considered more broadly than it has been in the past: to include not just speaking and writing, but the presentation of images, videos, animations, interactive exercises and simulations. But here too, we have some valuable guidance. Magazine publishers, for example, or newspaper publishers, have very clear data on what sorts of illustrations are most compelling. They know, because when they put them on their covers, they sell more copies then the previous month. So too, they must know what sorts of things people like to read—or go out of business. With the Internet, we can test almost anything in terms of media, quickly, by the number of hits it can attract.

This is the direction teaching, and teacher education, ought to take. This is the direction teaching, and teacher education, must take. If not, the profession will simply wither and disappear, because, with the Internet, it no longer can expect a captive audience. The schools at all levels have lost their monopoly on knowledge.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Progressive Education

The scientific study of education over the last century or so has produced no significant, verifiable results. I believe it never will, for several reasons: human minds are too complex for all variables to be excluded; science is based on observation, and human minds cannot be observed; and there is an insurmountable observer paradox—the human mind cannot fully comprehend itself any more than one can completely swallow one’s body, or pull oneself up by one's bootstraps. And this is without considering the moral issues involved in experimenting on fellow human beings.

This being so, we are left with three useful sources for developing our philosophy of education:

1. Immediate student feedback (that is, these particular students, and even these particular students on this particular day);
2. Personal experience (what has worked for us in the past, as teachers or, even better, as learners; since only our own minds are directly observable by us); and
3. The wisdom of the ages (the advice or known practice of teachers of the past generally acknowledged as great).

We have already dealt in this space with point 2; but perhaps one more thing might be added. Anyone who has been a student for twelve or more years has had a very long apprenticeship in how to be a teacher. He has watched teachers, good and bad, plying their trade for more hours on end than any apprentice in any other occupation, by the time he has graduated high school. Attending a teacher's college is not likely to add much—better to spend an extra year or two acquiring knowledge of the subject he will teach.

But now let's look at point 3: the wisdom of the ages.

I know at once the likely objection to this approach: that it is regressive. We live in a brave new world; things are changing faster than ever before. Even granted that there is no scientific progress in teaching practice, the world has changed a great deal over the past hundred years or so, has it not? And hasn't this changed our educational needs? If it was once useful to be well-grounded in ancient authorities, their thoughts may well no longer apply. Isn't it more important today than it was to learn how to think for ourselves, to be adaptable, to be innovative, creative?
I think it is. But this does not mean the education system can do anything about it.
Is our current system really teaching us to be creative and innovative? If so, the schools and academies, or at least their leading graduates, should be where all, or most, of the new ideas, the striking innovations, come from.

Are they? Consider the following list of famous innovators in various fields:

Thomas Edison – inventor of the light bulb, the phonograph, the motion picture projector: three months of formal education.

Albert Einstein—discoverer of the theory of relativity and father of modern physics—dropped out of high school, but eventually earned a Bachelor’s degree.

Steve Jobs—founder of Apple computer and father of the personal computer; founder of Pixar and of computer animated films; creator of the iPod, Mac, and iPhone—dropped out of college in his first semester.

Walt Disney—pioneer of film animation, of color in film, and founder of the concept of the theme park—did not complete high school.

Bill Gates—founder of Microsoft, Windows, etc. College dropout.

Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick—commonly acknowledged as the three greatest film directors in the history of cinema—none attended college.

Henry Ford—inventor of the assembly line and, some say, modern industry. Little or no formal education.

Tim Berners-Lee—inventor of the World Wide Web. Made it to a bachelor’s degree.

Nicola Tesla—inventor of the fluorescent light, among 111 patents. Managed to graduate from college after two attempts.

Orville and Wilbur Wright—inventors of the airplane. Neither graduated from high school.

George Eastman—the genius behind Kodak. Never finished high school.

Edwin Land—inventor of polarization and the instant camera, among other things. Dropped out of college after one year.

John Logie Baird—co-inventor of television. Never graduated from college.

Luther Burbank—inventor of over 800 varieties of plants, including the “Idaho” potato. Never made it to high school.

Philo T. Farnsworth—co-inventor of television. One year of college.

Joseph Armand Bombardier—inventor of the snowmobile. Never attended college.

George Bernard Shaw—most prominent English playwright since Shakespeare; winner of both a Nobel Prize and an Oscar. Completed high school, became a lifelong hater of schools.

WB Yeats--greatest modern poet in English. After high school, attended art school for two years.

James Joyce—greatest modern novelist in English. Managed a B.A.

Pablo Picasso—generally acknowledged as the greatest modern artist. Dropped out of art school at 16.

Had enough yet? Clearly, our leading innovators are not learning their trade by attending school.

Meantime, what are our universities devoting their time to? In the humanities and social science faculties, primarily, these days, to the theories of Marx and Freud, repackaged as feminism, “queer studies,” “post-colonial studies,” and so forth.
Marx wrote Das Kapital in 1867; Freud wrote The Interpretation of Dreams in 1899. This is hardly cutting edge. Moreover, both have been long ago conclusively disproven; yet even this has not prompted the academy to move on.

While the rest of us are in the 21st century, the academy is still in the 19th.
This illustrates a basic principle: while innovation is probably a good thing, it is not a thing that can be taught. To teach someone to innovate, to teach someone to think for themselves, is a contradiction in terms. It is not, therefore, and cannot be, the purpose of education to do so.

Education is by its nature conservative—it is the passing on to a new generation of the accumulated wisdom of their ancestors. To try to make it something else is to make it something less.

This, I submit, is what we often have at present. Especially since the 1960s, teachers and universities have tried to be “progressive,” and to teach innovation. The result has been an education stripped of content, an emptying of education, and mostly a waste of the students’ time. Where once they would have learned the thoughts of Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, or Confucius, now students learn only the thoughts of their particular instructor.

It has, and must, never have been a good trade.

And has it helped us be more innovative? The reverse: it indoctrinates. In fact, it is more likely that our growing demand for educational qualifications is stifling our ability to innovate, and to react to the changing world.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Apocalypse Now?

Two of my students here in the Gulf showed me a rock video after class, curious as to the meaning of the lyrics. It was titled “Europa,” and I had never heard it before. But here are some of the puzzling lyrics:

“Now we face the rising tide

Of new crusades, religious wars
Insurgents imported to our shores
The western world, gripped in fear
The mother of all battles here

All glory, all honor
Victory is upon us
Our savior, fight evil
Send armies to defend us

Empires built, and nations burned
Mass graves remain unturned
Decendants of the dispossessed
Return with bombs strapped to their chests

There's hate for life, and death in hate
Emerging from the new caliphate
The victors of this war on fear
Will rule for the next thousand years.”

And what, indeed, to make of this?

First, if this is representative of the thinking of young Europeans these days—and if it isn’t, one or two good rock songs could make it so—then the current high levels of immigration are obviously causing growing concern, not to say alarm. The doors are likely soon to slam shut.

But I also hear, chillingly, here, Nazi echoes. For one thing, the music is distinctly Wagnerian. For another, while the song is sung in defense and praise of Europe, it also defines Europe as having been born of the blood of many battles—history as a continuing kampf, a core Fascist concept. The fear it expresses of a foreign threat having infiltrated its gates is identical to the Nazi appeal against the Jews—the “foreign” Jews simply being replaced here by Muslim immigrants. The pseudo-pagan personification of "Europa" is also Fascist in tone.

And then there is that reference to a thousand-year Reich. Surely the allusion is intentional?

The current economic downturn seems the perfect occasion to bring such nativist sentiments out—perhaps in the streets. Just as the Great Depression spawned the Fascists’ success.

Let’s remember that our enemy these days is not just the new Fascism of “Islamism,” aka “radical Islam.” The greater danger is if a parallel movement is inspired in European and “Western” civilization. Fascism itself, after all, rose largely in reaction to the threat of radical Bolshevism. Let this happen again, and we are all faced with a hopeless Hobson’s choice.

Hear "Europa" for yourself here: