Family, part 1

The dreariness of the family’s spiritual landscape passes belief. It is as monochrome and unrelated to those who pass through it as are the barren steppes, frequented by nomads who take their mere subsistence and move on. The delicate fabric of the civilization into which the successive generations are woven has unraveled, and children are raised, not educated.

I am speaking here not of the unhappy, broken homes that are such a prominent part of American life, but the relatively happy ones, where husband and wife like each other and care about their children, very often unselfishly devoting the best parts of their lives to them. But they have nothing to give their children in the way of a vision of the world, of high models of action or profoundsense of connection with others. The family requires the most delicate mixture of nature and convention, of human and divine, to subsist and perform its function. Its base is merely bodily reproduction, but its purpose is the formation of civilized human beings. In teaching a language and providing names for all things, it transmits an interpretation of the order of the whole of things. It feeds on books, in which the little polity—the family—believes, which tell about right and wrong, good and bad and explain why they are so. The family requires a certain authority and wisdom about the ways of the heavens and of men. The parents must have knowledge of what has happened in the past, and prescriptions for what ought to be, in order to resist the philistinism or the wickedness of the present. Ritual and ceremony are now often said to be necessary for the family, and they are now lacking. The family, however, has to be a sacred unity believing in the permanence of what it teaches, if its ritual and ceremony are to express and transmit the wonder of the moral law, which it alone is capable of transmitting and which makes it special in a world devoted to the humanly, all too humanly, useful. When that belief disappears, as it has, the family has, at best, a transitory togetherness. People sup together, play together, travel to- gether, but they do not think together. Hardly any homes have any intellectual life whatsoever, let alone one that informs the vital interests of life. Educational TV marks the high tide for family intellectual life.

The Closing of the American Mind, pp. 57-8

The source of this problem is described in the paragraphs that follow, for those interested.

Posted: December 19th, 2010 | Excerpts

The One Thing You Will Never Learn at a Liberal Arts College

Life isn’t fair.

It seems like a simple enough lesson, but it’s apparently forbidden in the ivory tower. I’ve seen a stunning amount of work put into academic deconstruction of the unfairness of the simplest statements, demonstrating a scholarly grasp of the intricacies of a situation, but a five-year-old child’s demand for some grown-up out there to set it right. There is an unwritten law that academics are not allowed to identify any social problem that originates in their own thinking. They might be able to correct the scholarly consensus, but in the end, the solution to the problem always lies in changing someone else’s behavior. And merely identifying an external agent, whether real or imagined, doesn’t solve anything. Life doesn’t operate by the ethics of what ought to be.

In college you are exhorted to go out there and make things fair, but life isn’t fair; some small parts of your life may have been fair, but the majority of it wasn’t. Having identified the cause of all your problems, you are told to remedy it and thereby fix the world. But you’re not going to fix the world. Your ability to fix things will vary deeply; if you’re very lucky and very courageous, you get to fix the lives of the people around you; if you’re merely average like most of the world, you fix yourself and maybe your family; if you’re unlucky, not even that. They don’t teach lessons on how to move from the unlucky to lucky tier at your school. You might pick it up from a church or a community group, but most likely you will have to learn as you move along.

College does not teach you how to operate in humanity’s complex web of power and relationships, or even its own section of that web. In fact, if you really, truly believe what you are taught in college, you will never learn to navigate this world. Instead, you will protest the human reality that you live in, refusing to respect the existence of power and desiring an end to its constituent parts. On the personal level: You will learn how to protest any unfair treatment of you yourself, or perhaps someone around you, by making a big fuss.  You will see the lawsuit as the ultimate weapon in your personal life, and public shaming as the ultimate consequence. You will not understand how to shrug off the small stuff and resolve the larger issues quietly to the satisfaction of all involved. If you have integrity, you will lean towards religious asceticism, and may find some peace in separating yourself from the world entirely; if  you lack it, you will simply be known as the most troublesome person in your circle of acquaintances.

On the political level: Anyone who refuses to adopt your message will be either ignorant, bigoted, or evil. You will discover that most of the world falls into one of these three categories. You will find that your personal vision of a just world and a fair life differs from that of others who naively desire a total end to injustice, and you will be doomed to fight with those comrades instead of “the enemy”. Meanwhile, your actual participation in society, through part-time jobs, freelance work, or street protests, will be irrelevant — not because rebels have never won, but because true rebellions are born out of more than theoretical ponderings. The true operation of the world will be beyond your grasp, except for a small circle of friends.

Those who reject what they were taught, or majored in economics or business instead, will be rewarded with both success and wisdom. Perhaps they will never understand the extent of injustice around the world and the tools needed to right it. But, over time, they will come to understand the smaller worlds that they themselves live in. That form of knowledge is truly power, and whether they use that power for good or evil is up to them; but it will become theirs to wield.

The founders of many American liberal arts colleges were solid Protestants who hoped to use the influence of the university system to spread their values. In the most superficial sense the collegiates of today have rejected that Christianity. But, on a much deeper level, they carry on the 19th century Protestant message of utopia on earth, and parade through the streets proclaiming their absolute truths and rallying fervent believers to their personalized causes. They can do what they want, but the facts will not change. Life isn’t fair.

Posted: December 18th, 2010 | Kultur 6 Comments »