American culture began its precipitous decline when post-secondary education became disinterested in Western Civilization, which only can be learned and understood, and from which we only can understand who we are and how we got here – and why we chose the direction we chose, through the Humanities.
The adults allowed this because their Baby Boomer kiddies in 1968 rebelled at hard work of scholarship and occupied the administrative offices instead of studying in the libraries, and the “Greatest Generation” gave up on their get – who now are trashing the planet – witness Obama, Kerry, Democrat voters, the Far Right, etc.
I’m as capitalist as the next guy and more than most. Capitalism has brought more people out of poverty and misery than any other force in the history of the known universe. But to put degrees in Engineering and Business higher in priority than understanding the reason why they are important; what we are going to do with them and why… is nuts.
To think that the Humanities leads only to a future as a barista is ignorance. My degree is in English/PoliSci – and I’ve had a successful 40-yr career in IT, and have made six figures since the mid-90s. In my group of hires at IBM in 1977 were multiple Humanities majors, along with Physics, Chemistry and a few – a minority – of Bus degrees and one MBA (out of 30 new hires in our office). Back then IBM was growing to $100B. it wasn’t until they decided that only IT majors and MBAs would be hired – and so lost the ability to communicate to everyday businesspeople and to understand their motivations – that IBM ground to a near-halt and, in the late 1980s began laying people off, something they once prided themselves on not doing even during the Depression.
For those who put capitalism (business degrees and only money) ahead of history and philosophy, to not even know where capitalism came from is crazy. And they will learn only from a study of the Humanities that it was created and promulgated as a way, a successful way it turns out, of stopping the constant religious wars in europe.
This takedown of a fairly accomplished professor doing significant damage to facts in our discourse – damage unknown to those lacking a foundation in the Humanities, with unknown consequences of advancing false foundations to susceptible students – is excellent. That the takedown is published in a thoughtful mag like Atlantic (even though it is Left-of-Center) is outstanding. It ought to be required reading. Because, yes, the essay is important; more important than most know.
FTA [emphasis mine]:
John D’Agata has accomplished an impressive feat. In three thick volumes, over 13 years, he has published a series of anthologies—of the contemporary American essay, of the world essay, and now of the historical American essay—that misrepresents what the essay is and does, that falsifies its history, and that contains, among its numerous selections, very little one would reasonably classify within the genre. And all of this to wide attention and substantial acclaim (D’Agata is the director of the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa, the most prestigious name in creative writing)—because effrontery, as everybody knows, will get you very far in American culture, and persistence in perverse opinion, further still.
D’Agata’s rationale for his “new history,” to the extent that one can piece it together from the headnotes that preface each selection, goes something like this. The conventional essay, nonfiction as it is, is nothing more than a delivery system for facts. The genre, as a consequence, has suffered from a chronic lack of critical esteem, and thus of popular attention. The true essay, however, deals not in knowing but in “unknowing”: in uncertainty, imagination, rumination; in wandering and wondering; in openness and inconclusion.
Every piece of this is false in one way or another.
America will not be great again until Americans again understand who we are, where we came from, how we got to be – and why all this happened…. And why our shared history did not lead in another direction.
The requirement for this knowledge it not a long-term, barely-important issue.
How can one with little, if any, post-secondary knowledge of world history conclude that islam is and always has been an existential threat to the West, and never interested in peace or coexistence… unless one understands European history? That if it is not stopped, it will defeat a somnolent West bent on accommodating it.. unless one grasps postwar European fertility (why islam has been accommodated and society bent to accommodate it). On what history is the anti-islam-expansion argument based? How does one reply to the coexist crowd with authority if one does not know with authority?
How can one understand the ongoing damage to society of the Frankfurt School? (Some of the best and most-accessible writing on the Frankfurt school and its lasting damage to the West is by Michael Walsh in his book The Devil’s Pleasure Palace.) What is referred to as the “creeping cultural Marxism” destroying Western institutions is the outgrowth of this school. How does one combat it without understanding it and its goals? If one does not combat it, how does – can? – one stop it? Why is stopping it important?
The world was not invented during the lifetime of the Baby Boomer and the computer. It is good to know and accept this, for only then can one act in the interest of further progress in Liberty, Human Rights, Living Standards, and society. Only in the West are these Rights and Liberties recognized and codified. Why? Espousing “multiculturalism” is a direct attack on those Liberties and Rights. Why? Absent a solid grounding in Liberal Arts, one cannot answer these questions.
If one is unaware of the true impact of the Industrial Revolution – and he fear it generated for generations – how can one confidently discuss the impact of automation on society and workers? Rent The Man in the White Suit for a glimpse into the fear workers have of industrialization – and of automation today – before you dismiss this fear by citing “Progress!”
I am not advocating stasis or regression. I advocate progress all the time and everywhere – but don’t you think it would be good to understand the impact of some progress so that we can tame these furies with common sense?
Putting in our homes Amazon’s Echo, for instance, is pretty cool. But when technology outstrips society’s ability to deal with its consequences, we might want to consider those consequences in advance. You will not be taught about society’s responses and growth in an Accounting class or a Physics symposium, nor will you understand the background of the existence of the Fourth Amendment.
Sure – we have Trump now, and he will begin to move America toward a pragmatic Center, and good for him.
But if we don’t understand the importance of the Humanities, and, doing so, take back K-12 and post-secondary education, he will be a historical blip in our march toward leftist totalitarianism. It’s hard work – but it must be done.
It begins with recognizing the supreme value of the Humanities.