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God and Man Wherever

with 19 comments

From what I understand, something seems to have gone wrong with the blog site since the last time I posted, and several people found that there was no way to post comments to that last post.

I assume this couldn’t have been a general problem with the site, since people continued to post comments to the post before that post, but I don’t know.

It would be good to know if this is something I need to get fixed, so I’d appreciate it if as many people as possible could post comments to THIS post, if it’s possible, or send me an e-mail saying it couldn’t be done.

The comments don’t have to be “real” comments.  They just have to say something like “hey, I got on!” or whatever.

That way, I’ll know whether I actually need to do something, or if that was just a glitch in that particular post.

I’ll admit that a couple of things went oddly wrong in the writing of it, but I didn’t take them seriously at the time.

In case you wonder where I’ve been, the term started yesterday–the real term, with students in classrooms–and I’ve got a book due March 15, so I’ve been a little distracted.

I’ve also been indulging in odd little bits of nostalgia, or something. 

There are literally thousands of books lying around in my house.  Most of them are more or less recent–that is, no more than 25 years old, and therefore bought or given to me since I married Bill–but a remarkable number are in fact leftovers from my childhood. 

I’ve still got a fairly extensive collection of Nancy Drew, for instance, including the copy of The Ghost of Blackwood Hall, the first book I ever got to pick out for myself, which my mother bought for me at Malley’s in New Haven when I was six.  It was her prize for me for being “good” at the eye surgeon’s office when we went in to see about getting my crossed eyes fixed.

That’s one of those things.  My mother had crossed eyes as a child, in an era when surgery for that sort of thing was (at least) not common, and she’d been so traumatized by it that she insisted on “doing something” about mine as soon as she saw them.

It’s interesting to me, because hers corrected themselves by the time she hit high school, and so did those of at least one of her brothers.  In all likelihood, mine would have, too.  She wasn’t willing to wait.

A couple of days ago, I stumbled across another book I remember from my childhood–William F. Buckley’s God and Man at Yale. 

It was published the year I was born, and I bought my first copy of it when I was somewhere between ten and fourteen, which was also the time when I had my first magazine subscriptions, to The New Yorker and National Review.

 Before you get the idea that I was a preternaturally precocious politco and a conservative to boot, what interested me about National Review and God and Man At Yale both was not the politics, but the Yale. 

Or, at least, what I imagined Yale to be.

Yale’s undergraduate college was, at that time, all-male and showing no signs of being interested in admitting women.  It wouldn’t begin to admit women until the year after I graduated from high school–and yes, I applied and got turned down.

But to me, Yale was a set of beautiful college Gothic buildings stretched out across the center of New Haven, Connecticut, where I would sometimes walk when I had some time in that place to myself.  I would buy books at the Yale Co-op and then go wandering around listening to people talk.

And they did talk.  Undergraduates walking on sidewalks arguing about Locke and Hume, Henry James and Jane Austen. 

If Buckley’s book is to be believed, I either got lucky and caught the good stuff in a sea of the mediocre and trivial, or I only remembered the stuff I heard that made me happy.

Anyway, that’s what I was looking for–a place where people read books the way the people I knew watched television, a place where people talked about Locke and Hume the way the people I knew talked about each other.

In one way, I got very lucky indeed.

It was an era before the endless celebrity gossip we’re inundated with at the present, so at least I didn’t have to put up with chatter about the sex life of Pat Boone.  Or Elvis.

God and Man at Yale is a strange little book in a lot of ways. 

It was a significant best seller almost immediately, in spite of the fact that it does not even pretend to be a discussion about general trends in education or to be equally applicable to all colleges and universities.

Instead, it’s an essay on political and religious life at Yale by a recently graduated alumnus, and it’s guiding thesis is that Yale alumni should take a more active part in the running of the university than they do.

It is a book, in other words, in the middle of the great transformation of universities from being collegialities to being institutions run for the benefit of faculty alone. 

And sometimes it can be difficult to understand what’s going on, because the vision of the nature of the university is so different than anything we’d had since, at least the Sixties, that I had to keep adjusting and readjusting my sense of what is “normal” in academic life. 

Maybe the best way to say it would be that Buckley’s Yale is more like Sayers’s Oxford in Gaudy Night than it is like Yale, or anywhere else, today.

But other things struck me in reading this book, and mostly they had to do with a feeling of being out of time.

In some ways, Buckley’s Yale is far more familiar than it ought to be.

1) We seem to be making a lot of the same arguments that were being made right after the way, and making them in largely the same terms.

There is, for instance, the endless talk about “income inequality,” which appears to have been a catch phrase even then, and to have many of the same defenses. 

There’s also a lot about  how really, the day when individuals to do for themselves is long gone, and in the increasingly complex world we need increasingly complex government to protect us from “monopolies,” which (also like now) aren’t actually monopolies but just businesses large enough to “influence the market.”

2) In cases where the terminology has changed, I still found it familiar, because it is largely the terminology used by Ayn Rand to describe the relationship between the diffenent sides of the political divide.

In other words, we aren’t talking about “left” and “right” or “liberal” and “conservative,” but about “individualist” and “collectivist” theories of government, society and human nature.

Atlas Shrugged had not been written at the time this book was published, so I have to assume that the terms were used because they were the terms that were current at the time Buckley (and later Rand) published.

Rand used these terms all her life.  They are not the terms you will find in Buckley’s work later in his career.  His vocabulary moved with the times.

But it’s interesting, nonetheless, because so much of Buckley’s analysis of the nature and workings of “collectivist” thought is nearly identical to Rand’s, with the obvious exception of their differences in regard to the nature and import of Christianity.

And that’s interesting because Buckley had nothing but contempt for Rand as a writer, a philosopher, or a human being, and wasn’t shy of saying so.

National Review savaged Atlas Shrugged when it was published, and professed itself astonished that anybody would read the thing.  Maybe, the magazine opined, it was the people wanted “the dirty bits.”

To Buckley, of course, Christianity brought two things to the table that were absolutely necessary to the foundation and maintenance of a free society:  the concept of the individual human being as being of infinite worth and value in his individuality (that is, not as a member of a group), and b) the concept of “rights” as being something prior to and superior to social institutions meant to observe or violate them.

Rand, of course, saw Christianity as inherently collectivist in its valoration of altruism and insistance that men and women bow to the dictates of a God rather than define their own values and morality.

Back in the days when politics was about something more than an endless war over class markers–Volvos! Nascar! Chicken-fired steak! Brie!–it was, I think, a pretty good shorthand way of explaining the differences between conservatism and libertarianism.

3) Virtually nothing at all has changed in the last fifty years in the names the Left calls the Right.

Attacks by the Right have changed considerably, and the focus of right wing criticism of the Left had done a near 180 degree turn from the Sixties.

I could take almost any of the reviews of God and Man at Yale, though, and publish them tomorrow, and you wouldn’t be able to tell when they were published.

I don’t know exactly what I think about that.  The Right suffers, I think, from the loss of its high intellectual end, and conservatism especially suffers from the recent dearth of voices like Buckley’s, which wanted to preserve Western Civilization and not just “they way we did things in Hope, Mississippi when I was six.”

There is, however, something kind of odd about a Left that seems to be frozen in time, and that time being close to a hundred years ago now.

4) And, as a note, rereading this book gave me a piece of information I hadn’t had before.

One of my favorite organizations on the planet is called (these days) the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

It publishes books and lectures and does studies and runs a website all in the aid of the Great Tradition and classical Liberal Arts Studies. 

It has become, these days, “agnostic” about evolution, of course–because in the Politicization of Everything, all that matters is that we each consistantly take sides.

But aside from that, the organization makes me very happy most of the time, and it appears in Buckley’s book in its original form as an organization on the Yale campus meant to bring Yale back to the Great Tradition. 

So maybe, when I was fourteen, I wasn’t so far off in thinking that Yale presented a possible avenue into my fantasy world of people who lived for books and ideas, where wanting those things made you cool instead of stupid.

Of course, these days, Yale likes to turn down multi hundred million dollar bequests to found departments of Western Civilization–so there’s that.

And they did turn me down not just the once, but eventually three times in all, which says something else, I suppose, about the both of us.

I’ve got to go correct student papers.

Written by janeh

January 18th, 2012 at 10:42 am

Posted in Uncategorized

19 Responses to 'God and Man Wherever'

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  1. TEST!

    Actually, I didn’t try to post to the last one, so I don’t know if I’d have had trouble.

    Cheryl

    18 Jan 12 at 11:10 am

  2. I did try to post to the last one, but the little link that says “You must be logged in to post” was missing. When I did log in another way, the comment box was not present.

    On my blog, I have the ability to turn off people’s access to leave comments for each individual post. I was thinking Jane might have clicked that box by mistake for the birthday post.

    Anyway, what I wanted to say then was that I too was a bit flummoxed when my son turned 18 and suddenly nothing I was paying for was my business. I still don’t know what his first semester’s grades at Embry-Riddle were, though I suspect they were abysmal, since he had no credits to transfer when he returned to S. Cal.

    You just have to negotiate access to results with the offspring involved, in the sense that now it’s not parent-child, but more in the nature of employer-sponsored educational support. You better believe that employers who pay tuition want a thorough and prompt report on results, or they don’t pay for next semester!

    Lymaree

    18 Jan 12 at 3:35 pm

  3. This one is OK for me, Jane.

    Mique

    18 Jan 12 at 3:48 pm

  4. I didn’t try to comment on the last blog but this is working fine.

    3) Virtually nothing at all has changed in the last fifty years in the names the Left calls the Right.

    I have been thinking about the US Left attacks on “millionaires”. I moved to Australia 40 years ago and the average wage was $5000. My first job paid $7500 which was considered very good pay.

    At $5000 a year, it would take 200 years to earn a million dollars. We have had 2 major bouts of inflation and the average wage is now $50,000. A million now represents 20 years income and there are a lot of people with incomes of $100,000 a year. A 2 income family with $200,000 a year goes through a million in 5 years.

    And yet the left still talks about millionaires. They seem stuck in a time warp that ignores inflation.

    jd

    18 Jan 12 at 4:18 pm

  5. Working. My experience on “Greg” matched Lymaree’s.

    I’d say a century-long intellectual hiatus on the left is a minimum. You could copy and paste arguments from about 1890, except that you’d have to update the numbers.

    And I wouldn’t say a conservatism is without high-order intellectual defenders in the days of Sowell and Codevilla.

    But I also suspect it doesn’t matter. Intellectually, the left was blown out of the water when “Peace” signs were new. They never have responded to critiques of the disincentives created by the welfare state, or the inherent inequalities and corruption of the nanny state. They respond to critiques of their quota and preference systems by singing loudly, and to critiques of government employees not at all. This is tribal warfare–schools, dress codes and hobbies–and a belief among liberals and pro-government Republicans that Those People must be managed, ostensibly for their own good.

    And tribal warfare is conducted with stereotypes and slanders. What good would a new WFB do us when they never responded to the original?

    robert_piepenbrink

    18 Jan 12 at 5:01 pm

  6. Comments work OK this time. Congratulations on once again surviving the transition to parenting someone legally adult.

    Once upon a time I enjoyed watching Mr. FBuckley and Mr. Vidal engage in upper class-accented mud wrestling. Several recordings of the interchange survive on Google.

    Robert, both Left and Right respond unskillfully to critiques. A welfare state creates disincentives. So does a state that focuses exclusively on marketing goods, services, and celebrity. Nanny states may be inherently unequal and corrupt, but so may states operating on unrestrained liberty for a privileged few.

    Please provide an example of a state that operates in a balanced, equitable way. I’ll reread the Tao Te Ching as I await your reply.

    mmjust

    18 Jan 12 at 6:56 pm

  7. Actually, mm, you were about Exhibit “C” youself. Conservatives have abandoned poll taxes and accepted proportionate and generally even “progressive” income taxes. As a body, they’ve accepted more involvement of the central government in education than I personally think wise, and two of the most recent advances in “anti-discrimination” laws and an expanded welfare state were carried out by Republican Presidents. The center of the Republican Party is pretty much where JFK was in 1963, or even a little to his left.

    What I haven’t got is any recognition on the “progressive” side that the tax and intrusion plan of c. 1890 might profitably be modified in the light of reality. I think it was michael who posted a link to the David Brooks piece calling on Obama to be the liberal Luther, trimming excesses to save the system? The point isn’t whether Obama wants such a role himself, but that there is no such person.

    A century after the imposition of the FDA, there is still no promionent liberal willing to say that perhaps we could just test the stuff and leave it up to the citizenry to decide what’s good for them. FDR might have talked about “the shame of the dole” but you won’t hear it talked about that way at next year’s Democratic convention.

    There simply is no element in American liberalism with a stopping point: no one prepared to say “beyond this point we’ve threatened freedom more than we’ve promoted equality–and beyond THIS point, the intrusions don’t even produce equality at all.” But anyone who thinks about these matters must realize that there are such points, and I don’t see how anyone can study current events and not conclude they’re very near, and passed already in some fields.

    “Progress” implies a direction and a goal. And I think if modern “progressives” have one, it’s not something they’d care to articulate in public. Certainly there’s nothing to show they’ve learned anything after 1948.

    robert_piepenbrink

    18 Jan 12 at 8:45 pm

  8. Lymaree, as one who is currently getting tuition reimbursement from my employer, I can tell you that if you don’t get grades that qualify you for reimbursement, you don’t get paid for the current term.

    3M doesn’t pay my tuition, I pay it, and when I get my grades I get reimbursed.

    But yes, as you suggest, a parent would be well within her rights to ask to see their (supposed adult – and I say supposed because if they were really adult in attitude they’d recognize that it may be their grade, but as they’re being subsidized by Mom they should volunteer to share them) grades.

    MaryF

    19 Jan 12 at 3:00 pm

  9. Mique

    19 Jan 12 at 6:57 pm

  10. My kid does volunteer to share his grades–he told me when he signed the FERPA waiver–because he knows I’m helping to pay for them and he knows I won’t be a jerk about it and he’s mature and responsible, I guess.

    But still, knowing that you hold your own rights IS a cool feeling!

    Cathy F

    CAFiorello

    20 Jan 12 at 12:12 am

  11. My kid does volunteer to share his grades–he told me when he signed the FERPA waiver–because he knows I’m helping to pay for them and he knows I won’t be a jerk about it and he’s mature and responsible, I guess.

    But still, knowing that you hold your own rights IS a cool feeling!

    Cathy F

    CAFiorello

    20 Jan 12 at 12:12 am

  12. There’s a push here in Canberra (by the Greens) for a law to entitle 14 year olds to control access to their medical records.

    We live in an insane society which is getting worse by the minute.

    Mique

    20 Jan 12 at 12:45 am

  13. I never really connected independance with my legal majority. For me, it was the point at which I was keeping a roof over my head and paying my own way (OK, with student loans, but as an independant person, my parents didn’t cosign), which came before legal majority.

    My parents made it clear they’d help me through my first degree, and did pay all expenses for first year and a proportion of them until I dropped out for a short time, but I was plotting independance as soon as I started trying to get a summer job – any summer job that would pay enough to keep a roof over my head and that wasn’t in my home town. That was first year. I didn’t manage it for the first or second summer and had to go home to work, but I managed it after that.

    Cheryl

    20 Jan 12 at 7:20 am

  14. Perhaps children’s grades and parents’ support provide a model for civilized interaction between individuals and government. I see parents as the agents for the family and government as agent for the larger community. If the parent or community is paying a significant percentage of the cost (tuition, books, fees, housing, food, and other expenses) then the parent/community needs accurate information to calculate a cost: benefit ratio and adjust benefits according to a set of principles.

    Conservatives might embrace a version of the model in the parable: If a child chooses to go away and spend their parents’ substance on riotous living that child had better be prepared to get a job tending a herd of pigs, and expect that he or she will not be included in the parents’ will. If a resident chooses riotous living, he or she can dumpster dive for a while, because government assistance programs require documentation, which is seldom available to those who live riotously. If a resident chooses prudent living, he or she gets minimal taxes on capital gains and government help with redeveloping slum areas for sports stadiums.

    In the middle are parents who are not jerks and children who are mature and responsible enough for all practical purposes. Government provides public schools, highways, defense against attack from enemies foreign and domestic and reasonable protection from health hazards such as polluted water, spoiled or contaminated food, hazardous prescription and non prescription substances and communicable diseases. Residents who have income and resources in excess of meeting family basic needs pay enough taxes to support programs that benefit the community.

    Living in Oklahoma, Texas, and Kentucky has left me without many examples of what a far left wing parent or government does or might do.

    mmjust

    20 Jan 12 at 8:51 am

  15. Regarding the teacher evaluations in L.A.

    First of all, ANY and EVERY kind of formal employee “evaluation” is just full of non-sense assumptions and outright fallacies.

    Anyone who’s ever had to deal with them already knows that the “annual” (or “semi-annual” or “quaterly”) evaluation which is theoretically supposed to be based on “performance” over the entire period is most assuredly NOT. You’re evaluated on the last couple of weeks, maybe the last month if you’re lucky.

    If you’re REALLY lucky most if not all of the “good things” that happened that year happened in that last month.

    If you’re really, really, REALLY lucky, what you actually get evaluated on actually has something to do with the actual tasks your job involves you actually doing.

    If you’re supremely lucky, the evaluation criteria even make sense.

    Almost no one is that lucky.

    But on to the teacher evaluation and the Stull act and specifics.

    What’s the baseline for student improvement? The student’s scores LAST year under a different teacher?

    What’s the evaluation standard? I.e., how much “improvement” is required? How is it decided? Based on system wide averages? Based on that schools averages? Based on the teachers previous performance?

    Does the teacher get dinged if “on average” HER class average is below the mean? —- i.e., are we going to totally ignore statistical reality and stack the deck right at the outset against half of everyone who’s getting evaluated?

    We don’t live in Lake Woebegon, so not everyone can be above average. Mathematical realities won’t go away just because administrators or parents want them to.

    I could go on for hundreds of words regarding just how many ways such “objective” “standards” can be and have been screwed up by the innumerate.

    And I assure you, whatever they end up doing in L.A. will be determined by emotion and innumeracy and have nothing to do with reality.

    Further, as near as I can tell from my reading, the best performing educational systems don’t do anything like “teacher evaluations”, or at least that’s not at all what is driving their success.

    What happens is that they make a concerted effort to get good people motivated to become teachers in the first place.

    Finland may be, compared to the U.S., a mono-culture, but not so long ago their schools sucked.

    What THEY did was require any would be teachers to have real degrees in the fields they were going to be teaching, no bullshit “education degrees” allowed, and they raised teacher pay AND gave the teachers professional autonomy in their own classrooms AND pay to match other professionals.

    It took awhile, but Finland’s schools are now among the best in the world.

    Carrots work a hell of a lot better than sticks.

    But with current American attitudes toward teachers and teaching, that seems rather unlikely to happen here.

    Nevertheless, I assure you NO “teacher evaluation” system is going to fix a damned thing.

    michaelwfisher@cox.net

    20 Jan 12 at 10:50 am

  16. “Living in Oklahoma, Texas, and Kentucky has left me without many examples of what a far left wing parent or government does or might do.”

    Oh, mm, I’m so sorry! I thought you already knew.

    As a progressive parent, your objective is to bring up a child with no discipline and an overwhelming sense of entitlement. “Want” and “need” should not be distinct concepts. He or she should be completely unfamiliar with the idea of actions having consequences. Educationally, shoot for good verbal skills and argumentation and no concern for physical reality or economics. Try to keep the child out of those vulgar public schools. Ideally, you’re headed for a Political Science degree and a prestigious law school, but Sociology or Education may have to do: anything to avoid actually making or selling something.

    As a progressive government, remember that the purpose of government IS government. Ideally, there should be no decisions in which yours is not the deciding voice. Primarily you take money from the undeserving and give it to the deserving. Note that I did NOT say take from the rich and give to the poor. A Kennedy, a Kerry or a Kaiser can be as deserving as anyone. It’s a matter of supporting the right causes. So take from the driver to give to the “mass transit” even if the trains go nowhere anyone wishes to go. Take from the rock fan to give to the NPR listener. Pro-government radio listeners should not have to put up with commercials like the hoi polloi. Don’t care whether the streets are safe, but do try to ensure no one will ever have to work in the private sector.
    Try to legislate in defiance of economic reality. If people can’t produce more than $5 an hour, demand that they be paid $10. This promotes unemployment and a larger, more powerful government. Rent control breeds a splendid market in courts and exemptions.
    In education, don’t care whether the schools teach elementary school children to read and write. DO care that the First Graders have proper homosexual role models. Throw away the English and math textbooks to focus on consciousness raising exercises and non-competitive games. Remember always to promote self-esteem, and never to encourage the earning of self-respect. Never value facts over opinions, much less over feelings. Above all, never hold teachers accountable for the education of students. Remember teachers are part of government, and where would we all be if government officials were held accountable? So be sure to ban home schooling and heavily discourage parochial schools. What you’re shooting for is abysmal public schools–just as I’ve described–and private schools only government employees (including teachers, of course) can afford.

    Generally, remember that parents are only agents of the state, and if the child does anything you dislike–shows insufficient deference, say, is politically incorrect or could lose a few pounds–this is evidence of abuse. Take the child away and give it to foster parents who are infinitely superior, being government employees. (So far, teaching a child religion is not recognized as a form of abuse by judges hung up on the words of the Constitution. Keep claiming that it’s a “living document” and insisting that there is a “general welfare” enabling clause until this situation is corrected.) In a perfect world, any child not aborted will be raised be paid state employees. It’s a goal to strive for.

    Hope this clarified matters, mm: a real-life example behind every bit, mostly from California or New York.

    robert_piepenbrink

    20 Jan 12 at 6:27 pm

  17. Its been 40 years since I lived in the US so I can’t comment on Robert’s latest post.

    But one of my e-mail friends teaches Computer Science at one of the California State Universities. She complained about the difficulty of counciling a fourth year student who needed one required course for graduation when that course had be changed from annual to every other year due to budget cuts.

    jd

    20 Jan 12 at 6:41 pm

  18. Watch how much they spend on administration, jd–with special emphasis on “diversity outreach” and Freshman propagandizing mislabeled “orientation.” Courses that might actually teach are the first thing the university pitches.

    But certainly the state trims the university budget. They get to because no one expects the students to pay for the students’ education, especially given the overhead. And they have to because they’e certainly not going to keep state employees from retiring in their early fifties. Those are good faithful party voters and the union is a regular campaign contributor, after all. What’s education compared with that?

    But it’s a very odd university system if you’ve been schmoozing the same professors for four years and can’t find a way to finesse one course.

    robert_piepenbrink

    20 Jan 12 at 8:30 pm

  19. jd, my son almost got caught in that bind in community college (small city-based schools offering two-year associates degrees). He was in a series of 8 courses offered sequentially over two years, leading to qualification for an FAA certificate in airframe and engine maintenance. He aced courses 1-7, but when he wanted to register for #8, was told it had been cancelled for that term. There wasn’t enough money to pay the teachers, which as Jane has told us, is ridiculous, as they pay adjuncts at such schools peanuts.

    His 30 or so fellow-students and he managed, somehow, to talk sense to the administration, and he was able to enroll and finish that class. But the school, which is obliged by law to offer the post-education sessions that would actually allow him to take the FAA test, is still dragging its feet. More action needed, for something that would support what it reputedly one of the star programs this school offers.

    Mostly education doesn’t make any sense anymore. It’s all surrealistic. Blurry around the edges.

    Lymaree

    21 Jan 12 at 2:33 am

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