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Mysterioso Problematicus

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Let me start with a little background here-it is the day before Thanksgiving, and I do not have a working refrigerator in th is house.  I was supposed to get one delieverd by a certain well-known national chain of bargain department stores, but they managed to decide not to deliver until next week and then didn’t tell me about it.   So, having figured out something was wrong–no e-mail or phone call confirming the delivery they’d already paid themselves for out of my card–I made a few phone calls and, wham. 

So I ended up cancelling that, and calling someone local, who has promised to be here any minute, and who ended up charging me nearly a hundred dollars less for the same make and model. 

Which is interesting, all things considered.  But it’s not here yet, and the new delivery time has pretty much destroyed my day, so I’m a little antsy.

So to speak.

But I want to get to Robert’s comment about how it’s all obvious why the  West has produced a load of self-hating, anti-Western “intellectuals–they just hate demcrocy because it empowers the masses and the masses don’t take all those tenured humanities professors seriously.

I don’t want to completely repudiate this train of thought, because I’ve had it myself.  If you go to the main page of the website, you’ll find an essay called “Why Intellectuals Love Marx,” which says almost exactly the same thing.

And there are people like George  Steiner–in an essay called “Archives of Eden”–who have said that democracy is good for people but bad for art, and who therefore want to ditch the democracy.

But as a generl explanation for the phenomenon I’m talking about, the explanation will not do. 

Neither Byron nor Shelley was an academic of any kind–and tenure didn’t even eist in England during the Romantic period.  Nor could either of them complain that they were being ignored by the masses.  They were their generation’s equivalent of rock stars.  When they gave readings, those readings were packed.  When they published their work, it sold out.  They were rich, famous and celebrated, and they had every reason to think that the empowering of the democratic masses was actually going to be good for them on every material level.

Nor does this explanation cover the tens of thousands of ordinary members of the European public–everyday ofice workers, doctors, lawyers, you name it–who are committed to just as virulent versions of anti-Western bias. And I do mean anti-Western, and not just anti-American. 

The drive to cultural suicide in some European countries defies all reason, and is completely unaffected (is that a word?) by evidence. 

I’m sorry, but I think this particular oddity requires an explanation.  And it’s an odder oddity than it’s given credit for.

Anti-Western attitudes are not confined to humanities departments even on college campuses.  There’s plenty of that sort of thing going around in the hard sciences.  One of the most strident of the New Atheist lecturers–complete with the whole anti-capitalist, the masses are idiots schtick–is a man with a Nobel prize in physics.  There’s a reason why they say that the other departments on a university campus have “physics envy.”  If anybody gets deference in this society, it’s scientists, and physicists are generally considered to be the smartests guys on the planet.

But the really oddest thing here, and the one that I think needs some investigating, is the fact that most of this constitutes self loathing, and self loathing needs an explanation any time it appears.

In the lives of individuals, it is usually the result of guiltbut there are civilizations with far more blood on their hands than this one which do not inspire this kind of collective revulsion on the part of their members. 

There is something going on here that is much bigger than the petty resentments of some marginal academics.

Written by janeh

November 25th, 2009 at 6:36 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to 'Mysterioso Problematicus'

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  1. I’m glad you got your fridge. I’d forgotten it was a holiday weekend down there, and that must have made it even more important than usual to have one!

    I’m not sure what the underlying reason might be for what you’ve described – although I’ll point out I have read recently of European efforts to define their culture in the face of immigration. That seems slightly odd – I know it happens in North America, too, but I suppose that we mostly don’t bother because part of our (and Australia’s, for certain) self-identification IS as countries created by immigrants, and I don’t suppose Europe has had that since all those confusing tribal migrations when the Roman Empire was declining and had fallen.

    I wonder if the lack of a challenge is part of the problem? Patriotism is out of favour – in fact, many people argue that nationalism itself is a Bad Thing and should be destroyed, while simultaneously arguing for self-determination of smaller and smaller groups of people. I think that’s startlingly premature. Nationalism is a powerful and dangerous force, it’s true, but I can’t see anything except more conflict and bloodshed following its demise. Anyway, building or expanding your country is passe, and solving internal social problems seems frustrating and unrewarding since although a couple of centuries of heroic effort have eliminated many abuses, there are still people who don’t seem to be able to accept the nice middle-class ideal. The heroic scientist finding a cure for diabetes has been replaced by anonymous teams testing cancer drugs. Religion has been abandoned by many people, so that elminates many roles for personal heroism, from that of the quiet saint to that of the religious social reformer, parallel to the secular one I just mentioned. We still get a few explorers, but there are fewer empty places to go, and less recognition when you get there.

    It’s much easier to blame the lack of opportunity for greatness on a degenerate culture than it is to focus on gratitude that we no longer die young from cancer caused by working as a child chimney sweep, and to make a quiet and obscure good life. We want to DO something that will be recognized, and turn our energies into the new religions of environmentalism and international activism – and when the problems in these appear intransigent, well, we can blame our society again rather than think that maybe we don’t have all the answers to some problems, and maybe we (and no one else, not even our country) are not all-powerful.

    We can’t admit to weakness and failure, especially not when we’re young (and our ideas are being formed) and especially when we have leisure enough and food enough and comfort enough to get restless and bored. We have no framework within which to deal with loss and failure and tragedy. We’ve dismissed religion, which would at least tell us that we are not perfect and not in control of the world. If we’ve replaced religion with anything, it’s with the false idea of continual progress, with ourselves at the top of the heap. And when this progressive top-notch society fails, as it must inevitably from time to time, especially if you expect it to solve every problem in the world, well, the fault must be in the society, not in us, and not in our expectations.


    26 Nov 09 at 7:21 am

  2. Maybe.
    Usually, you give more credit to the long-term effects of education. I think any explanation has to be built around observed facts, notably (1) the anti-Western intellectual doesn’t really come into his own until the latter half of the 19th Century–that is, when the inellectuals can see where freedom and democracy lead–and (2) The anti-Western heartland is always the fuzzy end of the University, which includes physics. (For contrast, consider the Arab world, where radical engineering students are fairly common. There’s a reason most of our nutcases can’t build working bombs.)
    I’m mor einclined to use this as a working hypothesis and look for refinements to cover details and inconsistencies, but I’m open to another theory if anyone has one.

    Shelly and Byron strike me as being more pro-French Enlightenment than anti-Western, though I think Byron just plain had a problem with rules. He liked places he hadn’t been yet because they potentially wouldn’t object to his (generally reprehensible) conduct. If he’d “turned Turk” and settled in Syria, I don’t think he’d have approved of them either.


    27 Nov 09 at 4:58 pm

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