Great Books: A Paean and Cautionary Tale

As mentioned previously here, and as spelled out in more, and more current, detail at Rotten Chestnuts, college education has been made into a cesspool of idiocy, bad ideas and evil intent. I do not exaggerate: Just as I would have gladly let my children wander the street all day unsupervised than send them to the public schools of Fichte, William Torrey Harris, Dewey and Freire, I would rather they work as ditch diggers and sleep in hovels than attend any of our fine institutes of “higher education” except, maybe, to get job training in a technical RAD field.

Image result for old books

There are a few minor exceptions, of course: St. John’s College, where my beloved and I went to school, which, despite its name, is vehemently secular (and, as such, under tremendous pressure to conform, which pressure they are likely to yield to as they lack any dogmatic reason to resist). SJC graduate under 200 students a year; the UC system awards degrees to over 40,000.

Then there are the religious schools. Thomas Aquinas College, which two of our sons have attended, has about 400 students total, graduates maybe 75 a year. The Cal State system has just under half a million students and awards nearly 100,000 degrees a year.

And on and on. For every little college trying to get kids to look at real, substantive and lasting ideas and hone their minds trying to understand and discuss them, there is some giant university doing the opposite, cranking out 10, 100, or 1,000 times the graduates in Conformity Studies, who get their participation trophy for vomiting back whatever the professor wanted to hear. It ain’t pretty out there.

All good cults provide, first of all, a hermeneutic under which all opponents can be summarily dismissed. ‘They’ just don’t understand! They are unenlightened! They are eeeeeevil! They are trying to ruin it for you! They are on the wrong side of History! Thus, the non-RAD fields inculcate into their victims the absolutely essential idea of diagnosis: you don’t listen to what opponents say, you merely diagnose the disorder that would cause them to disagree with you. The diagnosis then supplies what ‘they’ really mean, removing from the enlightened the onerous task of actually trying to understand what an opponent is actually saying.

Once the them versus us dichotomy is firmly in place, the student is introduced into the gnostic mysteries that explain all things, without the bother of any actual thought. Thought, after all, might – barely – lead the student to have certain reservations or quibbles, and with such glorious goals – the goals of mindless fanatics are always so, so, glorious – almost within reach, such quibbles and reservations must be quashed with extreme prejudice.

The success of this project is awe-inspiring. To see how such success is not only possible but all but inevitable, contemplate the ramifications of Pournelle’s Iron Law. If I want to, for example, share my love of Dante with a bunch of ignorant, foolish 18 year olds, I will gladly leave as much of the admin portion of my job as possible to those who seem to want to do that sort of stuff. Over time, those people are sorting the resumes, manning the hiring committees, sitting on the tenure committees, constructing the school’s long-term goals and plans – in other words, my love of my subject and of teaching results in people who love running things having ultimate control of the institution. Soon, and very soon, nobody gets hired except those who pass the purity test of those people on the hiring committee; nobody get tenure except those who are with the program; new departments get set up to employ the otherwise unemployable products of this bureaucracy, with the goal of producing more like-minded (using ‘mind’ loosely) product. Eventually, You Are Here. We got ‘here’ about 30 years ago by my reckoning. Now, the holdovers from the previous regimes and those few who slipped through the cracks are aging out. It’s Studies Nazis all the way down. Your average chemistry professor, say, is cowed into silence if he hasn’t already taken an industry job.

The solution is two-fold, and it ain’t pretty: somehow, the colleges and universities must – must – be burnt to the ground, and the earth where they stood salted. There is no reform at this point. Funding must be withdrawn; all classes must be videotaped and posted where everyone can see them; all Studies fields must be challenged, mocked, belittled, scorned at every opportunity. And that’s not enough. Things may get – unpleasant. The option of standing by and watching has passed.

Then, we – you – must raise your children outside the K-12 system, which also must be burned to the ground. The education schools that produce the automata that staff K-12 schools are so, so Woke. You can educate your kids better than any certified teacher. Hell, your pet rock could. Yes, yes, you don’t know calculus too good – get over it. Samwise Gamgee is your goal. If your child is in that tiny percentage called to be real scholars, there are those little schools out there. If that’s what he wants and you have raised him well, he can do it. Same goes for job training, even the high-end stuff like medicine and engineering. If he really wants it, he can do it.

What about the Great Books? I love them and have even read them, some of them many times, some of them very poorly, but I’ve given them a shot. That experience, ongoing, creates in me a sort of humble pride or prideful humility: having measured myself against truly great minds, I am painfully aware that I am a second-rate intellect. There’s so much more work for me to do, and I won’t live long enough to do it. On the other hand, I am an intellectual, however second rate I may be. I do know how to think, how to read a book, how to reason and use logic, how to write a coherent sentence (not that I always do, but you get it). I have context.

That’s why when I hear a moronic marketing slogan like ‘everything’s a social construct, man’ I see a not very subtle transmogrification of a bad idea that’s at least 3,000 years old, and was already an old idea when Aristotle mocked it. The basic idea stated in a more intelligible form: there is no such thing as objective reality. All any of us have is subjective experiences. For each of us, reality is a creation of our own minds. The marketing spin is to introduce the idea of ‘collective’ or ‘society’ as the creator of the subjective universe. Having read all those books, and an inadequate but not insubstantial selection of history, I can see that this appeal to ‘the masses’ or ‘society’ is a painful ruse: ‘advanced’ societies, ones which are ‘woke’ as the kids say these days, are lead by Vanguards, whose consciousness is the society doing the constructing. But wait, there’s more! The Vanguards themselves are created and managed by leaders, world-historic individuals who are even more woke! Actual history (not the god that is not a god capital ‘H’ History) shows us those guys are not avuncular and kindly men like people imagine the Bern to be, but have always been guys like Pol Pot, Mao, Lenin, Stalin, Che – you know, sociopathic mass murderers. That the most blood-thirty and brutal ‘leaders’ rise to the top under Marxism is not an accident, but is required by the logic of the Marxist system itself – but you’d need to have honed your mind on some real thought to understand why that is so. The woke of today have been very successfully immunized against that!

Thus, the ‘society’ doing the ‘constructing’ is going to be one sociopath and his sycophants. The rest of you jokers? Useful idiots.

Well, this ramble got out of hand. So much for the Great Books, which are a good idea but not a panacea. If you children were raised to be Samwise Gamgee, a rooted, level-headed person well aware of his own limitations and intimately familiar with the lore and traditions of his people, which people, lore and traditions he loves with whole heart – well, THEN the Great Books would be an immense value to them. But all one needs to do is look at the Enlightment, many of the scholars of which knew the Great Books quite well, to see how such knowledge can be misused, perverted and ignored. For someone unconcerned with being modern, someone who hasn’t accepted the contrary-to-fact dogma of Progress, Locke and Rousseau, for example, are often quite idiotic. In Dr. Johnson’s famous assessment, they are both good and original. Where they are good, they are not original, and where they are original, they are not good. But if you have absorbed the chronological snobbery ubiquitous in today’s schools, you just know those two jokers are 2,000 years smarter than Aristotle!

But, alas! It would be a minor miracle if the products of our current K-12 system, especially if they had the misfortune of being good at it, could get anything out of the Great Books except a knowing, dismissive sneer.

Miracles do happen. And reading hard books is still far better than the predigested vomit served in schools today.

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Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

6 thoughts on “Great Books: A Paean and Cautionary Tale”

  1. This is why I’m glad my kids’ elementary school is going to classical education, and why we’re seriously looking at a great books high school home school curriculum for when my oldest gets there.

  2. I will add another challenge, since I agree with everything you wrote. Right now every kid and their patents are planning and figuring out how to get their college and careers figured out. Because that’s the most important thing.

    My sane (yes, they exist) lefty colleagues and I are trying to figure out how to connect young people with alternatives to debt-slavery aka college.

    But what I want to figure out is how to get us planning and figuring out how young people will get their wives and husbands.

    1. A classic education has served my wife and me well. The bad news: a large percentage of SJC graduates none the less end up Hegelians or Marxists.

      Euclid alone is worth the price of admission. For many people, it is there first experience of the beauty and power of logic and math. For me, the defining moment: when I saw that, no matter what they say, everyone acts as if Aristotle is right: there is an objective world, we learn about it through our senses, and we can know the truth about it, however imperfectly. All those Kantians and Cartesian etc. are pretending to hold views contradicted by every breath they take and every thought they think.

  3. Madness all the way down.

    Will attest, as someone who is very good at the modern schooling process, I get very little when I try to read the Great Books. I’m not about to give up, but except for bits of Aristotle and most anything Aquinas, (especially in literature) I might as well be engaging with an instruction manual in Russian, for all I can make myself care… but then, I was instructed in some of the finest K-12 Fichtean schools in my state!

    My biggest blessing is that they didn’t really teach the Bible, or I might struggle more than I do already with that too!

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