Modernism on the Feast of Pope St. Pius X

Here’s a few selections from the old Catholic Encyclopedia’s write up on Modernism, in honor of Pope St. Pius X, who was pope at the time this encyclopedia was being written and who gave Modernism both barrels.

What Modernism is:

A full definition of modernism would be rather difficult. First it stands for certain tendencies, and secondly for a body of doctrine which, if it has not given birth to these tendencies (practice often precedes theory), serves at any rate as their explanation and support. Such tendencies manifest themselves in different domains. They are not united in each individual, nor are they always and everywhere found together. Modernist doctrine, too, may be more or less radical, and it is swallowed in doses that vary with each one’s likes and dislikes. In the Encyclical “Pascendi”, Pius X says that modernism embraces every heresy.

One reason a full definition of Modernism would be difficult is that Hegel, the tent-pole Modernist, held that definition – stating what something or some idea *is* and *is not* – is right out. The world is Becoming, not Being, so that all statements of being are essentially meaningless. Thus, expecting some sort of consistency in the beliefs and behaviors of Modernists is also nonsensical. They are all manifesting, in better or worse, or more or less advanced, ways the feelings of the age.

That “embraces every heresy” line is interesting. The future saint doesn’t say “is open to” or “may fall victim to” but “embraces” – a positive act. This embracing of the heretical, expressed in phrases such as ‘everything is a social construct’ or ‘that’s your truth’ is not just a letting down of our guard against heresy, but, in keeping with the Hegelian rejection of statements of being, a necessary step in the upcoming synthesis. A heresy is not wrong, it is merely the expression of the antithesis to some dogma, destined to become suspended yet not contradicted in a new and better understanding.

Note that one outcome of this kind of emoting – it would hardly do to call it thinking – is the readily apparent moral race to the bottom we’re seeing now. Nothing at all can be fundamentally wrong, but merely daring or transgressive, soon to be incorporated into enlightened understanding. Hegel, who imagined the Spirit driving all this enlightenment, may have not meant it that way, but it’s a funny tendency of ideas to get off leash and be pursued to their logical conclusion regardless of who thought it up and what they may have wanted.

A remodelling, a renewal according to the ideas of the twentieth century — such is the longing that possesses the modernists. “The avowed modernists”, says M. Loisy, “form a fairly definite group of thinking men united in the common desire to adapt Catholicism to the intellectual, moral and social needs of today” (op. cit., p. 13). “Our religious attitude”, as “Il programma dei modernisti” states (p. 5, note l), “is ruled by the single wish to be one with Christians and Catholics who live in harmony with the spirit of the age”. The spirit of this plan of reform may be summarized under the following heads:

– A spirit of complete emancipation, tending to weaken ecclesiastical authority; the emancipation of science, which must traverse every field of investigation without fear of conflict with the Church; the emancipation of the State, which should never be hampered by religious authority; the emancipation of the private conscience whose inspirations must not be overridden by papal definitions or anathemas; the emancipation of the universal conscience, with which the Church should be ever in agreement;
– A spirit of movement and change, with an inclination to a sweeping form of evolution such as abhors anything fixed and stationary;
– A spirit of reconciliation among all men through the feelings of the heart. Many and varied also are the modernist dreams of an understanding between the different Christian religions, nay, even between religion and a species of atheism, and all on a basis of agreement that must be superior to mere doctrinal differences.

Every get frustrated with the idea of Progress as an intransitive verb, divorced from any idea of progress toward something? That’s a feature, not a bug.

So Rodney King’s ‘why can’t we all just get along?”, that Hull House lady Jane Addams (I think) who convinced John Dewey that there are no real disagreements, only misunderstandings, and Jo Swenson’s Empathicalism, where the goal of life is “to project your imagination so to actually feel what the other person is feeling.”  – these are all flavors of Modernism. Right?

Perhaps Modernism could be defined as the idea that humanity will find peace only once all join hands in a sufficiently murky emotional miasma.

For [Modernists] external intuition furnishes man with but phenomenal contingent, sensible knowledge. He sees, he feels, he hears, he tastes, he touches this something, this phenomenon that comes and goes without telling him aught of the existence of a suprasensible, absolute and unchanging reality outside all environing space and time. But deep within himself man feels the need of a higher hope. He aspires to perfection in a being on whom he feels his destiny depends. And so he has an instinctive, an affective yearning for God. This necessary impulse is at first obscure and hidden in the subconsciousness. Once consciously understood, it reveals to the soul the intimate presence of God. This manifestation, in which God and man collaborate, is nothing else than revelation. Under the influence of its yearning, that is of its religious feelings, the soul tries to reach God, to adopt towards Him an attitude that will satisfy its yearning. It gropes, it searches. These gropings form the soul’s religious experience. They are more easy, successful and far-reaching, or less so, according as it is now one, now another individual soul that sets out in quest of God. Anon there are privileged ones who reach extraordinary results. They communicate their discoveries to their fellow men, and forthwith become founders of a new religion, which is more or less true in the proportion in which it gives peace to the religious feelings.

The attitude Christ adopted, reaching up to God as to a father and then returning to men as to brothers — such is the meaning of the precept, “Love God and thy neighbour” — brings full rest to the soul. It makes the religion of Christ the religion , the true and definitive religion. The act by which the soul adopts this attitude and abandons itself to God as a father and then to men as to brothers, constitutes the Christian Faith. Plainly such an act is an act of the will rather than of the intellect. But religious sentiment tries to express itself in intellectual concepts, which in their turn serve to preserve this sentiment. Hence the origin of those formulae concerning God and Divine things, of those theoretical propositions that are the outcome of the successive religious experiences of souls gifted with the same faith. These formulae become dogmas, when religious authority approves of them for the life of the community. For community life is a spontaneous growth among persons of the same faith, and with it comes authority. Dogmas promulgated in this way teach us nothing of the unknowable, but only symbolize it. They contain no truth. Their usefulness in preserving the faith is their only raison d’être.  They survive as long as they exert their influence. Being the work of man in time, and adapted to his varying needs, they are at best but contingent and transient. Religious authority too, naturally conservative, may lag behind the times. It may mistake the best methods of meeting needs of the community, and try to keep up worn-out formulae.

Those church songs I’m always going on about, where we, the gathered people, are mentioned directly or indirectly to the exclusion or near-exclusion of God – these are not some accident. They embody the above emphasis on *us* as the source and summit of religion.

What could possibly go wrong?

All heresies are rejections of the Incarnation. From Satan on down, pride inclines us to reject the idea that an all-powerful God could ever be so humble as to become one of us. Modernism rejects the idea that, having become one of us, Jesus might have something to say, and, having said it, might expect us to embrace it. They called him ‘Rabbi’ that is, ‘Teacher,’ yet we are incapable of being taught. No – we turn to feelings, to our personal direct experiences without any animating influence from that guy on the cross. We may stumble across Him (not that that could be all that important) and feel some connection. Or not. But that hardly matters. What matters is that we embrace our feelings and each other as we stumble into the sulfurous cloud.

Little heavy, there. But nothing compared to Pope St. Pius X. He was metal. Perhaps his St. Michael’s pray would be a good palate cleanser at this point.

Pope St. Pius X – Pray for us!

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Future Families

Been thinking about the confluence of technology and people considered both as individuals and as members of a family. The loss of family estates and the rise of existential dread by Adam Lane Smith inspired me to blog about it.

Mr. Smith’s short essay is about how human being have always tended to organize themselves along the lines of an extended family. He maintains – and I agree – that it is within such a family that human happiness is best obtained. This need for family is not limited to natural tribes. St. Benedict, when he created the Western monastery – literally, a collection of solitary hermits, as the ‘mono’ here refers to alone – he was reining in the dangers of individualism untethered from social relationships. Monks – again, the name comes from being alone – now lived in community. They had plenty of time to pray and study alone, but had reciprocal duties with the community: monks take care of the community, and the community takes care of the monks.(1)

The bug in my brain: we may or may not like the idea of a society organized around a family estate headed by a patriarch, but I think technology is going to push us in that direction, or push us over a cliff.

Consider two factors: for centuries now, since, perhaps, the first troglodyte knapped a good flint blade, technology has been eliminating jobs almost as fast as it has created them. Take any remotely modern job, even, say, a farm working picking crops, and you can back up into a million bits of technology that make that job possible: trucks, refrigeration, irrigation, pumps, herbicides, supply chain management, communications, and on and on. It’s a truism that each of these technologies puts the case-specific buggy whip maker out of work, but the greater fact is that technological advances generally create 10 times as many jobs as they destroy, each of them generally safer, more productive and more highly remunerated than the jobs lost. We would not have 7 billion people on earth if this were not the case, and fewer impoverished people both as a percentage and absolutely, than at any time over the last century or two.

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I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords, especially if they’re as slow and clumsy as this thing. Cool styling, however.

The fear is that, eventually and possibly very soon, robotics will put almost all manual laborers out of a job. Maybe. Sure has and will put a lot of people – warehouse workers, burger flippers – out of job. The reason for this fear seems to be the belief that robots, broadly understood to include AI, will soon be able to do not only virtually all blue collar jobs, but many or most white collar jobs as well. A robot can not only flip your burger and fulfill your order in a warehouse, it will soon be able to design the warehouse and all the robots in it from scratch, and design and build the robots that fix the robots, and the spec out and design the AI that will replace it. And do the taxes and fill out the forms. And then run the software that produces the increasingly life-like CGI replicas of dead people and put together the propaganda movies that will help keep us sedated…

And so on.

I have my doubts. But let’s grant this – dystopia? Here’s what it would mean in practice: those jobs that the robot AIs can’t do economically will fall into two classes: comparatively trivial jobs such as hairdressing or lawn care, which could be done by robots, but why bother? And jobs that are really tricky, involving human judgement and creativity on a level AIs can’t match.

This second class of jobs, which will include work such as directing the robots, marketing (no, really – there’s some serious voodoo involved on occasion) and perhaps the creative end of ‘creative’ jobs (anybody really think a bot couldn’t write most pop music? But you’d still need, for example, John C. Wright and Brian Niemeier to write their novels) will become increasingly better paid.

Jobs that the robots can’t do will be needed in order for the robots to do the jobs they can do. Someone will need to direct them towards an end, even if the bots can figure out the optimal way to get there. Robots creating movies will still need the parts of the stories that make it real and tend to defy algorithmic solutions – plot twists and character arcs, for example. (2) Those people whose jobs defy automation yet are critical to the workings of the automation would do really well, in other words. So well that they could easily support many other people.

So: I’m seeing a future with many ‘family estates,’ where the patriarch has a job that pays so well that he can support many people on his income alone. He will follow two paths: build capital over his lifetime so that the estate can continue without him, and groom successors. He will provide opportunities to his ‘family’ to work in various ways, as managers of the estate or creative contributors toward its functioning and beauty. Maybe they want to grow and cook their own food, or make their own furniture, or paint the family portraits, or write family biographies. Who know?

Over time, more and more people will belong to such estates, either as patriarchs or his family, or as ‘clients’ in the old Roman sense. If – big if, largely contradicted by history – his successors can maintain the family fortune, generations of people may live this way.

Lot of speculation here. The point I think I’m making: one option that may appear if robotics do in fact obviate most jobs is the reemergence of the ‘family estate’ broadly understood. The good side, as in Smith’s description, is that natural familial affection would be given room to grow; the down side is that those inside who have no other economic options may come to feel trapped. And the potential for human evil never goes away, but that can hardly be uniquely laid at the feet of the family estate.

Just dumping something that’s been running through my mind. Of course, the evidence suggests that many such tech and creative overlords, perched upon their piles of cash, will behave very badly. They certainly do now. Such are unlikely to leave offspring capable of continuing a family estate in the unlikely event they ever form a coherent family in the first place.

There could be conflict between those wanting to build for the future and those who believe they are the future. It could get ugly. I doubt I’ll live long enough to see how this comes out, as predictions of this ‘singularity’ (yeech! What a dumb expression!) being right around the corner seem to always be a few decades off.

  1. An illustrative fact: since to the Catholic, especially medieval Catholic, mind, rights are an emmination from duties, monks could own no property. Unlike a farmer or a knight or even a parish priest, a monk had no duty to support others. His duty was to obey his abbot; it was his abbot’s duty to direct the activities of the monastery to make sure the monks were taken care of. So there was no justification for a monk owning anything. His vow of poverty simply fixes this idea to the front of his mind.
  2. No doubt bots could produce 90% of what passes for art/movies/music/literature/whatever. If they in fact don’t already. That other 10% may prove difficult.

On Treachery and the Breaking of Oaths: Quote-fest

Some quotations on oaths and treachery. Possibly appropriate to our current state.

“I am Brother Alberigo,

One of the fruits of the corrupted garden

Who here gets dates for figs I handed out.”

“Oh,” I exclaimed, “are you already dead?”

And he said to me, “How my body does

There in the world above, I do not know.

For Ptolomea has this privilege:

Often the soul falls down into this place

Before Atropos sends it out of life.

And that you may be all the more willing

To scrape the frost-glazed tears from off my face

Know this: as soon as the soul proves a traitor,

As I did, its body then is snatched away

By a demon who takes possession of it

Until its time on earth has all run out.”

Dante, Inferno, Canto XXXIII, v.118-132, Translated by
James Finn Cotter

Notes: from Sinclair’s translation, my faulty memory, or somewhere else.

  1. Albergio murdered his younger brother and nephew over a slight, at a dinner he had invited them to.
  2. “bad garden” – the very lax “Jovial Friars.”
  3. “date for fig” – idiom, to get more than bargained for.
  4. “Ptolomea” – the third and penultimate zone of the bottom circle of Hell, where traitors to guests are punished. After Ptolemy, a captain of Jericho who murdered Simon Maccabeus and his sons at a banquet, as recounted in Maccabees..
  5. “Atropos” – the Fate who determines time of death.
My beloved well-thumbed set of Sinclair’s translations of the Divine Comedy. 40+ years old, held together with tape and glue. Based on the number of times I’ve reread it, it’s my favorite book.

After having promised his cousin that he would wake him when he left to speak to Parliament, Lord Ivywood, in order to avoid having discussion on an amendment he was to propose, leaves him sleeping:

Phillip Ivywood raised himself on his crutch and stood for a moment looking at the sleeping man. Then he and his crutch trailed out of the long room, leaving the sleeping man behind. Nor was that the only thing that he left behind. He also left behind an unlighted cigarette and his honour and all the England of his father’s; everything that could really distinguish that high house beside the river from any tavern for the hocussing of sailors. He went upstairs and did his business in twenty minutes in the only speech he had ever delivered without any trace of eloquence. And from that hour forth he was the naked fanatic; and could feed on nothing but the future.

G. K. Chesterton, the Flying Inn

When a man takes an oath, Meg, he’s holding his own self in his own hands like water, and if he opens his fingers then, he needn’t hope to find himself again. Some men aren’t capable of this, but I’d be loathe to think your father one of them.

Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons

The Scary True Believers

Earlier, I wrote about C. S. Lewis’ graduation address concerning Inner Circles, and how the recruitment and advancement in such circles was illustrated in That Hideous Strength. The ever-increasing entanglement of the victims of such circles is lubricated by appeals to ego: now that you’ve reached our level, you are just so much smarter and cunning than those jokers in the circle you just advanced from. (Pay no attention to how you were played right up until you were welcomed in. That might trigger some actual thought, and we can’t have that.)

Anyone who leaves such a circle must be denounced (or denounced and assassinated, as the situation requires, as Prof. Hingest in Lewis’ book), not merely for the damage they might do by disclosing what they know, but by the psychological damage of such a direct assault on the self-image of the larger circles nearest the inner ring. How could anyone leave something so desirable, so powerful, so knowledgeable, so cool, as the inner ring? It must be demonstrated, for the sake of the little people, that the ex-inner-ringer was a problem, a fool, a traitor, someone to be disposed of.

It helps to appeal to people’s vanity. Hegel, Marx and Freud all use the old ‘of course, only enlightened people like you, the smart people who agree with me, truly understand; those who don’t hold and profess all we hold and teach are hopelessly benighted’ schtick to create their own cool kids club. Such a club is immune to all criticism, since such criticism only proves the critic to be hopelessly unenlightened and evil. Hegel, Marx and Freud are fundamentally Mean Girls; their followers’ deepest belief is that they are smarter than you. Every other belief is secondary: how do we know, say, all statements of being are false yet true insofar as they are suspended in dialectical synthesis, that everything is a social construct, that sexual repression is the origin of all psychological pathologies? Because we’re smarter than you, that’s how!

Since most of the tenets of these systems are, when stated in plain language, kind of stupid, it is required that you use the established vocabulary and phrases to make sure you never express them in words that reveal how stupid they are.

Read somewhere (oops, scholar fail!) that the management levels of idealistic organizations such as charities and religions are full of people with surprisingly little attachment to the professed ideology that supposedly drives the organization. On the more innocent end of the spectrum, they just like the people and the feeling of belonging; at the other end are, I imagine, power-hungry sociopaths. Current events in the Catholic Church and in our fine major political parties would do not appear to contradict this.

I would suppose the rank and file would be where you’d find the true believers, and in those who rise up through the ranks because of fervor and hard work. There must be, no doubt, some interesting dynamics, as the winners under Pournelle’s Iron Law might once in a while need some people who do the organization’s actual work, to keep up appearances. True believers would be handy for this. So I’d expect the higher reaches of an organization to have both those there for the power and true believers, with some interesting jostling when something needs to be done.

These thoughts brought to mind this exchange from Bella Dodd’s School of Darkness, where Dodd, who has finally become an open Communist after decades of working undercover in the New York teachers’ union, placing Reds and sympathizers in positions of power and influence. She gets a job with the US politburo – she is invited into what seemed the inner ring – and needs to go through the files:

As I began to prepare for the work I was assigned to do I was amazed at the lack of files of material on social questions such as housing and welfare. When I complained about this, Gil said: “Bella, we are a revolutionary party, not a reform group. We aren’t trying to patch up this bourgeois structure.”

I began to realize why the Party had no long-range program for welfare, hospitals, schools, or child care. They plagiarized programs from the various civil-service unions. Such reforms, if they fitted in, could be adapted to the taste of the moment . But reforms were anathema to communist long-range strategy, which stood instead for revolution and dictatorship of the proletariat .

What I find amazing here is that Dodd, obviously an intelligent woman, could work for the Commies for years and years, and not get a point that, even to this day, they are constantly making: the goal, the point of all their activities, is to bring about the revolution.(1) Marxists don’t want racial equality, good working conditions and pay, good social services, or any kind of justice. In fact, insofar as any of those things may occur, a Marxist would want to destroy them. Peace, harmony, justice and prosperity are the enemy. According to neo-Marxist dogma, anything that placates people, makes them happier with their lot, helps them live fulfilling, peaceful lives, can only be a tool of hegemonic oppression. Happy people must be made miserable; whatever makes them happy must be destroyed. Any steps taken that might improve things must be just that: steps. Those steps must lead to the revolution

Dodd became a communist in the first place because, in her eyes, they were the only ones doing anything to help during the Great Depression. It was precisely their activism in helping the downtrodden that attracted her. She them spent the next couple decades immersed in Marxist literature:

… I was at last beginning to see how ignorant I had become, how long since I had read anything except Party literature. I thought of our bookshelves stripped of books questioned by the Party, how when a writer was expelled from the Party his books went, too. I thought of the systematic rewriting of Soviet history, the revaluation, and in some cases the blotting out of any mention of such persons as Trotsky. I thought of the successive purges…

…In my time with the Party I had accumulated a large store of information about people and events, and often these had not fitted into the picture presented by the Party to its members . It was as if I held a thousand pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and could not fit them together. It irritated me, but when I thought of the testimony of witnesses before the Congressional Committee, some of whom I had known as Communists, much of the true picture suddenly came into focus . My store of odd pieces was beginning to develop into a recognizable picture. There had been many things I had not really understood. I had regarded the Communist Party as a poor man’s party, and thought the presence of certain men of wealth within it accidental . I now saw this was no accident. I regarded the Party as a monolithic organization with the leadership in the National Committee and the National Board. Now I saw this was only a facade placed there by the movement to create the illusion of the poor man’s party ; it was in reality a device to control the “common man” they so raucously championed.

Yet, somehow, she was surprised to discover that the Party’s interest in actions that might actually improve people’s lives was simply expedient, that it had no interest in improving people’s lives, but only in steps that lead to the Revolution. This goal of destroying the system is hardly a secret, yet Dodd could somehow miss it, even in all the works she’d read in the Party library. She was little more, if, indeed, anything more, than a Useful Idiot.

How many people who think Marx got a bum rap (e.g., every college kid), who think they support the general goals of the Marxists as they understand them, you know, fairness and justice and an end to bigotry and hatred and stuff, don’t realize that the goal is real, live violent warfare and the deaths of millions (e.g., me and mine)? If Bella Dodd can pull living with that level of cognitive dissonance off, how many others are doing so now?

But the scary part: there really are informed true believers, those who know what the goals are and enthusiastically support them. True, most of these folks – Antifa is the poster child – do not get the part where they, the enthusiastic purist revolutionaries, are the first to go once the Revolution succeeds in putting some vanguard or other in power. But that’s another kind of cultivated cluelessness.

And, of course, the top levels are occupied by the kind of sociopaths who generally get those kind of jobs, people for whom all this dogma and maneuvering is just a game. These folks are scarier still.

  1. Read somewhere (man, I got to start taking notes!) that when Mussolini took over and began to suppress the Communists, it was a largely popular move even among workers. For years, whenever they organized and struck, the workers were after improvement, while the leaders were after the revolution. This lead to some conflict and animosity, and worker frustration, to say the least, with the Communists.

Potpori

My crack Blog Post Title Mutation Team identified ‘potpori’ as possibly the lamest blog post title ever imagined. So I’m going with it. It was supposed to be ‘Sunday Potpori’ but then I didn’t get it posted. Join us here on Yard Sale of the Mind as we push the tattered edge of the lameness envelope into uncharted, ragged territory. We live to serve.

1 Lots of nice brickwork getting done. By end of the day, hope to have reached a more photogenic point, and so might post an update. I can just hear you squirming in anticipation! You need to stand up or wear more slippery pants.

2 Through working with the RCIA program the last few years, regularly run into concerns about posture and gesture at Mass – people want to know when to sit, stand, kneel, and so on, and are confused when not everyone at Mass does exactly the same thing, or just generally want to do it ‘right’. We always assure them that if they just follow along with what must people are doing, they’ll be fine, and at any event nobody (much) is going to care if they get it ‘wrong’. If they are still concerned, we point them to the instructions in the missalette.

All in all, this concern to do it right is seen as charming, but not all that big a deal, and we want the RCIA candidates to feel comfortable coming to Mass, not worried about getting every little thing ‘right’.

But is this right? It seems we have not only an instinct to worship, but an instinct to do it right. In Exodus, there are detailed instructions on how to build a proper tabernacle, the furnishing, tent, altars, even the priestly vestments, and what materials to use, correct dimensions where appropriate, as well as explicit and implicit descriptions of the rituals to be performed. These instructions were delivered after the Israelites had build and worshipped the Golden Calf, and received the 10 Commandments, which start off with the command to not have strange gods before the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is important to know there definitely are right and wrong ways to worship God.

The challenge for this next year, which will be starting formal meeting in about a month, is to find a way to address and nurture the candidates’ and catechumens’ instinct for worship without dismissing it trying to calm their anxiety.

3 Despite misgivings, I posted on Twitter about the 7th anniversary of our son Andrew’s death this past Saturday. While I started out on Twitter to follow SciFi authors, I follow and am followed by a lot of nice Catholics and other Christians as well. There is some overlap.

Tomorrow is the 7th anniversary of our son Andrew’s death. He was hit by a car on a rural Indiana road on a pro-life walk across America, 1 mo shy of his 21st BD.

He was a very good kid. I miss him & am honored to have been his dad. Ask for his intercession, tell me what happens— Joseph Moore (@Yardsale_Mind) July 19, 2019

I really don’t know what to make of this, because I truly do not understand Twitter. Over 30,000 people and counting have looked at that tweet, retweeting it approaching 100 times, lots of comments, approaching 1,000 ‘likes’, about 60 new people follow my Twitter account. This is like 3 orders of magnitude more views over my typical tweets; my typical tweets are also generally ignored (no ‘engagements’ in Twit-speak).

I have no idea what this means, but I trust Andrew is interceding for the intentions of all these people.

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This is not creepy at all. That nice lion wouldn’t hurt the cute little girl, right? At least, we can count on the nature flick people to edit it out when he does, like how when the wolves run down the little baby caribou, for all we know he then takes him out for a drink and a laugh. That whole disemboweling him alive part doesn’t make for family friendly programming.

4 This Sunday marked the end of our parish’s Summer Bible Camp. According to a tradition that traces all the way back to the Apostles Moonbeam and Kumbaya, all the kids who were roped into free daycare attended camp came up at the end of Mass, assembled in front of the altar, and ‘sang’ this year’s camp song, something about roaring. There were t-shirts with cartoon lions on them. What a coincidence that the live action remake of Lion King also happens this summer. Wow.

I give this here not as an example of liturgical abuse, but rather of, frankly, child abuse. It’s one of those things where people see what they expect, not what is there.

The audience laughed when a couple little girls did flamboyant roars at or near the appropriate spot in the song (there are always a couple 6 or 7 year old little girls in such a crowd who love being the center of attention – they almost all get over it); they clapped not once, but twice (upon the urging of the priest) to show – our appreciation? People, I imagine, saw just another school thing, just another moment when parents get to affirm and reinforce what the schools are having the kids do.

We had seat right up front, since those seats are designed to be easier to access for people like my 81 year old mother in law.

What I saw were 25-30 kids, all but 2 of whom were extremely uncomfortable being paraded before people they mostly don’t know. One boy, maybe 10? 11? stood as if catatonic, doing his best pre-teen I’m invisible act; another boy was fighting back tears and failing. Most were sheepishly doing absolutely the minimum movements the leader was trying to get them to do and mouthing the words, maybe half had an embarrassed smile.

And everybody in the pews smiled and clapped. You know how kids are. You just have to make them do stuff, sometimes. It’s good for them, you know.

Right. Like those boys are going to have fond memories of this summer, and develop a deeper relationship with our Lord, because they were humiliated into standing in front of people and pretending to sing a song.

Yet, this is the only kind of thing most people understand by ‘education’ – this is FUN education. The idea that adults should model and accompany children on their way to adulthood seems lost – instead, we inflict on them stuff no self-respecting adult would ever put up with. Kids are kids, and need kid time. But education, if it means anything, means helping them on their way to adulthood. What we inflict on them today doesn’t do that.

5. It is perhaps helpful to remember in this context that modern schooling has its roots in Fichte’s desire that Prussia have obedient soldiers who don’t spend any time thinking for themselves. The fundamental idea is to break down people as individuals, and turn them into, as Torry Harris put it, “…automata, careful to walk in the prescribed paths, careful to follow prescribed custom.” This is the goal of ‘substantial education’ in Harris-speak. The 1%, who are strangely never discussed, are presumed to decide what those paths and customs are. The Spirit having unfolded Itself to them, if they are Hegelians; History having raised their consciousness, if they are Marxists, such that, despite having their consciousness wholly determined by their class/place in the hegemony, they somehow have ideas that are not so determined. Hmmm.

In the military:

The first few weeks of military basic training is dedicated to breaking you down. During this period, you’ll find that you can’t do anything right. Even if you do it right, it’ll be wrong. Nobody’s perfect, and military drill instructors are trained to ferret out those imperfections and make sure that you know about them.

After you’ve been completely ripped apart, the real training begins — teaching you to do things the “basic training way,” without even having to think about it — you just react. If a military basic training instructor can make this reaction happen, then he has done his job.

From Basic Training for Dummies, copyright © 2011 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey. 

Every wonder why getting the right answer or already knowing what it is the teacher is putatively teaching doesn’t get you a pass? It’s because the lesson in not the lesson. The only real difference: you can get out of the army after a few years, and you don’t need to pretend that military training is the sole measure of your worth. Schooling goes on for a decade and half, and you are expected to own the identity that school gives you.

6. Finishing up a bunch of books, and have several I need to start soon. Hoping to get a book-review-alanche going this week.

Filters for Elite Tasks

(My weekly reminder that I need to take better notes, so I can link to sources for my musing – they exist! Honest!)

Image result for plato
Those two. Always jawboning.

Quick thoughts, not sure what, if anything, to make of this: It was said somewhere that Plato, who wanted his academy to train up the future leaders, or at least, advisors to leaders, used math as a filter: the students who had the smarts and dedication to master state of the art circa 300 B.C. Greek math were the ones he wanted to train up as leaders. This, despite how rarely the properties of conic sections and the ability to construct regular solids figured into the proper direction of the polis. Such math was a proxy for the smarts and focus such direction requires.

That’s the theory, at least. Plato did help a few of his star pupils get gigs in some Greek city-states, with some success. The question is rather: would some of those who couldn’t hack the math have made as good or better political leaders? We’ll never know. However tempting it is to impose a basic math test on our elected officials as a requirement for office, that won’t roll back the clock. (1)

My man Feynman famously delivered a series of lectures on physics, accurately if unimaginatively known as the Feynman Lectures. Story I heard is that, at the first lecture, the hall was packed; by the last lecture, the majority of the audience was fellow professors with only a few students. Even Caltech kids, the best of the best of the best, for the most part couldn’t hack Feynman-level physics. Feynman himself considered the lectures a failure, noting that only 2 or 3 dozen students understood them.

I would contend that the lectures were not so much a failure as a filter. What those lectures did was identify the 2 or 3 dozen students who had what it takes to be a top notch theoretical physicist like Feynman. Caltech seems to have naively supposed that Feynman, who has a well-earned reputation as a great teacher, could bring an entire class of students up to somewhere near his own level over the course of a year’s worth of lectures. To catch up to Reds. That didn’t happen, and, in retrospect, was vanishingly unlikely from the get-go.

Image result for feynman diagram
“Get me a 5 year old child – I can’t make heads or tails out of this.”
– Rufus T. Firefly

Turns out that a smart enough kid can grind his way to a fairly high level of competence in physics, just not the way presented in the Feynman Lectures. But such a kid is unlikely to end up a top notch theoretical physicist. Then again, that disclaimer applies to just about all of us. It’s unclear that such a harsh filter, which likely convinced at least a few such kids that they could not hack it, did more good than harm.

In the first case, the filtering was conscious on the part of Plato; in the second, it does not seem to have even been intended. In both cases, the outcome was that at least some of the people with elite potential for very specialized, high value tasks were identified. I’m generally more concerned and aware of the filtering that goes on merely to ensure conformity, such as in schools, especially in colleges, where the chances a student who rejects the current political uniformity on campus will ever get very far in academia. Part of this is self-filtering: who with any integrity would want to fit in with such a crowd?

Not coming up with any more examples of this sort of elite filtering at the moment. You?

  1. Somewhere on this blog I’ve also floated a theory which is mine that the Dialogues were similarly used, probably earlier in the process. They each present at least 3 layers of activity: a superficial one, such that you can say “the Republic is about Justice and Good Government”; a second layer where you notice the setting – outside the city walls during occupation by the victorious Spartans, a victory only made possible by all-but-unimaginably bad decisions by the Athenian leadership; and a third level, where you wonder what all those things taken together mean, where Socrates is concerned with the polis as a giant man, wherein Justice, so enlarged, could be better seen, and then tosses that idea when his buddies point out that they (understandably) wouldn’t want to live in a city that was just as Socrates himself was just – and poor, and despised, and powerless, and so Socrates spins them a yarn that is, basically, Sparta. I’m imagining here that Plato could discuss this dialogue with a newbie, and get a pretty good idea of his intellectual depth within a few minutes. (I’d have gotten Silver if I were lucky. Probably Bronze.)
  2. Not that that isn’t a charming image.

‘Remedial’ College Classes

I took about 2 years of remedial college classes, although that’s not what they were called. I came to St. John’s College in 1976 from a self-identified college prep high school, St. Paul’s in Santa Fe Springs, CA, with a mediocre GPA but killer SAT scores. The reality is that, at that time, St. John’s was in a down cycle, so that anyone who submitted all the essays required to apply (in something like English, I imagine, but maybe that was too high a bar?) got in. That was about the most writing I ever did up to that point, the petulant whining of a kid who was convinced that k-12 had been a total waste of time and had heard the siren’s call of all those wonderful books.

I was about as ready for college, especially the 22-25 units per semester, no ‘easy A’ classes that St. John’s demands, as I was to perform brain surgery.

Almost bombed out. The subject that almost killed my college career was Greek, which also happens to be the ‘remedial’ class. If only I were enlightened enough to be ashamed of myself. Reading education history, I come across random stuff like this, regarding Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science, describing her course of study. Starting from before she was 10, and despite (?) being kept out of school:

My favorite studies were natural philosophy, logic, and moral science. From my brother Albert, I received lessons in the ancient tongues, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.

photograph
Mary Baker Eddy, a very well educated yet very loopy person. Education isn’t everything, but it beats the alternatives.

She was farm girl, the last of 6 kids, surreptitiously taught by her older brother, since her father thought her brain was too big for her. She evidently mastered them all. This was in the early 1800s.

Eddy’s case might be extreme, but the fact is that a nation of farmers and shopkeepers produced a steady stream of kids who knew Latin, Greek, and even sometimes Hebrew from a young age. Later, when the wedding of math and science had been successfully consumated, an educated kid also knew a bit of calculus, needed, for example, to understand Newton – who wrote in Latin.

Thus, the floor, the baseline, for someone wanting a college education was knowledge of Latin, Greek and calculus – because no self-respecting college was going to waste time getting kids up to speed with what farm girls and boys with any intellectual aspirations already knew.

But that changed. Ancient languages have been disparaged for some time now. In the topsy-turvy world of modern education, knowing ancient languages, far from being seen as the door to a wider intellectual and cultural world, is seen as sign you’re a narrow, musty specialist.

Thus, upon reaching St. John’s, I, like about 99.9% of modern Americans would, needed remedial Greek.(1) Having had no experience studying anything really hard, as in, you simply MUST memorize a boatload of rules and forms before you can make any real progress, I just about bombed out. I buckled down after being vaguely threatened with expulsion after my freshman year (“Mr. Moore knows no Greek,” I still hear my prof saying during don rags, the annual terrifying meeting where all your ‘tutors’ meet and talk about you as if you aren’t there. But you are.)

The happy ending, after a fashion: I really didn’t want to get thrown out of St. John – hey, reading all those books is really fun! – so I spent much of my sophomore year pulling late-nights with Liddell & Scott, a well thumbed tutti i verbi greci, and Sophocles, eventually writing a paper on Oedipus Rex tracing and commenting on every usage of verbs of sight throughout the text – it was good. Didn’t actually learn much Greek, but the paper won the day.

I’m still a terrible student, still know little Greek and less Latin, and could never have gained admittance to a real American college from 100 years ago. My respect for those who did graduate from real colleges is profound.

Back to today. One of my favorite education tidbits, often referred to here, is that about 50% of incoming UC Berkeley students must take remedial English, math, or both. Let that sink in: these are kids with 4.X GPAs, who took all the AP classes – and aced them – who had good SAT scores, who are the best of the best of best – but they can’t write or do math at a college level, as Berkeley imagines it. These kids are bright, so it should come as no surprise that the majority of them ace the remedial classes and go on to ‘succeed’ in their chosen fields.

I expect this percentage to go way down, not because students will suddenly start learning more math and better English before applying to Cal, but rather because Cal will move the goalposts and simply relabel what would have been remedial classes as something else, or eliminate or dumb down the requirements. It’s happened before – Latin, Greek and calculus, anyone?

The sad part, tragic, even, is not that so many need remedial training (however labeled), but that so many get degrees, including Masters and PhDs, without ever having their shortcomings remedied. Mine have not been remedied, alas, but I did get a peek into that larger world. It’s not all accessible to me, but I at least know it’s there.

To get college applicants to know Greek, Latin and math, all that needs to be done is to demand it -if kids 150 years ago could learn this stuff, so can kids today. We’re not born stupider today, we’ve been very intentionally and systematically made stupider. It starts with expectations.

Of course, that would result in many fewer people, under 10% I’d imagine, doing college. As giant, evil corporations, our fine colleges can’t have THAT. Why, if we gave the people what they needed and even in our better moments, wanted, we’d end up with a small population of college educated people and lots and lots of glorified trade schools. Which, in itself, would not be a bad thing.

I’d be in favor of trying to really educate everybody, starting at a young age, and then seeing how it comes out. Man’s gotta dream. Any real education starts with the utter destruction of pre-K – 12 schooling, the instrument by which we are made and kept stupid.

  1. Originally, when the Great Books Program was started, students took one year each of Greek, Latin, German and French. By the time I’d got there, they’d already throttled it back to 2 years of Greek and 2 years of French. To get into your Senior year, you had to pass a French reading exam, which I passed after the manner of St. Joseph of Cupertino: the text for the test was de Tocqueville, from a section I happened to be very familiar with. Lucky me? Still only know a little church Latin. Sigh.