Woke up this morning with history on my mind. Not capital ‘H’ History, the totally-not-God-because-that-would-be-stupid Agent upon whose wrong side no right thinking person would want to be – Vengeance is mine, sayeth History – but the more modest small ‘h’ history that is the stories we tell each other to try understand ourselves.
(This, I suppose, needs to be distinguished further from the serious study of What Actually Happened, which, I hear, used to be what professional historians did, before they boarded the Woke Train for Paradise.)
When they got to the New World, the Puritans believed they were founding the New Jerusalem. Because they *finally* understood this God-thing correctly and were getting to run everything, their earthly efforts would no doubt result in simply the bestest civilization and culture ever. (1)
Harvard was a state run and supported school created to train up proper Calvinist preachers and leaders – a seminary, in the modern sense. We might anachronistically assume the Pilgrims, fleeing from government oppression, would be careful to maintain a distinction between church and state. We would be wrong. This assumption ignores John Calvin, who, as a fundamental aspect of his religious program, took over political and police power in Geneva, up to and including having people executed.
Calvin was a smart and very well educated man, who had opponents burned at the stake. So was Cotton Mather, a Harvard man who fomented and supported witch hunts. So were many of the key people who became Marxist, National Socialists, and other Fascists. If they were around today, these are the people we would find shopping at Whole Foods, which seem to be preferentially located in college towns. Whole Foods sells, essentially, a sense of moral and intellectual superiority. Never mind that there’s not an iota of scientific evidence supporting most of the claims. Never mind that what organic, natural, non-GMO foods inescapably represent is the belief poor people ought to starve. Go to the location in Berkeley (I’ve been inside once), and admire all the students and professors dutifully picking up their probiotics and gluten-free oatmeal. These are our betters.
Intelligence and education do not make people any less gullible. Rather, intelligence and education might change those things about which we are gullible, while inoculating against ever learning anything ever again. The modern well-educated person possesses a complete framework within which all experience is placed and through which all experience is filtered. Part of this framework is the never-to-be-challenged certainty that all *other* intelligent and educated people agree with them in every important detail. Once the framework is in place, what, exactly, would one learn?
It cannot be overstated how certain these folks are that they KNOW what’s going on. The air of exhaustion that greets any mere intellectual challenges, the long-suffering sighs which any disagreement with their framework/filter draws forth- these are the autoimmune response of the inoculation mentioned above. Push, and the macrophages are released: anger, accusations of stupidity, dishonesty, EVIL. Mental quarantine is enforced.
Next chance I get, I’m going to ask one of my less rabid relatives to do the following thought experiment: Imagine someone you consider intelligent, well-educated, and open-minded. Can you name three fundamental issues upon which you could disagree with him without dismissing him?
I doubt my relatives would understand the question.
- Menand is a loathsome Commie apologist, but he did make the best quip about the Harvard herd’s sense of superiority: Oliver Wendall Holmes Sr. “…saw no reason to challenge the premises of a social dispensation that had, over the course of two centuries, contrived to produce a man as genial and accomplished as himself.” That Holmes had rejected Calvinism and embraced rationalism is my point: professed dogmas were superficial and could change and did change, but the sense of superiority and, indeed, destiny, were much more fundamental. This conviction of knowing how things stood and what ought to be done carried through while the veneer was successfully remodeled: from Puritanism to Unitarianism to Hegelianism/Darwinism on through Marxism to our present sneering Nihilism. Our betters KNOW they are right with a desperate conviction foreign and nearly incomprehensible to us little people.