Education History Book Review: F. V. N. Painter’s Luther on Education (1889) pt 2

The “Saxony School Plan,” originally prepared by Melancthon and revised by Luther in 1538, was extensively adopted. The current abuses of the schools in studies and discipline were pointed out. “In order that the young may be properly taught,” says the Plan, ” we have established this form :

“i. The teachers shall see to it that the children are taught only Latin, not German or Hebrew as some have hitherto done, who have burdened their pupils with too many studies, which are not only useless but hurtful. . . .

” 2. They shall not burden the children with many books, but in every way avoid a distracting multiplicity of studies.

” 3. It is necessary that the children be divided into grades.”

Ch 3: PROTESTANTISM AND POPULAR EDUCATION.

My Google-fu failed to turn up the complete Saxony School Plan. This is a common feature of reading Luther: he is quoted, he is referenced, but his actual works are not as readily available as one would think they ought to be for someone so influential. In general, I suspect that his tendency toward scatology and verbal excesses might have discouraged Lutheran translators – better he be known via his hagiography rather than his own, less flattering, words. But a Saxony School Plan should be tame enough. Maybe I’ll stumble across it.

Reading *about* the plan on online sources from academics to libertarians indicates it was very influential. In it, one (allegedly) would find all the hallmarks of moderns state compulsory education, including graded classrooms, limited subjects, truancy enforcement, control, and record-keeping (how are you going to know who belongs in what grade?) .

The ‘history’ provided by Painter leaves out a number of awkward points. Just as with the Recusant English, there were plenty of Germans not buying what Luther was selling. By establishing compulsory schools backed by the state’s monopoly on violence, he could root out the ‘heretics’. This use of the state to achieve ‘religious’ ends explains something that at first seemed odd to me: Luther addresses his letters to people with political power, not the rank and file believers. While he uses Paul’s salutations –

To the Honorable Lazarus Spengler, Counselor of the City of Nuremberg,

My dear Sir and Friend: Grace and peace in Christ, our dear Lord and faithful Saviour, Amen.

– he, in this case, sends a sermon to a civic power, not the people to whom the sermon is to be addressed. And perusing the titles of the better known letters of Luther, this seems more the rule than the exception. While Paul and the writers of the Catholic Epistles direct their letters to the faithful or friends as politically powerless as Paul himself, Luther writes to princes and other worldly powers.

He has something he wants them to hear, and it isn’t the Gospels: Luther teaches that the state is as divine in its origins and rights as the Church. It is the duty of the faithful to obey the (Lutheran) state completely. Given the German history of the preceding few centuries, this was music to German princes’s ears.

A deal is being cut: in exchange for princely support for Luther’s Reformation, the princes get religion’s support for their power. To sweeten the pot, Luther encouraged the state to sack German monasteries and convents, similarly to what was done in England, enriching the secular government and removing what could have been a hotbed of resistance to Luther’s plans.

5 centuries earlier, in 1056, Henry III, the German Holy Roman Emperor, died when his heir, the future Henry IV, was only 5 years old. The elder Henry had used his control of Italy to determine who got to be Pope, deposing Pope Gregory VI when he got too uppity, and elevating puppets. His widow, fighting to keep control of the Empire until her son reached majority, was unable to exert similar control; when Henry did take the throne, he was too busy keeping the German princes in line to focus on who got to be Pope. During the funeral proceedings for Pope Alexander II, the people started shouting for Hildebrand of Sovana, a well known reformer, to be declared Pope. He, like good men tend to do, hid out in a monastery rather than become pope. But he was found, and the Cardinals made formal what the people had wanted, and Hildebrand became Pope Gregory VII.

The biggest issue facing Gregory was the Emperor’s meddling in Church affairs to the extent of deposing and installing popes. Seeing young Henry weak, he played hardball: Henry was going to acknowledge Gregory’s election and freedom and authority, or Gregory was going to release the German nobility from any obligations to Henry – something a good number already wanted. Also, he threatened the bishops and abbots under the Empire, who had largely gotten their positions through investiture – appointment by secular powers – that they would lose their jobs if they supported Henry.

Henry was just weak enough that this worked, sort of. Henry was pressured by his bishops and friendly nobles, and made to grovel in the snow before Gregory would restore him to power. Henry did not take it lying down, installing an antipope here, waging a little war there, but, all in all, a degree of independence was temporarily restored to Rome.

It didn’t last. Instead, we got centuries where political powers fought over who got to be Pope, and then used the Pope’s authority to enrich themselves, get revenge, and otherwise extend their political power. Ugly situation. From 1309 to 1376, popes were held by the (German) Holy Roman Emperor in Avignon in what is now France – the Avignon, or Babylonian, Captivity. (Story goes that the papal ‘palace’ in Avignon stood at the foot of a hill, upon the brow of which sat a massive castle and military complex, in case the Pope ever wondered how things stood.)

At this time, Dante, writing his Divine Comedy in exile, favored, at least in the Inferno, a united Holy Roman Empire that would manage secular affairs without interference in or from the Papacy, and a papacy that would stick to spiritual affairs. (And a Holy Roman Empire that would exterminator the Black Guelfs in Florence who had exiled him. Hey, he’s Italian.) The idea of separation of Church and State, broadly understood, was nothing new when Luther seemed to support it.

Up in Germany, the common perception in all this seems to have been that loathsome Italians were bullying and haughtily snubbing the locals. It was true that Popes, on their own initiative and working with their backers, acted very poorly, to say the least. Germans, who historically seem to have chips on their shoulders in every age, embraced Luther partly because he gave them a way to get out from under Roman rules. His Rome is the Whore of Babylon schtick was popular among many – especially the nobility.

Luther’s push for state-funded and controlled compulsory schools, in which every German boy and girl would learn to read the Bible and obey the state, was appealing. This must be seen in the context of Luther’s zeal against ‘heretics’. The idea that Luther wanted everyone to read and interpret Scriptures as the Spirit moved them is laughable: he famously favored burning ‘heretics’ at the stake, with particular focus on other Protestants. People were free to discover in Scripture that they agreed with Luther, in other words. He’s no different in this respect from Calvin and his followers, who ran Geneva as a theocracy, where disputing Calvin was a capital crime.

(One thing seems odd: Luther, while calling the Pope the Whore of Babylon, was less harsh on Catholics than on Protestant ‘heretics’. I suppose a Catholic was merely someone unenlightened who might still be saved, but a Protestant who used exactly Luther’s highly individual approach to understanding Scripture yet dared to reach conclusion other than Luther’s was an existential threat. I need to read more on this topic.)

That was a huge digression even by my standards. Back to the text. After many pages of polemic laced with a little history here and there, Painter finally gets around to his translations of two of Luther’s letters regarding education. Here’s Painter’s summary of Luther’s contributions, his lead in to the letters:

We leave it to the two treatises presented in the following chapters to supply what is lacking in this survey of Luther’s pedagogy. Looking back over the ground traversed, we realize that the great Reformer accomplished scarcely less for education than for religion. Through his influence, which was fundamental, wide-reaching, and beneficent, there began for the one as for the other a new era of advancement. Let us note a few particulars:

  1. In his writings, as in the principles of Protestantism, he laid the foundation of an educational system, which begins with the popular school and ends with the university.
  2. He set up as the noble ideal of education a Christian man, fitted through instruction and discipline to discharge the duties of every relation of life.
  3. He exhibited the necessity of schools both for the Church and the State, and emphasized the dignity and worth of the teacher’s vocation.
  4. With resistless energy he impressed upon parents, ministers, and civil officers their obligation to educate the young.
  5. He brought about a re-organization of schools, introducing graded instruction, an improved course of study, and rational methods.
  6. In his appreciation of nature and of child-life, he laid the foundation for educational science.
  7. He made great improvements in method; he sought to adapt instruction to the capacity of children, to make learning pleasant, to awaken mind through skillful questioning, to study things as well as words, and to temper discipline with love.
  8. With a wise understanding of the relation of virtue and intelligence to the general good, he advocated compulsory education on the part of the State.

In view of these facts, Luther deserves henceforth to be recognized as the greatest, not only of religious, but of educational reformers.

LUTHER ON STUDIES AND METHODS.

First Letter: CHAPTER IX. LUTHER’S LETTER TO THE MAYORS AND ALDERMEN OF ALL THE CITIES OF GERMANY IN BEHALF OF CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS.

Right after greeting the mayors and aldermen of Germany, Luther identifies the villains in this story:

And because selfish parents see that they can no longer place their children upon the bounty of monasteries and cathedrals, they refuse to educate them. “Why should we educate our children,” they say, ” if they are not to become priests, monks, and nuns, and thus earn a support?”

The hollow piety and selfish aims of such persons are sufficiently evident from their own confession. For if they sought anything more than the temporal welfare of their children in monasteries and the priesthood, if they were deeply in earnest to secure the salvation and blessedness of their children, they would not lose interest in education and say, ” if the priestly office is abolished, we will not send our children to school.” But they would speak after this manner; ” if it is true, as the Gospel teaches, that such a calling is dangerous to our children, teach us another way in which they may be pleasing to God and become truly blessed; for we wish to provide not alone for the bodies of our children, but also for their souls.” Such would be the language of faithful Christian parents.

This letter is a two-pronged attack on the lack of schooling: first, the state and wealthy individuals must fund schools, so schooling is available to everyone; second, the state must use its power to compel all children to attend school.

Luther starts with a subset of the second issue: parents who could afford to educate their children but won’t send their child to school. Luther, in his usual gentle, reserved style, labels such parents faithless non-Christians and impious worshippers of mammon.

Monasteries and cathedral schools, the places where promising boys had traditionally been sent to be educated, are condemned as the work of the devil. Only newly-founded state schools fulfill the needs of enlightened parents and the state. Fortunately, Luther has freed up some cash:

There is one consideration that should move every citizen, with devout gratitude to God, to contribute a part of his means to the support of schools — the consideration that if divine grace had not released him from exactions and robbery, he would still have to give large sums of money for indulgences, masses, vigils, endowments, anniversaries, mendicant friars, brotherhoods, and other similar impositions. And let him be sure that where turmoil and strife exist, there the devil is present, who did not writhe and struggle so long as men blindly contributed to convents and masses. For Satan feels that his cause is suffering injury. Let this, then, be the first consideration to move you, — that in this work we are fighting against the devil, the most artful and dangerous enemy of men.

Luther them cites Scripture, equating ‘you must instruct your children’ with ‘you must send your children to school to be instructed by somebody else’ – unless you want to be damned, of course. The state must step up and educate children because

…the great majority of parents are unqualified for it [educating their own children], and do not understand how children should be brought up and taught. For they have learned nothing but to provide for their bodily wants; and in order to teach and train children thoroughly, a separate class is needed.

From the very beginning: parents are the problem compulsory state schooling is intended to solve. Parents don’t understand how children should be brought up, but Luther, who fathered his first child at the age of 42, does.

…even if parents were qualified and willing to do it themselves, yet on account of other employments and household duties they have no time for it, so that necessity requires us to have teachers for public schools, unless each parent employ a private instructor. But that would be too expensive for persons of ordinary means, and many a bright boy, on account of poverty, would be neglected.

Second Letter:

CHAPTER X.

SERMON ON THE DUTY OF SENDING CHILDREN TO SCHOOL.
DEDICATORY LETTER.

To the Honorable Lazarus Spengler, Counselor of the City of Nuremberg

This letter consists of 3 parts: an introduction to Herr Spengler, and a sermon divided into two parts. The first half exhorts parents to send their kids to school to save their (parent’s and children’s) souls, and a second part exhorting parents to send their children to school for the benefit of the state, and explaining how the state has the right to compel school attendance. Bottom line: if you don’t send your kids to school, you’re going to hell.

Luther sends his sermon to Spengler and asks him to distribute it among the pastors and preachers in his jurisdiction. Key points:

The state is divinely ordained to a purpose less than the divine purposes of ministerial offices, but none the less essential:

But it [secular government] is still a beautiful and divine ordinance, an excellent gift of God, who ordained it, and who wishes to have it maintained as indispensable to human welfare ; without it men could not live together in society, but would devour one another like the irrational animals. Therefore, as it is the function and honor of the ministerial office to make saints out of sinners, to restore the dead to life, to confer blessedness upon the lost, to change the servants of the devil into children of God : so it is the function and honor of civil government to make men out of wild animals, and to restrain them from degenerating into brutes. It protects every one in body, so that he may not be injured; it protects every one in family, so that the members may not be wronged; it protects every one in house, lands, cattle, property, so that they may not be attacked, injured, or stolen.

The state has the right and duty to compel parents and guardians to send all kids to school:

But I maintain that the civil authorities are under obligation to compel the people to send their children to school, especially such as are promising, as has elsewhere been said. For our rulers are certainly bound to maintain the spiritual and secular offices and callings, so that there may always be preachers, jurists, pastors, scribes, physicians, school-masters, and the like; for these can not be dispensed with. If the government can compel such citizens as are fit for military service to bear spear and rifle, to mount ramparts, and perform other martial duties in time of war; how much more has it a right to compel the people to send their children to school because in this case we are warring with the devil, whose object it is secretly to exhaust our cities and principalities of their strong men, to destroy the kernel and leave a shell of ignorant and helpless people, whom he can sport and juggle with at pleasure. That is starving out a city or country, destroying it without a struggle, and without its knowledge. The Turk does differently, and takes every third child in his empire to educate for whatever he pleases. How much more should our rulers require children to be sent to school, who, however, are not taken from their parents, but are educated for their own and the general good, in an office where they
have an adequate support.

Fichte, when he updated Luther’s schooling ideas in 1809, damns Luther with faint praise and dismisses his theology. He also dismisses the idea that compulsory public schools are not to simply confiscate children Luther says kids who are not destined to become scholars might spend as little as an hour or two a day in school; Fichte want kids to be completely separated from family for the duration of their schooling. This is a quibble over details, once you accept the principle that the state, not the parents, has the ultimate right to educate kids. Under that rule, the state can demand as much or as little separation from the family as it sees fit, teach them whatever the state wants, and all other details of their schooling. Parents simply have no standing to complain.

The state needs your child:

You must indeed be an insensible and ungrateful creature, fit to be ranked among the brutes, if you see that your son may become a man to help the emperor maintain his dominions, sword, and crown — to help the prince govern his land, to counsel cities and states, to help protect for every man his body, wife, child, property, and honor — and yet will not do so much as to send him to school and prepare him for this work!

There is a lot more to these letters. The key points are as Painter summed them up: the state must provide schooling for ‘free’ to everyone, and compel attendance. Further, opposing compulsory schooling is treason and damns one to hell. Education is not the sort of things parents understand, and so cannot be left up to them. Graded classrooms are essential, as is the record keeping needed to make sure each child is in the right grade.

Education History Book Review: F. V. N. Painter’s Luther on Education (1889) pt 1

Painter, a vehement proponent of Protestantism and Whore of Babylon style anti-Catholic, has translated 2 of Luther’s letters on education, to make better known the great Reformer’s seminal contributions to compulsory state-funded graded classroom schooling. All that stuff which we associate with modern schooling is proposed and defended by Luther, starting in 1520.

This work is really 2 short books, the first of which is Painter’s take on the Reformation, the second his translations of two of Luther’s letters. Therefore, I’ll do this in two parts. The first is Painter’s “historical introduction”:

The fact that no great character can be fully understood without an acquaintance with the age in which he lived and the movements with which he was identified, led to the preparation of the first four chapters as a historical introduction.

Preface

These first four chapters make up about 60% of the work, and are not exactly what anyone not as on fire with Protestant zeal as Painter would call ‘balanced’. No one, Catholic or Protestant, would dispute the general claim of profound hellish corruption of the Church’s hierarchy in the 16th century. But no one who understands the effects of investiture can honestly point to the Church herself as the primary cause. When every bishop and abbot is a partisan, and often a relative, of the local prince or king, appointed at their pleasure based on loyalty or politics, and the Pope appointed by Emperors with no regard to the candidate’s spiritual suitability, then perhaps the secular government might seem a more likely locus to place blame. The issue is not simply that the Church was deeply involved in politics, but that the leaders of the Church had gotten their positions because of politics.

Yet, to Painter, Gregory VII’s attempt to pry control of the Church out of secular hands is seen as yet another foul Popish plot. That Gregory frustrated the attempts of the German Emperor Henry IV to appoint a pope to his liking is not the occasion for any introspection on the role of German emperors in corrupting the Church, but seen as overwhelming evidence of Papal perfidy.

Painter’s opening chapters contain a little history, true, but like the writings of Luther himself, quickly segue to polemic no matter what the topic putatively under discussion. The Catholic Church is irredeemably evil, the chosen tool of Satan, and an enemy of Protestant America. The enemy of my enemy is my friend: Painter goes so far as to defend the Albigensians, whose insane and destructive Gnosticism is pretty far from even Painter’s idea of Christianity, because the Church crushed them. He didn’t get around to defending the Aztecs, but one imagines he would, given his premises and zeal.

All good things that have happened in the West, and, indeed, the world, since 1517 are the result of Protestantism. America is a Protestant enterprise (no argument there from me) in which is no place for Catholics. American Catholics are (to the surprise of actual Catholics) awaiting orders from the Pope to whom all spiritual and temporal allegiance is sworn. Protestant Americans want to educate everyone; the Church wants to keep people stupid. One quotation will have to suffice:

Yet the Papacy is not favorable to the education of the masses. It seeks above all things absolute obedience on the part of its adherents. Intelligence among the laity is recognized as a dangerous possession; for it ministers to their independence in thinking, and makes them more critical of the teaching imposed upon them by priestly authority. Any activity displayed by the Papacy in popular education is forced by the existence of Protestant schools. The establishment of parish schools giving an education worth the name, is a measure of self-defense. The Jesuits, with all their lauded activity in education, never had the intellectual elevation of the masses at heart. With them education was a means of combating Protestantism, and of begetting a bigoted attachment to the Roman Church. Wherever the Papacy has had full control of education, the masses have been brought up in ignorance. It is a Jesuit maxim that ” A few should be well educated ; the people should be led. Reading and writing are enough for them.” When Victor Emmanuel took possession of the Papal States in 1870, only five per cent, of the population could read and write. In thrift and intelligence Catholic countries do not compare favorably with Protestant countries. Macaulay’s judgment on this point is as just as it is positive. ” During the last three centuries, to stunt the growth of the human mind has been the chief object of the Church of Rome. Throughout Christendom, whatever advance has been made in knowledge, in freedom, in wealth, and in the arts of life, has been made in spite of her, and has everywhere been in inverse proportion to her power. The loveliest and most fertile provinces of Europe have, under her rule, been sunk in poverty, in political servitude, and in intellectual torpor, while Protestant countries, once proverbial for sterility and barbarism, have been turned by skill and industry into gardens, and can boast of a long list of heroes and statesmen, philosophers and poets.”

Yet, somehow, scholars are not lacking among the canonized saints of the Church, which Church invented the university, and so on. Gregor Mendel and Georges Lemaître, among many thousands of other Catholic scientists and inventors, might find Painter’s analysis amusing.

Painter believes compulsory state education is an unmitigagted good, and that Catholic opposition to it is proof of the nefarious goals of the Papacy:

From the preceding discussion we may easily deduce the line of action that is necessary to protect our institutions, particularly our public school system, against papal aggression.

1. We should carefully observe the insidious movements of the Papacy.

2. Recognizing the separation of Church and State wisely made by the Constitution, we should nowhere tolerate sectarian legislation.

3. Maintaining the right of the State to educate its citizens, we should forbid the appropriation of any public funds to sectarian schools.

4. All public school offices should be filled with recognized friends of popular education.

5. The rights of conscience should be maintained and defended by the State.

In order to present the appearance of a united Protestant front against Catholics, Painter is here resorting to something like what Lewis called ‘mere Christianity,’ this fantasy under which some undefined subset of Protestants are really all basically primitive evangelical Christians despite disputes over dogma that had fractured them into dozens of flavors even by Painter’s time. Are Mormons Christians? How about Jehovah’s Witnesses or Seventh Day Adventists? Unitarians? Why not? When reading the contemporary writings of the early 19th century, it’s not unusual to come across a Presbyterian, say, who is sure his Methodist neighbor is going straight to Hell. The earlier Protestants were hardly afraid of dogma, and believed it a life or death matter. Painter certainly does, although what exactly those dogmas are and who, exactly, he considers his co-religionists, is unclear. What is clear from history: the one thing that united 19th century Protestants was hatred of the Catholic Church.

Painter’s freedom of conscience is, when fully played out, what we have today: it is unpardonable bigotry to say anyone isn’t whatever they say they are, or to condemn anything they want to do. Painter himself is a huge fan of the vigorously judgmental Luther – just read anything Luther wrote about anything for examples. The judgement of Catholics that the Church holds the full truth of Christianity is a claim any proper Lutheran or Calvinist or Methodist would have once sternly made for their own beliefs as well. And – this is critical – if you believe that your church holds the fullness of the Faith, it would be incumbent upon you to convert as many people as possible to this Truth, AND to do whatever you could to have this truth embodied in society, in culture, and in law – for everybody’s objective good. When we say that America is a Protestant nation, is this not what we mean? That the laws, culture, and society are the expression of the Protestant beliefs of the Founding Fathers and the culture that produced them? And that, finally, the dissolution of America that we are experiencing right now is also an expression of that culture, which never was as homogenous as myth would have it? The New England Calvinists despised the Virginia Episcopalians, and visa versa, for one example among many. These inherited animosities and the manifest drive toward fragmentation are as much a part of the Protestant roots of America as the reverence for individual conscience and faith in the perfectibility of man.

Wow, I fell into exactly what Painter did: using a format – him, an introduction; me, a book review – to expound our personal beliefs. Oops. To yank this back on topic: for my purposes, Painter’s introductory chapters merely reiterate that the beliefs that drove the Know-Nothings back in the first half of the 19th century were still going strong in the second half. Separating out, as much as we can, the mere anti-Catholic bigotry, we can ask: Did the Know Nothings have a legitimate grievance? Largely, yes – Catholic immigrants were being used by Tammany Hall and other thuggish governments as a way to get and hold power. Fresh off the boat, Catholic immigrants got housing, food, a job funded by graft and corruption, and a meeting with a judge on the take who granted them citizenship in defiance of the law. These newly-minted Americans were then told how to vote, and woe to any who dared question it! Thus, Democratic party machines got and held power in major American cities, power they continue to hold, for the most part. It was an immigration problem foreshadowing the one we have now. The Know Nothings had a legitimate case for wanting tighter immigration and naturalization laws.

But, alas! Those corrupt political machines were never really cleaned up. Rather, their practices became normalized and invisible. Thus, instead of having a Fred Roti run Chicago, you merely have an understanding that no one who actively opposes the machine is every getting anywhere. So, you shut up and go along, or move out. The Roti family may not be around to off troublemakers like in the good old days, but that’s only because challenges to the system are simply cut off much more elegantly now.

And many Catholic are complicit in this. One can hardly blame them for accepting with gratitude the help of Tammany Hall or the job as a policeman in Chicago, back in the day, but at some point, the lightbulb will go on – unless one actively works to keep it off.

So, at the same time, the last few decades of the 19th century, we have Painter saying that the efforts of Catholics to keep their kids out of pubic schools amounts to treason; Catholic bishops saying that it is the duty of every parish to build a Catholic school, so that every Catholic child in America can be educated outside the virulently anti-Catholic public schools; and Archbishop Ireland telling the NEA that, eventually, all Catholic children will attend public schools.

It’s messy and confusing. Painter ends up ‘winning’ this battle, in that Catholic schools now produce graduates who have no allegiance to anything the Church teaches, in the unlikely event they even learn what those teachings are. But his victory is Pyrrhic: the pure and noble Protestantism he loved is, if anything, even deader.

Education History Reading: Thomas Shield’s First Book (1917) pt 1?

Fr. Thomas Edward Shields (1862-1921) was a professor at Catholic University, who, along with Fr. Edward Pace, founded the psychology department there. He was one of the most influential Catholic educators of the early 20th century.

Here, we begin a review of his First Book, a little tome intended for 6 year olds. In many ways, it is a charming book: Shields organizes each of the 10 chapters in 4 parts: a scene from nature, a scene from family life, a scene from the life of Christ, and a simple song. Sections are illustrated with nice art. The kids are supposed to learn reading from this book, as well as get a bit of nature and art. Teachers are advised to read how to teach singing in Shield’s Teacher’s Manual of Primary Methods. But the main point of the book is to teach religion, specifically, Catholicism. The overall approach is integrated: nature, art, the family, music, the Gospels, are all used to inculcate a little Jesus into the tender young minds.

But – you knew there was going to be a ‘but’ – Shields remains a Progressive and a 19th century psychologist. He can’t stop with a charming, unobjectionable little book. Nope, he needs to introduce a bunch of theory. He has to believe that the little tykes could become so much better if properly lead by properly educated teachers according to scientific psychology. The tacit judgement: all those kids who have not been guided by fully trained teachers according to scientific principles are somehow flawed, and fail to live up to what they could have been.

Yikes. Like Pestalozzi, Shields believes in the constant monitoring of every student by a trained teacher, who then directs the student according to sound scientific principles. In other words, leaving the kids to figure anything out on their own is mere disaster. Also, subtly and almost certainly unintentionally, the family is being held to an impossible ideal. To illustrate this, let’s take his nature examples first. In the very first one, Shields describes a mother robin caring for her hatchlings. All very sweet and beautiful. The charming story is used introduce the child to the idea of family and ultimately divine love and care.

But what happens when the poor kid learns that bird very often kill their own chicks? That, in many species, the mother shoves the less perfect hatchlings out of the nest to their deaths, in order to concentrate her energies on their bigger, healthier siblings? Nature isn’t nice.

Similarly, the book describes family life in charming terms, where Mother selflessly cares for her children, and Father selflessly protects and provides for them all. Well? Sure is a good image and a proper ideal, but very few families are going to live up to it always and everywhere. What happens when an individual kid’s experiences don’t line up with this ideal? Since it is tied very tightly to Shield’s exposition of the faith, where Jesus’s love for us is presented as a more perfect version of our parents’ love for us, and, indeed, of robins’ love for their chicks, a failure anywhere along that line invites the kid to disbelief.

Not saying Shields’s approach is wrong, exactly – I want kids to believe in the goodness of nature and family – but it is laying what could be dangerous landmines for particular kids. On the plus side, maybe a kid will be enabled to see that his family isn’t living up to the ideal, and judge his family, and not the ideal, as the problem. It’s different, fundamentally, than reading Little House on the Prairie or Little Women, which are examples of particular families and include lots of problems and even tragedies. Here, in Shields’s book, the ideal family is presented as a realized ideal – kids are invited to see their families as such. Seems dangerous to me, or at least, an open invitation to a certain kind of problem that could be avoided by a different approach – say, reading the kids the books just mentioned.

More generally, the problems here are twofold: first, the idea that a late 19th century psychologist had ‘scientifically’ determined the best way to educate every kid is absurd. Merely setting up ‘laboratories’ to measure psychical phenomena doesn’t mean you are doing or discovering anything real. You might be able, for an example from the 19th century, to determine how long, exactly, people need to see a picture flashed before their eyes before it registers at all on their minds. And? Does that lead to any coherent theory of education? Indeed, what happens instead is that theories far beyond what any observation could support are crowbarred into a lab coat and called ‘science’. John Tylor Gatto observed that there isn’t anything like science behind any of the popular theories of education – it’s just biases, prejudices, and handwavium all the way down. Shields does nothing to disabuse me from Gatto’s view.

Second, and this is a general issue observable in Hecker, Brownson, Pace, Shields, Burns and all the 19th century ‘educationists’ from Fichte and Mann on – Progressivism, if it means anything, means a belief in the perfectibility of man in the here and now. If that belief happens not to be true, then you’ve set up an educational system that is bound to leave teacher, students, and theorist disappointed, to say the least. One could then change one’s opinion to match reality (ha! I slay me.), despair, or double down. Of the last 2 options, despair is the better by far. We’ve already seen how well doubling down works.

Maybe I’ll do a part 2, and go into details of this particular book. First, I find it enlightening to find out a little bit about these titans of Catholic education. To their credit, both Shields and Fr. Edward Pace were instrumental in the creation of the wonderful 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia. However, reading the excerpt quoted below made me realize I love that old encyclopedia because of the way Catholic issues are written about – I never read anything in it to see how, for relevant example, contemporary psychology was written about. Seems I’ll need to read that sort of thing at some point, to balance out my take.

So, who is Thomas Edward Shields? Here what Encyclopedia.com has to say:

Educator; b. Mendota, MN, May 9, 1862; d. Washington, DC, Feb. 15, 1921. The son of Irish immigrants, he was somewhat unruly as a child and finished his formal schooling late. He was admitted to St. Francis Seminary, Milwaukee, WI, in 1882, and to St. Thomas Seminary, St. Paul, MN, in 1885. At St. Thomas he published his first book, Index Omnium (1888), which was designed to help professional men correlate data gathered from wide reading. After his ordination on March 4, 1891, he studied for his Ph.D. at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD. His dissertation, The Effect of Odors Upon the Blood Flow (1895), influenced psychological research, and in 1902 he joined the faculty of The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, as an instructor in psychology.

Shields soon transferred his interest to education. In 1905 he set up a correspondence course, supplemented by diocesan summer institutes, for sisters in the expanding Catholic school system. He established the university’s department of education in 1909 and served as its first chairman. The following year he founded the Catholic Educational Review. In 1911 he conducted the first Summer Institute for Catholic Sisters at the university, and he founded the Sisters College, of which he was dean. In 1912 he was instrumental in securing the adoption of the University Affiliation Program. To correlate the curriculum of the Catholic school, Shields wrote a series of four widely used texts in religion. He was also the author of The Education of Our Girls (1907), a dialogue; The Making and Unmaking of a Dullard (1909), a description of his youth; and The Philosophy of Education (1917), the first Catholic book of its kind in English. He was perhaps the leading Catholic educator in the U.S. during the first quarter of the 20th century.

For Edward Pace, we turn to Wikipedia (so sue me – it’s succinct and accurate as far as it goes):

Edward A. Pace (July 3, 1861 – April 26, 1938) was a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida. He was the first native Floridian to be ordained a diocesan priest.

Pace did his doctoral work in psychology in Germany with Wilhelm Wundt. He wrote his dissertation on Herbert Spencer and evolution.

Pace was extensively involved with the early development of The Catholic University of America. He was the first professor of psychology at CUA, and was the founding dean of its School of Philosophy. He held several administrative positions throughout his career, and was involved with many of the University’s academic initiatives. He was one of the general editors of the edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia completed in 1914. In addition, Pace contributed to the founding of Trinity College, Washington, D.C.

In 1892 he became one of the first five psychologists elected to the American Psychological Association by its charter members. He was co-founder of the American Philosophical Association (1893), cofounder of the Catholic Philosophical Association (1926), co-founder and first editor of Catholic Educational Review (1911), cofounder and coeditor of the journal New Scholasticism (1926). Between 1907 and 1912 he was one of the leading editors of the fifteen-volume Catholic Encyclopedia. He was appointed by President Hoover to the National Advisory Committee on Education in 1926.[1]

Here’s Shields in his element, from Wikisource, the 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia:

As applied to a mental process, assimilation derives all its force and meaning from the analogy which many educationists have found to exist between the way in which food is incorporated into the living tissue and the manner in which truth is acquired by the growing mind. That education means the assimilation of truth is almost a commonplace in modern pedagogy. Few, however, have felt the full force of the comparison or realized how completely the psychological in this as in other instances follows on the lines of the physiological. Just as the living cell cannot delegate the task of assimilation, so the mind cannot by any contrivance of educational methods evade the task of performing the assimilative process for itself. All that the teacher can do is to prepare the material and to stimulate the mind of the pupil; the pupil himself must perform the final act of acquiring knowledge, namely the act of incorporating into his mind the truth presented to him. In the second place, the mind cannot take over into its own substance a complex truth as such. The truth must first be broken up into less complex component parts, which are assimilable by the mind in its present condition of development.

There is little profit, for example, in placing before the pupil a finished essay, unless the pupil is taught to analyze the finished literary product into its constituent elements, and to reconstruct those elements into a living whole. This, of course, implies much more than the task of summarizing each paragraph and labelling it more or less happily. When the term assimilation is used with reference to mental development, it is well to remember that, while it originally referred to the building up of anatomical elements, these elements, once constructed, have an immediate psychological bearing. Each particle of matter that is lifted into the living tissue acquires thereby a functional unity, that is, it is brought into functional relation with every other particle of the organism. Similarly, a truth once incorporated into the mind sheds its light on the entire mental content, and is in turn illuminated by every previously assimilated truth. Acting on these principles, the up-to-date educationist insists: first, that each new truth should be not only an addition to the stock of knowledge of the pupil, but also a functional acquisition, something that stimulates the pupil’s mind to increased activity; secondly, that in every educational endeavor the centre of orientation should be shifted from the logical centre of the body of truth to be imparted to the present needs and capacities of the growing mind.

Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker: Book Review

Here, I mention that I started reading Olaf Stapledon’s 1937 classic Star Maker. Just finished it up. Stapledon sets for himself the task of imaginatively describing all of creation, all of the possible universes, from, ultimately, God’s perspective. Star Maker was a very influential book – C.S. Lewis almost certainly is thinking of it in his Preface to That Hideous Strength:

I believe that one of the central ideas of this tale came into my head from conversations I had with a scientific colleague, some time before I met a rather similar suggestion in the works of Mr. Olaf Stapledon. If I am mistaken in this, Mr. Stapledon is so rich in invention that he can well afford to lend, and I admire his invention (though not his philosophy) so much that I should feel no shame to borrow

After the fashion of Dante in his Paradiso, Stapledon strives to achieve an effect of awesomeness and wonder by repeated references to how indescribable, how beyond imagination, are the visions he sees. He describes things as indescribable. This devise increases in frequency and vehemence as the book progresses, following the first-person narrator as he mysteriouly tours the universe through both space and time, until he finally meets the Star Maker. The Star Maker turns out to be a catch-all God with features that, by themselves, would be at home in any number of religious imaginations, although Christian and Gnostic sources seem to dominate. In the end, this Star Maker ends up a hideous monster. C.S. Lewis commented that the book descended to mere devil-worship by the end. I agree.

On the plus side, in the latter 2/3rd of the book. Stapledon reveals a profound imagination much harder to see, I think, in the first third. Not that I’m all that well-read in the speculative fiction classics, but this book contains a number of SciFi trope firsts, for me at least:

  • multiverse
  • intelligent stars
  • group minds
  • sentient plant-things

And probably a few more I’m missing.

Alas, Stapledon’s soaring imagination, which incorporate a multiverse, a demiurge, eon-spanning visions, the accretion of multi-species group minds, sentient plant-things, symbiotic intelligences, conscious stars and nebulae, galactic and cosmos-spanning intelligences, intergalactic telepathy, and a host of further wonders, can’t imagine any other political analysis or Utopia than taught by Marx, or a theology much different than Hegel’s. The most outlandish and dazzlingly imagined races still are trapped in capitalistic decadence on the horns of a dialectical dilemma, as it were. His Star Maker is coming to know himself through his unfolding in history, more or less. Worse, his solutions to all problems are a particularly egregious sort of expertise-itis fantasies – the little people are all looking to their glorious leaders to sort things out, meekly following their lead, up to an including suicide or euthanasia, to which they enthusiastically agree.

We noted that the new world-orders were very diverse. This was, of course, to be expected, since biologically, psychologically, culturally, these worlds were very different. The perfected world-order of an Echinoderm race had of course to be different from that of the symbiotic Ichthyoids and Arachnoids; and this from that of a Nautiloid world, and so on. But we noted also in all these victorious worlds a remarkable identity. For instance, in the loosest possible sense, all were communistic; for in all of them the means of production were communally owned, and no individual could control the labor of others for private profit. Again, in a sense all these world-orders were democratic, since the final sanction of policy was world-opinion. But in many cases there was no democratic machinery, no legal channel for the expression of world-opinion. Instead, a highly specialized bureaucracy, or even a world-dictator, might carry out the business of organizing the world’s activity with legally absolute power, but under constant supervision by popular will expressed through the radio. We were amazed to find that in a truly awakened world even a dictatorship could be in essence democratic. We observed with incredulity situations in which the “absolute” world-government, faced with some exceptionally momentous and doubtful matter of policy, had made urgent appeals for a formal democratic decision, only to receive from all regions the reply, “We cannot advise. You must decide as your professional experience suggests. We will abide by your decision.”

Most of the book is concerned with the various challenges the ever-growing and merging group minds face on their Hegelian journey toward ever more enlightenment and self-realization. The goal is always idealized communism, always toward a group identity, unified group thought, and unified group action. The individual, while maybe not nothing as orthodox Marxism demands, certainly ain’t much. Stapledon repeatedly insists collective group identity is the fulfillment of all individual desires, so much so that the individual cells in the group will happily be murdered, die or even kill themselves if the group thinks it right. Only in the early, unenlightened days do individuals buck against the collective’s wisdom.

It’s tedious. Stapledon’s inventive genius is almost interesting enough to carry the reader through the endless barrage of one-note commie-think. This is not helped by this book being the one example I’ve ever read that goes all in on ‘tell, don’t show.’ Not 1% of the book is ‘show’ – it is just the first person narrator telling us about his adventure, with only one other named character in the entire book. That it works as well as it does is food for thought, from a writing perspective.

In the end, The Star Maker creates a series of universes, with a variety of characteristics, just to see how it works out. His multi-verses are interesting, and copied all over the place:

By the end of the story, our narrator is a part of a multi-galaxy telepathically linked group mind, containing all the accumulated wisdom to all the member races. It is in this state, as the most exalted of group minds, that he meets the Star Maker. The Star Maker creates a series of universes, with a variety of characteristics, just to see how it works out. His multi-verses are interesting, and copied all over the place:

In one inconceivably complex cosmos, whenever a creature was faced with several possible courses of action, it took them all, thereby creating many distinct temporal dimensions and distinct histories of the cosmos. Since in every evolutionary sequence of the cosmos there were very many creatures, and each was constantly faced with many possible courses, and the combinations of all their courses were innumerable, an infinity of distinct universes exfoliated from every moment of every temporal sequence in this cosmos.

After his interview with the Star Maker, the narrator finds himself back on earth, back to be an individual Englishman. He pauses to describe the world of 1937, with the perspective gained through his journeys. In case we missed it, he hammers home again how the Soviet Union and communists in general are the good guys. Here, for example:

Further on, the Spanish night was ablaze with the murder of cities. Away to the left lay Germany, with its forests and factories, its music, its steel helmets. In cathedral squares I seemed to see the young men ranked together in thousands, exalted, possessed, saluting the flood-lit Fuhrer. In Italy too, land of memories and illusions, the mob’s idol spell-bound the young.

Far left-wards again, Russia, an appreciably convex segment of our globe, snow-pale in the darkness, spread out under the stars and cloud tracts. Inevitably I saw the spires of the Kremlin, confronting the Red Square. There Lenin lay, victorious. 

Victorious. Right. Then he describes the battle facing the world:

One antagonist appeared as the will to dare for the sake of the new, the longed for, the reasonable and joyful, world, in which every man and woman may have scope to live fully, and live in service of mankind. The other seemed essentially the myopic fear of the unknown; or was it more sinister? Was it the cunning will for private mastery, which fomented for its own ends the archaic, reason-hating, and vindictive, passion of the tribe.

“…in which every man and woman may have scope to live fully, and live in service of mankind.” Propaganda always sounds so kindly, so drenched in sympathy. The key aspect of the story, the climax, is the narrator learning that God is not bound by human ideas of love, that he is free to torture his creations if he feels like it, all in pursuit of a cosmos that adequately expresses his creative. The narrator finds himself repulsed by the evil the Star Maker does, casually and without feeling, in the name of, well, progress. But he confesses he loves him, including his evil aspects. I’m reminded of John Dewey’s defense of Trotsky, where he asserts that the only moral standard is: does it move the Revolution closer? Need to destroy worlds, murder billions, enslave billions, consign billions more to hell, in the search for a better cosmos? Who are we to judge?

Stapledon’s God is a demon, and Stapledon’s urge to worship him is diabolical.

Micro Book Reviews (the reviews are small, not the books)

Haven’t written up any book reviews in forever. Have been doing some reading, however. Time is tight: prepping for my 8th and 9th grade history & lit classes set to start in September, trying to schedule a boatload of deferred maintenance for the house, and writing some books and composing a Mass (what’s a fellow to do, to avoid a feeling of helplessness?).

So let’s take 3:

Combat Frame XSeed, by Brian Niemeier

This is fun book. Jumps right in with dramatic escapes, last-second rescues, and battles to the death, with moral questions about exactly how far one is justified to go in war. The story features a bunch of well-drawn characters who unfold and gain depth over time. And giant punchy mechs with swords and stuff!

Niemeier creates a world of space habitats, supermen, a sort of technological tyranny, freedom fighters, genius inventors, fem fatales, and daring soldiers, with enough political intrigue and plot twists to keep the reader on his toes. I particularly liked how each of the main characters has a distinct personality and motivations. Some are loyal to a fault, some have learned to function under an oppressive regime, some are eeeevil.

And mechs! Loving attention is lavished upon them, detailed descriptions, with blow-by-blow fight scenes and epic battles against impossible odds. They punch each other, sword fight, blast each other, fly in space, cruise under water. Very cool. Reminded me of this:

Except there actually are a plot and characters and stuff in XSeed. Fun stuff, check it out.

Here’s a truly irrelevant aside: mechs, and, indeed, any sort of relatively small, heroically-piloted military equipment – fighters, tanks, Imperial Walkers, guys in armor – tend to take me out of any sci fi story, and put me into fantasy right away. 40 years ago, dogfighting was replaced with pilots firing their missiles at a blip on a screen, then turning tail and trying to outrun the missiles similarly targeted at them. Similarly, tanks have become what they originally were: rolling artolatry, not armored cavalry dueling other tanks. It can happen, but that’s not what they’re for. (I await correction by people who know what they’re talking about.)

One can come up with a theory of battle where individuals in suits of really, really cool hi-tech armor are how you need to do things. It’s not like there are rules, exactly, but it’s just another thing to account for – and, it usually isn’t accounted for in my limited experience. You have your Dune conceit, where the standard defensive measures stop all the high-tech weapons, but not swords, so people can get all Erol Flynn on each other. Something like that.

All that said, twice now in stories I’ve worked on I’ve stuck in mechs – stupid, since I don’t know the tropes and clichés. Once, I ignored the issue (to me, at least) of why there were mechs in the first place; the second time, they are part of an ancient military tradition by an alien race that hasn’t fought any real wars for millennia. I really shouldn’t go there.

A Voyage to Arcturus, by David Lindsey.

I dunno. This is a classic, and I sort of get it, but – not my cup of tea. It sold about 600 copies back in 1920 when it was released, and only gained status as a classic after the author had died. Like a lot of modern art, it’s more interesting than good, IMHO.

What’s interesting: Going back to Gilgamesh and Job, at least, is the problem put by Milton as the need to ‘justify the ways of God to men.’ Classic literature from the Iliad and the Old Testament, through Dante, Milton and on and on are stabs, in one way or another, at addressing this issue. It might reasonably be claimed that it’s difficult to be great literature unless it at least touches upon these themes. Lewis’s Space Trilogy and the Silmarillion are more modern examples, and the Oracle Wikipedia says that both Lewis and Tolkien were fans of Lindsey’s masterpiece. So we have here an exploration of the eternal questions about God and man explored by a very capable writer, as part of a long and noble tradition of such explorations.

Lindsey displays an amazing imagination. His planet Tormance orbiting the twin suns of Arcturus is a constant stream of dazzling images and creative flourishes. He imagines it a young world still in a sense being created, where the battle between reality and illusion is being fought out every moment in every creature and feature. It’s a bit like Gulliver’s Travels, in that every new place on Tormance presents new sights and rules. It’s a wild ride, and almost worth reading just for the fabulous craziness of it all.

What’s not so interesting: Now suppose you’re a Nihilist, as Lindsey certainly seems to be. A modern Gnostic, who picks up the task, as he sees it, of debunking all pleasure, all love, all noble feeling, indeed, all material existence, as lies and frauds.

That doesn’t make for a very attractive story. Indeed, there is no plot, no real character development except that the protagonist, Maskull, simply changes and acts under the influence of the latest ‘delusion’ he is in the process of having peeled off. He at first falls in among rather too pure and saintly aliens, who are just straw men to be blown away. Maskull’s enlightenment takes the form of murdering people – or worse. He is described as a sort of giant of a man. The people he murders are always no physical match for him, a good many are women. He leaves a trail of bodies in 5 days that would make a serial killer proud.

And, at the end, he’s a nihilist, so it all doesn’t matter.

I read this book because it is on John C. Wright’s list of essential Sci Fi. He even wrote a book about A Voyage to Arcturus, which I got from Amazon a couple hours ago. (Wright’s Eschaton Sequence may have been inspired by Lindsey’s book, and is a much better (and vastly longer) exploration of the modern philosophical ideas under which we labor. Plus, Menelaus Montrose is a much better protagonist and a gas.)

Soooo – if you want to read a book demonstrating how out there a human imagination can go, give Voyage to Arcturus a try. Otherwise, not so much.

Mentioned a while back that I was rereading Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. Finished it up. Now, we’re almost done with it as family reading out loud after dinner. I want my 17 year old son, who evidently tuned it out when read out loud years ago, to hear this book.

It’s good. Buy several copies. Reread it often. With Benson’s Lord of the World, That Hideous Strength is about a timely a book as you could read.

Review of the Introduction to a Book

No, really. I have a weird habit, at least for my household – I almost always read all the front matter in whatever books I read. (Sometimes, as in some philosophical works, I might read it after I’ve read the work itself, if I suspect it will bias my reading – but I’ll almost always read it.) My wife, who is as OK-read (well-read is maybe a stretch for me) as I am, pretty much never does this; neither do my kids, as far as I know. You guys? Skip to the good parts, or slog through the front matter first?

For my White Handled Blade series (yea, yea, gotta write Book 1 before you can have a series, I get it) I’m reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a copy of which was in the stacks. Not sure how I had not run across Burton Raffel before – or, if I did, how he failed to make an impression – but this guy, a famous translator, is a character and a half. His Introduction is about as bare-knuckles an assessment of his ‘competitors’ as I’ve ever seen. Reminded me of the old saying in academia: never is the fight more brutal than when the stakes are really low.

To sum up: he’s not real impressed by the work of other translators and commentators of Green Knight. Here are some samples, from his 31 page introduction to a 75 page poem:

It is no defense of Tolkien, Gordon, and Davis, but most literary criticism of medieval poetry suffers from just this kind of “lengthy, mostly irrelevant” insensitivity to the poem as a poem.

p. 34

Sure. A little further, Raffel goes after scholarly critics as a group, giving examples of scholarly assertions contradicted by text within a few lines of the source of the initial assertions:

But the critics’ attention span is somehow limited by their scholarship, or alternatively by their desire to assert some interpretive claim.

p. 35

He also makes charming, look how smart I am observations, such as this, after his analysis of how the Poet portrays what is going on in Gawain’s mind and soul during his temptation by the Green Knight’s wife, and how it does not admit of a simply linear understanding as we moderns might be tempted to impress on it:

The Gawain Poet plainly knows this, and just as plainly knows his Hegel-like perception of the antithesis concealed within the synthesis is the only sane way to see things. And he is phenomenally sane. He is, in fact, so powerful a literary mind that what could be a mere matter of philosophy , with a lesser writer, is transformed for him into a vital matter of literary technique.

p. 29

O, come on, Burtie, old boy, you’re just yanking chains! Don’t make me slap that smirk off your elderly (well, dead, now) face.

The whole Introduction provides the kind of background information that is reason I read introductions, so that’s good, interspersed with patches that read like Raffel getting even with people or calling them idiots. He kindly allows of one scholar’s work that “…it is not all as bad as the passages I have cited.” At another scholar’s assertions, Raffel says: “I can gape: where has the man been?” Or that the “weird” analysis of another is revealed in a passage “which speaks, unfortunately, for itself.” Did somebody steal his lunch money, or something?

The Introduction was certainly entertaining, the poem itself is wonderful, and I appreciate Raffel’s guidance in taking it seriously as a masterpiece – hard to do with the rather less structured? Logical? bits of Arthuriana I’ve read so far. Maybe I’ll review it when I’m done.

Confirmation Bias, Cont’d

A few posts back, explored the role Confirmation Bias, or You Find What You’re Looking For, plays in panics, such as the ones (1) we’re experiencing now.

Many thanks to reader Martin Shotzberger, who kindly sent me a link to a transcription of a talk by Irving Langmuir, titled Pathological Science, delivered at the Colloquium at the Knolls Research Laboratory, December 18, 1953, as transcribed and edited by R. N. Hall

Irving Langmuir, according to Wikipedia, was an American chemist, physicist, and engineer, Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry, and wide ranging inventor and just all around brilliant dude. The audience, I presume, are other elite physicists and other scientists, so it took a little time and effort for me to understand a few of the examples, but they’re not too hard to get. Chiefly, Langmuir is noting the insidious and persistent nature of confirmation bias. He give examples where honest, dedicated, even brilliant scientists worked themselves into a state of utter conviction that they’d seen or discovered something, such that any new observations were reflexively explained away – nothing could be seen except for phenomena that confirmed their theories or discoveries. He labels this Pathological Science.

Langmuir goes to some length to say (usually) that he has no reason to doubt the honesty of the researcher, and that the main problem is overreliance on edge cases, observations right at the edge of perception, where it’s oh so easy to see what you want to see. Honest, bright-to-brilliant men letting their legitimate desire to know overwhelm their prudence.

Most telling, perhaps, is Langmuir’s observations that sometimes up to 50% of the specialists who examined the experiments were convinced, and that it sometimes took decades for the skeptics to win out. There was no one moment where everybody went: no, that doesn’t work. Instead, in a manner eerily parallel to the cult described in When Prophecy Fails (4th bullet at the link), people double down at first, then slowly drift away as evidence, or lack thereof, mounts. The theory or claims just sort of die out.

Highly recommended read.

Keep in mind that scientists are supposedly trained to anticipate and take measures against confirmation bias – and, in these examples, despite intelligence and education, fell to it anyway. If education and intelligence are no barrier, if men such as these can fall to it, what hope do we peons have? This brings us back to the Salem witch hunts, and, indeed, the COVID panic and, terrifyingly, the effectiveness of the “insurrection” propaganda campaign. Take confirmation bias, add fear, then stir briskly with a campaign to silence critics and demonize all opposition, and we are so, so screwed.

Prediction: there will never be a general public acknowledgement in our lifetimes that the lockdowns and masks were based on out-of-control confirmation bias fanned by fear-mongering and fraud. Nope, the Doom, if it ever is allowed to go away, will simply fizzle out over many years, and, with any luck, our progeny in a generation or two will stare back at it in wonder and horror at what we did to ourselves.

God help us.

  1. Plural. Not only is every death assumed to be corona-doom until proven otherwise, every act or word by anyone not on board the Blue Train to Paradise is assumed to be a call for bloody insurrection, any dissent from Critical Theory catechism is hate speech, any pushback at all on any point, any failure to accept without question whatever is being promulgated at the moment is eeeevil incarnate. Even noticing the story has changed is condemned. We have always been at war with Eastasia.

Book Review: The Flying Inn by G.K. Chesterton

Short and sweet: A wonderful story, full of startling Chesterton prescience and hitting on his favorite themes of the common man versus the aristocracy, the joys of simple, concrete life and the insanity of the modern age.

Image result for The Flying Inn

I’d never heard of this novel before it was suggested for our Chesterton Reading Group last month. First published in January, 1914, The Flying Inn is set in some slightly future England, where, due to the support of the aristocracy, specifically a powerful Lord Ivywood, Islam is making serious inroads into English life.

Let that sink in: Chesterton, writing in 1913, before the Great War, has Islam threatening normal English life, aided by muddle-headed English Progressives and other rich people. Chesterton does this kind of crystal ball gazing all the time. It is a little unnerving.

The story begins with Joan Brett, a lovely, melancholy young woman, walking along the beach, half listening to an array of quack street preachers, each with his spot from which to harangue the holiday crowds. She eventually stops before a colorful Turkish quack, who, like the father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding showing how every word has a Greek origin, claims that all English inns – think pubs – are really derived from and named according to things found in Islam.

She is the only one listening to his heavily accented expostulations, although he carries on as if speaking to a vast crowd. As tea time approaches and the crowd thins out, just as the Turk begins trying to formulate an Islamic etymology for the local pub, The Old Ship. The quack admits that the old ship presents a challenge to his thesis, so has spoken with the proprietor, a Mr. Pump, in an effort to overcome this. The Old Ship had been named in anticipation of the return of a Captain Dalroy, a good friend of Pump, who was expected any minute to arrive – from Turkey.

Joan, it appears, is also a friend of Mr. Pump and is also awaiting the return of Captain Dalroy.

Captain Patrick Dalroy, a very large and redheaded Irishman, left the English navy due to England’s treatment of Ireland, and became, as the result of numerous adventures, the King of Ithaca. This little kingdom consisted of all the Christian rebels still holding out against the Turks, as the Great Powers had decided that peace with Turkey was worth the sacrifice of any number of small Christian nations in its sphere.

Dalroy, following the wishes of his people to end the war, first appears negotiating surrender on a little Greek island with representatives of the Great Powers: Lord Ivywood “the English Minister, was probably the handsomest man in England,” and Dr. Gluck, “the German Minister, whose face had nothing German about it; neither the German vision nor the German sleep…. his scarlet lips never moved in speech,” as well a representative of the Turks, Oman Pasha, ” …equally famous for his courage in war and his cruelty in peace; but who carried on his brow a scar from Patrick’s sword, taken after three hours’ mortal combat—and taken without spite or shame, be it said, for the Turk is always at his best in that game.”

Dalroy knows that he cannot fight all of Europe as well as the Turks, and has resigned himself to the surrender his people had accepted, even if the terms – the Turks will keep all the women and girls they’ve captured and enslaved, an issue Lord Ivywood sees as just a quibble – enrage him. The whole scene shows the state of affairs under the realpolitik of the Concert of Europe: the little people are willingly sacrificed by the powerful in pursuit of the appearance of peace. Dalroy does what his people want, but first, while the horrible terms to which he cannot object are being read, he rips from the ground the olive trees at hand and tosses them into the sea. He ignores the diplomats, shakes hands with Pasha, and heads back to his ship and to England, to the inn named the Old Ship.

Eventually, the Turkish quack and Lord Ivywood unite, after a fashion, to impose Prohibition on England, and ban all inns. When the authorities arrive to impose this new law on the Old Ship, Patrick rips the inn’s sign out of the ground, and he and Mr. Pump escape with the last barrel of good rum and a large wheel of cheese.

The new law allows for an exception: inns displaying their sign may sell alcoholic beverages, on the presumption they have gotten some sort of exemption. Dalroy and Pump proceed to create the Flying Inn, arriving unannounced at some out of the way place or other, Dalroy sticking the sign of the Old Ship into the ground. A crowd of thirsty commoners soon gathers; the police don’t know what to do, and Dalroy and Pump, after dispensing a little rum and cheese, make their escape. Lord Ivywood, an ambitious and hard man, makes it his crusade to stop them.

In other words, classic fabulous and slapstick Chesterton. Any more detail would be spoilers. We have ambition and hypocrisy exposed, battles fought, songs sung, the working man rising up, Islam revealing itself, and true love – a wonderful, outrageous story. Highly recommended. You can download it free or read it on line here.

Music at Masses Review: TAC Baccalaureate & St. Therese Alhambra

Was blessed this weekend to be present at two very beautiful masses, the baccalaureate mass for our son’s graduation at TAC, and a 7:30 a.m. Sunday morning mass at St. Therese’s in Alhambra, California. These masses were both very different and yet very much the same, one a huge celebration in a gorgeous church presided over by a bishop and half-dozen priests, with a amazing choir and organist, and all the pomp and ceremony one could want. The other was a low mass in a pretty parish church, with the only music being the typical Latin commons for the Kyrie (yes, it’s Greek, I know) Sanctus and Agnus. The priest also sang a bit of an old Marian hymn as an illustration of some point in his homily.

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Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel, Thomas Aquinas College, Ojai, CA

They were the same in their reverence, and in being directed to the glory of God and not the glory of men.

The choir at TAC is amazing. A school of 350 or so students can somehow produce a choir more than worthy of their beautiful church and school. There has long been a frankly shocking amount of musical talent at that school, given that there’s no music program as such (the students study music a little as part of their Great Books program). Yet in the now decade that I’ve been going down to campus, seems there’s always something musically excellent going on. At the family of the graduates dinner Friday night, for example, two different acapella groups founded or peopled by students, or both, performed, and both were excellent.

Interior of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel
Interior.

Saturday morning, the baccalaureate mass began at 8:30 in a packed church. Here’s my one and only complaint about that beautiful building: site lines from anywhere other than the nave are terrible. When it’s a full church, half the people are in the transept or side aisles, and might as well be outside for as well as they can see anything. This obscured vision is a result of the sanctuary being recessed enough to be mostly invisible from the transept, but mostly from a nave and side aisle design in a building that’s not that big. In gigantic cathedrals, it’s often possible to see fairly well from much of the side aisles, as the columns are farther apart and the nave wider. In Our Lady of the Holy Trinity Chapel, all you can see from 90% of the aisle spaces is the columns and the nave – the altar and sanctuary are totally blocked. Of course, for 95% of the masses celebrated there, everybody sits in the nave and it’s no problem, so this is a minor complaint, really.

The Mass began with Come Holy Ghost while the faculty and graduates filed in, followed by the chant Introit while the clergy and Bishop Barron processed in and the altar was incensed. The mass commons were some lovely polyphony I didn’t immediately recognize, most likely Palestrina, perhaps – one of that crowd. They also did motets for offertory and communion including Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus, and more chant propers.

For the recession, the choir sang the hymn tune from Jupiter from Holst’s the Planets – an extreme case of redeeming some beautiful secular music, in this case, from the hands of a goodball gnostic astrologer. Lovely.

Or it seems you can just listen to it – here. Audio is a bit spotty, but you will get the gist. Bonus Bishop Barron homily.

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St. Therese of Lisieux, Alhambra, CA, interior.

The next morning, Mother’s Day, we – my wife, mother-in-law, our 15 year old son David, freshly-minted graduate Thomas, elder daughter Teresa, who lives in Alhambra, and our younger daughter Anna Kate who flew in from New Hampshire to surprise her big brother, gathered for the 7:30 a.m. mass at St. Therese’s and brunch afterwards. Younger daughter also is graduating, in one week! She had handed in her senior thesis Monday, defended it Thursday, then flew out Friday, flew back Sunday in order to take her finals! Insane, but typical – those two are only 20 months apart in age, and were often thought to be twins growing up (and fought like cats and dogs). Despite needing special permission to defend her thesis early so that she could leave Friday, and despite having to try to study for finals on the plane, she was not going to miss this.

Our older daughter Teresa helped arrange all this, picking up Anna Kate at the airport and putting her up, and driving her to the graduation. I love our kids! There are far better than I deserve, that’s for sure.

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Modern-ish, but lovingly executed and not unlovely. It’s heart, and the hearts of all those involved, are in the right place.

Mass was what you’d expect early on a Sunday morning – very low key. The people, which included a passel of Sisters of Charity (they always look so happy!), knew the chant propers and sang them well. Quiet, reverent and of course efficacious.

We may not often get to have the 90+ minute high sung mass celebrated in a great church by competent, devote people, but I’ll take a revenant low mass celebrated by people who care any day of the week. I’m grateful to all the people who helped bring about both masses, even and perhaps especially those whose devotion helped to transmit a culture in which such things can take place.

Music at Mass Nano-Review 5/5/19

Due to scheduling requirements, we went to a Children’s Mass this morning that we almost never attend.

There’s nothing that elevates the spiritual experience of the Holy Eucharist quite like having a gaggle of pitchy tween girls sing praise tunes in a reverby box of a church building with rock band level amplification.

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The girls were darling, of course, which I suppose is the point. Have a nice Sunday!