Monday, April 11, 2011
Preparation for Essay # 6
The following essay and the preceding one were written for my "developmental" writing students at Nashville State Technical Community College in Cookeville, Tennessee. Their meaning may be transferable to many other contexts in the spiritual and cultural wasteland of the dying West.--RKC
This little essay is entitled “preparation for essay # 6,” but it is also a sort of farewell to the college classroom. After thirty-some years of teaching in colleges and universities across the country and around the world, I am hanging up my professorial hat with these desultory thoughts on the “Z” generation, the students that currently sit in front of me and who, I believe, are fairly representative of college students across the country and in western countries generally.
As to their ignorance, I have little to add. Scores of articles have been written on what they don’t know. For example, many born in 1992 have never heard of the Soviet Union or the fall of Communism or the Gulag Archipelago or the Cold War or Pol Pot. For that matter, few of them know of even the basic rules of English grammar, logic, or rhetoric. They cannot read, and do not read. They are not entirely at fault for this. Their parents, as well as the country at large, are responsible for the state of the family, for the extremely poor public education system and, moreover, for their own failure to offer massive resistance to the nonsense that now passes as culture in the West. Instead, they send them to college for one reason only. Not to become genuinely educated, to develop as human beings, to learn to think about the great and important things (the good, the true, the beautiful), but only to get a good job and make money.
If you are one of my students and are already angry at what I have said, good. If you are not yet angry, read on and I will do my best to make you angry. If I fail altogether, I shall have proved my major points about how you think and live; you will shrug off what I have to say; and you will pass out of my class secure in willful ignorance, apathy, acedia, and complacency.
I know that already. Last semester when I asked one student an important question, she responded this way, “I don’t know, and I don’t care.” Not caring is acedia, listed by early Christians as one of the seven deadly sins. In the 1960s, an editor of the New Republic wrote a book on the Seven Deadly Sins as they applied to our society. He was not a Christian, in fact anything but, but he knew the society was crashing down around his ears.
Early in this semester I distributed to you what I called a “secret document” about education and about how you might go about getting one in these mindless and barbarous times. I am willing to bet that few of you have read it or will read it.
If you can sense my anger, you are on to something at least, though you may only care about it to get a good grade on essay # 6. You have heard it said over and over that you should not take things personally. I won’t say it. I want you to take my remarks personally because you are a person, a state and vocation of being that requires the full engagement of your emotions and faculties to begin asking radical questions about human existence and your own life. Frankly, if you are interested in a genuine education as described in the secret document, you would be well advised to leave college and find a place where you can take only technical courses to get a job. The last thing you should do is take courses in English or the Humanities as they are currently taught in 99% of the colleges and universities in the Western world.
All that by the by, my main concern is with the state of your minds. Last year I published an essay about the state of a certain Honors program in a Tennessee university where I recently taught. My simple contention then (http://www.newoxfordreview.org/article.jsp?did=0510-craven) was that that program and the minds of university students generally are so permeated by the doctrine of relativism that it has become impossible to teach and learn with the ancient goals of studying the good, the true, and the beautiful. More than that, the doctrine of relativism is so deeply engrained in both student and faculty minds that it has taken on, beneath its fake pretense of universal tolerance, a ferocious hostility bent on eliminating anything and anyone that challenge its cultural supremacy. As a writer named Joseph Ratzinger noted recently, “we are living under the dictatorship of relativism.”
I can hear your long yawn from here. Relativism? Who cares? What is it anyway? There is a simple synonym for relativism in our culture: “whatever.” In the Kingdom of Whatever, where Queen Relativa rules, the motto is, “I don’t want to go there, man.” As in many Fairy Tales, the key or the secret or hidden entrance or magic word is missing; the difference is, in the Kingdom of Whatever, it is forbidden to find it. This is a Kingdom of human beings who are willing to be slaves to any power that tells them what to think. That, I think, would be you. Most of you have already proved this to me.
The relativist says, “all propositions are relative except this one,” thereby contradicting himself by making an absolute statement, the only absolute statement the relativist permits in the Kingdom of Whatever. By relativism, by the way, we ordinarily mean moral relativism (there are other kinds). The moral relativist believes that Hannibal Lecter’s moral views are just as valid as the moral views of Jesus Christ or Socrates. In ordinary conversations or discussions, relativism is usually expressed as, “it’s all relative, isn’t it?” Or, “people have different opinions; any one opinion is just as good as any other.”
What is the Kingdom of Relativa like to live in? It’s like living in constant fog in a world without roads or road signs. In such a world, the only way in which “value” can be established is through power.
Relativism and relativists have been around as long as there have been human beings. Socrates met them in the streets of Athens where they called themselves Sophists, and spent his life (and death) refuting them. If you want to read an excellent modern refutation, see Peter Kreeft’s A Refutation of Relativism, which is written in a lively dialogue style anyone can follow. (Don’t everyone rush to the bookstore at once). If I could have, I would have chosen it as reading for this course, but the postmodernists who rule the Humanities departments of NSCC and most colleges will not permit it. When I chose an excellent text called Being Human for a course at Motlow College, I was told I was not allowed to do that. So I did not teach the course. Like Socrates, I went back to the streets.
Postmodernists? Though relativism has been around as long as humans (I fancy that Cain was one), it is only recently that they have seized the domain of philosophy and from there, an entire culture. Beginning with the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, and extending into modern French writers like Foucault, the relativists have subverted the entire western tradition of literature and philosophy with their view that written texts mean nothing but attempts to gain power. Very simply, that. A rant by Hitler and the Book of Genesis differ only in style. Most English teachers today have been thoroughly indoctrinated in postmodernism, which is a bit like majoring in nothingness. Culturally and educationally, postmodernism has meant a constant indoctrination in multiculturalism, radical feminism, and Marxism. To the end of turning students into pliable relativists—and, incidentally, amoral hedonists who view traditional institutions such as marriage and the family as fascist plots.
As I have suggested in class, the Kingdom of Relativa finds its perfect expression in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1931) which prophesies a society without love, marriage, natural procreation, or the desire to know truth, and which controls the human person from test-tube birth to euthanized death through narcotics and propaganda. Though this world is already well on its way, I don’t think most of you will offer it any resistance.
As a teacher, I have fought relativism and all it represents since I started teaching. Since I returned to the American classroom after six years in the Middle East and a number of years in the corporate workplace, I found that the Kingdom of Relativa had progressed geometrically; one might even say, infectiously, as if a great plague had settled on the culture.
Ironically, those who think of themselves as nihilists, enemies of religion, and relativists are often given to absolutist rages. Witness Bill Maher in his recent (and admirable) tirade: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2011/04/08/maher_islam_only_religion_that_kills_you_when_you_disagree_with_them.html
Essay # 6 is designed to do two things: one, to help you write a good, solid, interesting essay in which you are fully engaged as a thinking person; two, to help you experience what it’s like to unapologetically argue for a truth to which you are absolutely committed. That alone can be a gift to those living in the fogs of Relativa. Does that teach you writing? Yes, it does. That plus reading, reading, reading.
Dr. Ken Craven, exiting Academe