Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why has our culture become degraded

From Is the Enemy Us? a book review by Claire Berlinski.
In his new book, Bruce Bawer has proposed an answer to vexing questions: Why has our culture become degraded? Why have our politics become polarized? And why has our public debate coarsened? Bawer locates the source of these misfortunes in the changes that have taken place in American higher education over the last generation—above all, the emergence of multicultural “identity studies.” The academy, he observes, is “the font of the perfidious multicultural idea and the setting in which it is implanted into the minds of American youth.”
Berlinski gives Bawer credit for his efforts but
Yet I’m not persuaded by his ultimate argument that our cultural rot emanates fundamentally from the universities. In the first place, these very universities also — still — produce the world’s deepest study of the humanities. Is it fair to associate, say, the Southern Oregon University Center for Shakespeare Studies with the aforementioned stammering bimbo, Michele? Does the syllabus of Miami University’s “Dostoevsky as a Social Philosopher” suggest any preoccupation with Frantz Fanon? This is perhaps not Bawer’s point, but given his conclusion — that parents have been categorically deceived in placing their faith in higher education — it is not unreasonable to point out that many American universities still provide an outstanding introduction to the traditional canon.
I share Berlinski's position - Something is rotten in the state of Denmark but it is hard to pinpoint either the nature of the disease or its cause. Our universities are a great source of intellectual renewal and innovation but they also seem to have been very successful in starting all sorts of counterproductive intellectual hares which have ended up harming both individuals and the nation. One area where I suspect that universities are particularly vulnerable is the criticism that they have not been successful in transmitting the existing culture (the source of current success) with any sort of integrity. It is almost as if large swaths of academia are fundamentally unaware of intellectual and cultural sources of prosperity. Cultural illiteracy seems rampant with an ever narrower circle of common ground for people to share.

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