Wednesday, July 29, 2015

It was a snippy, prim, smug bourgeois armchair leftism

Camille Paglia is one of our few genuine public intellectuals and that is intended as a compliment rather than a snide attack. From Camille Paglia takes on Jon Stewart, Trump, Sanders: “Liberals think of themselves as very open-minded, but that’s simply not true!” interviewed by David Daley.

Whatever she says, she says with verb, insight and from a deep well of knowledge. She always strikes me as genuine, an attribute by which I set great store.

Salon is running a long interview with her over three days. The following blistering excerpts are from today's segment. On atheists:
I regard them as adolescents. I say in the introduction to my last book, “Glittering Images”, that “Sneering at religion is juvenile, symptomatic of a stunted imagination.” It exposes a state of perpetual adolescence that has something to do with their parents– they’re still sneering at dad in some way. Richard Dawkins was the only high-profile atheist out there when I began publicly saying “I am an atheist,” on my book tours in the early 1990s. I started the fad for it in the U.S, because all of a sudden people, including leftist journalists, started coming out of the closet to publicly claim their atheist identities, which they weren’t bold enough to do before. But the point is that I felt it was perfectly legitimate for me to do that because of my great respect for religion in general–from the iconography to the sacred architecture and so forth. I was arguing that religion should be put at the center of any kind of multicultural curriculum.

I’m speaking here as an atheist. I don’t believe there is a God, but I respect every religion deeply. All the great world religions contain a complex system of beliefs regarding the nature of the universe and human life that is far more profound than anything that liberalism has produced. We have a whole generation of young people who are clinging to politics and to politicized visions of sexuality for their belief system. They see nothing but politics, but politics is tiny. Politics applies only to society. There is a huge metaphysical realm out there that involves the eternal principles of life and death. The great tragic texts, including the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles, no longer have the central status they once had in education, because we have steadily moved away from the heritage of western civilization.

The real problem is a lack of knowledge of religion as well as a lack of respect for religion. I find it completely hypocritical for people in academe or the media to demand understanding of Muslim beliefs and yet be so derisive and dismissive of the devout Christian beliefs of Southern conservatives.

But yes, the sneering is ridiculous! Exactly what are these people offering in place of religion? In my system, I offer art–and the whole history of spiritual commentary on the universe. There’s a tremendous body of nondenominational insight into human life that used to be called cosmic consciousness. It has to be remembered that my generation in college during the 1960s was suffused with Buddhism, which came from the 1950s beatniks. Hinduism was in the air from every direction–you had the Beatles and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Ravi Shankar at Monterey, and there were sitars everywhere in rock music. So I really thought we were entering this great period of religious syncretism, where the religions of the world were going to merge. But all of a sudden, it disappeared! The Asian religions vanished–and I really feel sorry for young people growing up in this very shallow environment where they’re peppered with images from mass media at a particularly debased stage.

There are no truly major stars left, and I don’t think there’s much profound work being done in pop culture right now. Young people have nothing to enlighten them, which is why they’re clinging so much to politicized concepts, which give them a sense of meaning and direction.

But this sneering thing! I despise snark. Snark is a disease that started with David Letterman and jumped to Jon Stewart and has proliferated since. I think it’s horrible for young people! And this kind of snark atheism–let’s just invent that term right now–is stupid, and people who act like that are stupid. Christopher Hitchens’ book “God is Not Great” was a travesty. He sold that book on the basis of the brilliant chapter titles. If he had actually done the research and the work, where each chapter had the substance of those wonderful chapter titles, then that would have been a permanent book. Instead, he sold the book and then didn’t write one–he talked it. It was an appalling performance, demonstrating that that man was an absolute fraud to be talking about religion. He appears to have done very little scholarly study. Hitchens didn’t even know Judeo-Christianity well, much less the other world religions. He had that glib Oxbridge debater style in person, but you’re remembered by your written work, and Hitchens’ written work was weak and won’t last.

Dawkins also seems to be an obsessive on some sort of personal vendetta, and again, he’s someone who has never taken the time to do the necessary research into religion. Now my entire career has been based on the pre-Christian religions. My first book, “Sexual Personae,” was about the pagan cults that still influence us, and it began with the earliest religious artifacts, like the Venus of Willendorf in 35,000 B.C. In the last few years, I’ve been studying Native American culture, in particular the Paleo-Indian period at the close of the Ice Age. In the early 1990s, when I first arrived on the scene, I got several letters from Native Americans saying my view of religion, women, and sexuality resembled the traditional Native American view. I’m not surprised, because my orientation is so fixed in the pre-Christian era.
On academic poseurs.
When I was in college–from 1964 to 1968–I saw what real leftists look like, because a lot of people at my college, which was the State University of New York at Binghamton, were radicalized Jews from downstate. They were very avant-garde, doing experimental theater and modern dance, and they knew all about abstract expressionism. Their parents were often Holocaust survivors, so they had a keen sense of history. And they spoke in a very direct and open working-class style. That’s why, in the 1990s, I was saying that the academic leftists were such frauds–sitting around applying Foucault to texts and thinking that was leftism! No it wasn’t! It was a snippy, prim, smug bourgeois armchair leftism. Real ’60s radicals rarely went to grad school and never became big-wheel humanities professors, with their fat salaries and perks. The proof of the vacuity of academic leftism for the past forty years is the complete silence of leftist professors about the rise of the corporate structure of the contemporary university–their total failure to denounce the gross expansion of the administrator class and the obscene rise in tuition costs. The leading academic leftists are such frauds–they’ve played the system and are retiring as millionaires!
Well worth the time to read the whole interview.

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