Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life:
Anyone who speaks of anti-intellectualism as a quality in American life must reckon with one of the signal facts of our national experience — our persistent, intense, and sometimes touching faith in the efficacy of popular education. Few observers, past or present, have doubted the pervasiveness or sincerity of this faith. […]
From the beginning, American statesmen had insisted upon the necessity of education in a republic. George Washington, in his Farewell Address, urged the people to promote “institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge.” To the degree that the form of government gave force to public opinion, Washington argued, “it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.” The aging Jefferson warned in 1816: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” […] “If the time shall ever come,” wrote a small-town Midwestern editor in 1836,
when this mighty fabric shall totter; when the beacon of joy that now rises in pillar of fire…shall wax dim, the cause will be found in the ignorance of the people. If our union is still to continue…; if your fields are to be untrod by the hirelings of despotism; if long days of blessedness are to attend our country in her career of glory; if you would have the sun continue to shed his unclouded rays upon the face of freemen, then EDUCATE ALL THE CHILDREN OF THE LAND. This alone startles the tyrant in his dreams of power, and rouses the slumbering energies of an oppressed people. It was intelligence that reared up majestic columns of national glory; and this and sound morality alone can prevent their crumbling to ashes.
But if we turn from the rhetoric of the past to the realities of the present, we are most struck by the volume of criticism suggesting that something very important is missing from the American passion for education. A host of educational problems has arisen fron indifference — underpaid teachers, overcrowded classrooms, double-schedule schools, broken-down scholl buildings, inadequate facilities and a number of other failings that come from something else — the cult of athleticism, marching bands, high-school drum majorettes, ethnic ghetto schools, de-intellectualized curricula, the faulure to educate in serious subjects, the neglect of academically gifted children. At times the schools of the country seem to be dominated by athletics, commercialism, and the standards of mass media, and these extend upwards to a system of higher education whose worst failings were underlined by the bold president of the University of Oklahoma who hoped to develop a university of which the football team could be proud.
PSA: Yesterday, I republished more old posts from 2003–06. Here are a few:
And here are some others that I republished a while ago, but are now slightly more hidden in the thicket of newly resurrected posts:
One must know that war is universal, and that justice is strife, and that all things happen according to strife and necessity.
He is equating justice and strife in order to suggest that unity is a product of opposites, in the way that a road up and a road down are the same road.
Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings:
Sam said nothing. The look on Frodo’s face was enough for him; he knew that words of his were useless. And after all he never had any real hope in the affair from the beginning; but being a cheerful hobbit he had not needed hope, as long as despair could be postponed.
Gilbert Seldes, The Stammering Century:
But it is almost impossible to believe that the wholly undisciplined followers of New Thought could understand or seriously practice the discipline of Yoga. […] For the most part, those who practiced it had not the faintest intention of giving up the world. Yoga was for them a mystic way of renouncing whatever was irritating and preserving whatever was pleasing. It was an elaborate game of pretense by which noisy people went into silence and distracted people imagined they were concentrating. The glamour of renunciation suffused the picture which they had of themselves. Actually nothing was renounced and whatever was desired was lifted to a transcendantal plane where it could be enjoyed a hundred-fold. No doubt the delusion was as effective as the actuality might have been. One fancies oneself becoming ageless and deathless, and full of perfection, sinking into eternal nothingness. And if, in fact, one was only resting a little and sinking into a perfumed bath the result was about the same. For Yoga had given a reason beyond reason. It had, in a strange way, transfigured the commonplaces of life. One was lifted successively to higher and higher planes of being, not knowing exactly where they were, but vaguely satisfied because they were higher. The little irritations of the world fell away. One was alone with the mysterious spirit and, breathing in a refined way, one returned to conquer the world.
From Why Poetry, p 103, Matthew Zapruder.
John Holt, Whole Earth Epilog (1974) (via):
A society of large tools cannot be democratic, egalitarian, socialistic, humane, and just. It must be hierarchical, exploitative, bureaucratic, and authoritarian. If the day comes when all of humanity’s wants can be supplied by a few giant tools, the people who tend them will rule the world.
Toni Morrison (via):
We have to stop loving our horror stories. Joyce’s Ulysses was rejected fourteen times. I don’t like that story; I hate it. Fitzgerald burned out and could not work. Hemingway despaired and could not work. A went mad, B died in penury, C drank herself to death, D was blacklisted, E committed suicide. I hate those stories. Great works are written in prisons and holding camps. So are stupid books. The misery does not validate the work. It outrages the sensibilities and violates the work.
Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow:
In one of these streets, in the morning fog, plastered over two slippery cobblestones, is a scrap of newspaper headline, with a wirephoto of a giant white cock, dangling in the sky straight downward out of a white pubic bush. The letters
appear above with the logo of some occupation newspaper, a grinning glamour girl riding astraddle the cannon of a tank, steel penis with slotted serpent head, 3rd Armored treads ’n’ triangle on a sweater rippling across her tits. The white image has the same coherence, the hey-lookit-me smugness, as the Cross does. It is not only a sudden white genital onset in the sky — it is also, perhaps, a Tree…
Walter Ong, Orality & Literacy:
To say writing is artificial is not to condemn it but to praise it. Like other artificial creations and indeed more than any other, it is utterly invaluable and indeed essential for the realization of fuller, interior, human potentials. Technologies are not mere exterior aids but also interior transformations of consciousness…. Writing heightens consciousness. Alienation from a natural milieu can be good for us and indeed is in many ways essential for full human life. To live and understand fully, we need not only proximity but also distance. This writing provides for consciousness as nothing else does.