Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Against Cultural Senility

For the connoisseur of sociopolitical absurdity, the last few weeks’ worth of news cycles very nearly defines the phrase “target-rich environment.” I note, for example, that arch-neoconservative Robert Kagan—the founder of the Project for a New American Century and principal architect of this nation’s idiotically bloodthirsty Middle East policies, a man who never met a body bag he didn’t like—has jumped party lines to endorse Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions.

Under other conditions I’d wonder if Kagan had decided to sandbag Clinton’s hopes, using a lethal dose of deadpan satire to point out that her policy stances are indistinguishable from those of George W. Bush: you know, the guy that so many Democrats denounced as evil incarnate just eight short years ago. Unfortunately, nothing so clever seems to be in the works. Kagan seems to be quite sincere in his adulation for Clinton. What’s more, his wife Victoria Nuland, a Hillary Clinton protegé in the State Department and a major player in the Obama administration’s pursuit of Cold War brinksmanship against Russia, is now being rumored as Clinton’s most likely pick for Secretary of State.

For unintended satire, that one’s hard to beat Still, I’d say it has been outdone by another recent story, which noted that the students at Brown University, one of this nation’s Ivy League universities, are upset. Turns out they’re so busy protesting for social justice these days that they don’t have enough time to keep up with their classwork, and yet heir professors are still expecting papers to be turned in on time—a demand that strikes the students as grossly unfair. A savage parody off some right-wing website? Nope; the story appeared in the Brown University student paper earlier this month.

To be fair to the students, they’re not the only ones who have redefined the purpose of a university education in a way that, for the sake of politeness, we’ll call “quirky.” Radical faculty members, who encourage this reenactment of their vanished youth as a political equivalent of Münchausen syndrome by proxy, are doing much the same thing. Then, of course, you’ve got corporations who think that universities are places where prospective employees go to pay for their own job training, university bureaucrats who bubble marketing-firm sewage about offering students the “university experience,” and so on through an entire galaxy of self-regarding and self-important cant. The one thing that finds no place among all these competing redefinitions is, predictably enough, learning.

I’ve mentioned before on this blog the need to devise new opportunities for learning, and in particular a new structure for adult education that isn’t subservient to the increasingly blatant political and financial interests of the academic industry. More broadly, the concept of learning has been a core theme of this blog since it began—partly because modern industrial society’s stunning inability to learn the lessons of repeated failure looms so large in public life today, partly because learning ways to make sense of the world and practical skills for dealing with the converging crises of our time ranks high on the to-do list for anyone who takes the future seriously. I think, therefore, that it’s time to move that discussion to center stage, and talk about learning and education in the context of the Long Descent.

We could start that discussion in many different places, but the whinefest under way at Brown just now makes as good a springboard as any. We can, I think, presume that universities don’t exist for the sake of giving privileged youth a place to play at changing the world, before they settle down to a lifetime of propping up the status quo in corporate and government careers. Nor do they exist for any of the other dubious purposes mentioned above. What, then, is a university for?

That’s best approached by looking at the other two legs of the institutional tripod that once supported American education. In the long-gone days when the United States still had an educational system that worked, that system sorted itself out into three broad categories of schools: public schools, trade schools, and universities. Public schools existed for the purpose of providing the basic intellectual skills that would allow young people to participate in society as productive citizens. Trade schools existed for the purpose of teaching the technical skills that would allow graduates to find steady work in the skilled trades. In the trade school category, we can also include medical schools and the few law schools that existed then—most lawyers got their legal training through apprenticeship until well into the twentieth century—and other institutions meant to turn out trained professionals, such as divinity schools.

Then there were the universities. The grand old American habit of highfalutin’ obfuscation that used to double the length of commencement addresses and Congressional speeches alike makes it a bit difficult to tease out, from the rhetoric of the day, the intended purpose of a university education, but attending to what was actually taught there in the late nineteenth and very early twentieth centuries makes the point tolerably clear: universities existed to launch students into a full-on, face-first encounter with that foreign country we call the past. That’s why the university curriculum back then focused on such subjects as history, classics, literature, and the like—and why the word “literature” in an academic setting generally excluded anything written within living memory.

This was of course exactly the thing the educational revolutions of our time targeted and, for the most part, destroyed. Under the banner of “relevance,” reformers across the American academic scene in the 1960s and 1970s pushed for the replacement of the traditional curriculum with something more up-to-date, modern, progressive—in a word, fashionable. Alongside the great crusade for relevance came the proliferation of new departments and degree programs. Thereafter, what was left of the old curriculum was assailed by proponents of various flavors of postmodernism, and after that came what’s known in the academic biz as “critical theory”—that is, ideologies of condemnation and exclusion that focus on race, gender, and other markers of privilege and disprivilege in society.

All of these changes, among their other impacts, had the effect of distancing students from the collision with the past that was central to the older approach to university education. The crusade for relevance and the mass production of new departments and degree programs did this in a straightforward fashion, by redirecting attention from the past to the present—it’s not accidental that the great majority of the new departments and degree programs focused on one or another aspect of modernity, or that by “relevant” the educational radicals of the Sixties generally meant “written within our lifetimes.” The other two movements just named did the same thing, though, albeit in a somewhat subtler way.

The common theme shared by the various movements lumped together as “postmodernism” was the imposition of a thick layer of interpretive theory between the student and the text. The postmodernists liked to claim that their apparatus of theory enabled them to leap nimbly into and out of texts from every place and time while understanding them all, but that was precisely what the theory didn’t do. Instead, if you’ll excuse the metaphor, it functioned as a sort of intellectual condom, meant to prevent students from conceiving any unexpected ideas as a result of their intercourse with the past. Those of my readers who encountered the sort of scholarly publication that resulted will recall any number of “conversations with the text” written along these lines, which sedulously kept the text from getting a word in edgewise, while quoting Derrida et al. at dreary length in every second or third paragraph.

If postmodernism claimed to engage in a conversation with the text, though, critical theory—still the rage in many American universities these days—subjects it to a fair equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition: one by one, texts are hauled before a tribunal, tortured with an assortment of critical instruments until they confess, suffer condemnation for their purported errors, and are then dragged off by a yelling mob to be burnt at the stake. The erasure of the past here has two aspects. On the one hand, critical-theory proponents are fond of insisting that students should never be required to read any text that has been so condemned; on the other, one very effective way of learning nothing from the past is to be too busy preening oneself over one’s moral superiority to one’s ancestors to learn from anything they might have had to say.

Popular though these moves were in the academic industry, I’d like to suggest that they were disastrously misguided at best, and have played a large role in helping to generate a widespread, and seriously destructive condition in our collective life. I’ll give a suggestive name to that condition a little later on. First, I want to talk about why the suppression of the past is as problematic as it is.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe liked to point out that a person who knows only one language doesn’t actually know any languages at all. He was quite right, too. Only when you learn a second language do you begin to discover how many things you thought were true about the universe are merely artifacts of the grammatical and semantic structure of your first language. Where that language is vague, so are your thoughts; where that language runs several distinct meanings together in a single word, so do you; where that language imposes arbitrary structures on the complexities of experience—why, unless you have some experience with another way of assembling the world into linguistic patterns, it’s a safe bet that you’ll do the same thing even when you’re not talking or even thinking in words.

Here’s an example. People who only speak English tend to think in terms of linear cause-and-effect relationships. Listen to Americans try to understand anything, and you’ll see that habit in full flower. If something happens, they want to know what one thing caused it, and what one thing will result from it. In the real world, it almost never happens that just one cause sets just one process in motion and has just one effect; in the real world, wildly complex, tangled chains of interaction go into even the simplest event, and spin out from there to infinity—but that’s not the way Americans like to think.

Why? Because the normal sentence structure in English has a subject—someone who causes an action—followed by a verb—the action of the subject—and then usually by an object—the thing on which the action has an effect. That’s our usual grammar, and so that’s the usual pattern of our thoughts.

There are, as it happens, plenty of languages that don’t have the same structure. In modern Welsh, for example, most sentences begin with a form of the verb “to be.” Where an English speaker would say “The children are playing in the yard,” a Welsh speaker would say “Mae’r plant yn chwarae yn yr ardd,” literally “It is the children at play in the yard.” Most English sentences imply a cause-and-effect relationship (the cause “children” have the effect “playing”), that is, while most Welsh sentences imply a complex condition of being (the current state of things includes the phenomena “children” in the condition of “playing”). If you know both languages well enough to think in both, you won’t default to either option—and you won’t necessarily be stuck with just those two options, either, because once you get used to switching from one to another, you can easily conceive of other alternatives.

What’s true of language, I’d like to suggest, is also true—and may in fact be even more true—of the ideas and preconceptions of an era: if you only know one, you don’t actually know one at all. Just as the person who knows only one language remains trapped in the grammatical and semantic habits of that language, the person who has only encountered the thought of one era remains trapped in the presuppositions, habitual notions, and unexamined assumptions of that era. 

I’ve used the word “trapped,” but that choice of phrasing misstates one very important aspect of the phenomenon: the condition that results is very comfortable. Most of the big questions have easy answers, and those that are still open—well, everyone’s secure in the knowledge that once those are solved, by some linear extrapolation of the current methods of inquiry, the answers will by definition fit easily into the framework that’s already been established for them. Debates about what’s right and wrong, what’s true and false, what’s sane and stark staring crazy all take place within the limits of a universally accepted structure of ideas that are all the more powerful because nobody discusses them and most people don’t even consciously notice that they’re there.

The supposed openness to innovation and diversity that’s said to characterize modern industrial society does precisely nothing to counteract that effect. The vagaries of intellectual and cultural trends, and the antics of dissident subcultures in art, religion, and politics, all take place within the narrow limits of a conventional wisdom which, again, is not so much believed as tacitly assumed. Watch any avant-garde movement closely, and it’s not hard to notice that its idea of rebelling against the status quo amounts to taking the conventional wisdom just a little further than anyone else has gotten around to going recently—and when that loses its charm, you can bet that in a generation or so, some new movement will come along and do it all over again, and convince themselves that they’re being revolutionary in doing something their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents did in their day.

Thus, for example, public masturbation as a form of performance art has been invented at intervals of thirty to forty years since the late nineteenth century. It’s happened so far, that I know of, in the 1890s, the 1920s, the 1950s, and the 1980s, and we can probably expect a new round any time now. Each of the self-proclaimed cutting-edge artistic movements that went in for this not especially interesting habit framed it as a revolutionary act, using whatever kind of grandiose rhetoric was popular just then; and then the crowds got bored, and three decades later the next generation was at it again.

The history of the flying car, which has been invented at regular intervals since the 1920s, follows exactly the same rhythm, and displays exactly the same total subservience to the conventional wisdom of modern industrial culture. (A case could probably be made that there’s no shortage of masturbatory features in our collective obsession with flying cars, but that’s a discussion for another time.) For the purposes of our present discussion, the flying car is a particularly useful example, because it points to the chief problem with unthinking subservience to the predigested thought of an era: people in that condition lose the ability to learn from their mistakes.

There are a galaxy of good reasons why we don’t have flying cars, after all. One of the most important is that the engineering demands of aircraft design and automobile design are almost exactly opposed to one another—the lighter an airplane is, the better it flies, while a car needs a fair amount of weight to have good traction; aircraft engines need to be optimized for speed, while car engines need to be optimized for torque, and so on through a whole series of contrasts. A flying car is thus by definition going to be mediocre both as a car and as a plane, and due to the added complexities needed to switch from one mode of travel to the other, it’s going to cost so much that for the same price you can get a good car and a good plane, with enough left over to pay hangar rental for quite some time.

None of this is particularly hard to figure out. What’s more, it’s been demonstrated over and over again by the flying cars that have been invented, patented, and tested repeatedly down through the years. That being the case, why do audiences at TED Talks still clap frantically when someone tells them that they can expect flying cars on the market any day now? Because the presuppositions of modern industrial society deny the existence of limits and inescapable tradeoffs, and when the lessons of failure point up the reality of these things, those lessons remain unlearnt.

I wish that all the consequences of subservience to unnoticed presuppositions were that harmless. Take any of the rising spiral of crises that are building up around modern industrial society these days; in every single case, the reason that the obviously necessary steps aren’t being done is that the conventional wisdom of our time forbids thinking about those steps, and the reason that the lessons of repeated failure aren’t being learned is that the conventional wisdom of our time denies that any such failures can happen. We live in an era of cultural senility, in which the vast majority of people stare blankly at an unwelcome future and keep on doing all the things that are bringing that future on.

The erasure of the past from the curriculum of American universities is far from the only factor that’s brought about that catastrophic reality, but I suspect its role in that process has been significant. The era of cultural senility came in when the generation of the Sixties, the generation that insisted on excising the past from its university education, hit its thirties and rose into positions of influence, and it’s gotten steadily worse since that time. The inability of our society to learn from its mistakes or question its preconceptions has thus become a massive political fact—and a massive political liability.

None of the consequences of that inability are particularly original. It so happens, for example, that a little less than 2500 years ago, influential voices in another rich and powerful democratic society embraced the same policies that Robert Kagan and his fellow neoconservatives have been promoting in our time. The backers of this Project for a New Athenian Century believed that these policies would confirm Athens’ hegemony over the ancient Greek world; what happened instead was a nightmare of imperial overstretch, war, and economic and political collapse, from which Athens, and Greece as a whole, never recovered. You can read all about it in the writings of Thucydides, one of the supposedly irrelevant authors that most educated people read before the 1960s and next to nobody reads today.

That’s an obvious benefit of reading Thucycides. Less obvious and even more important is the subtler insight that you can get from Thucydides, or for that matter from any long-dead author. Thucydides was not a modern politically correct American liberal, or for that matter a modern patriotically correct American neoconservative. His basic assumptions about the world differ drastically from those of any modern reader, and those assumptions will jar, over and over again, against the very different notions that form the automatic substructure of thought in the modern mind.

If Thucydides doesn’t offend you, in fact, you’re probably not paying attention—but that’s precisely the point. If you exercise the very modest amount of intellectual courage that’s needed to get past being offended, and try to understand why the world looked the way it did when seen through Thucydides’ view of the world and yours, your knowledge of your preconceptions and your ability to make sense of the world when it doesn’t happen to fit those preconceptions will both expand. Both those gains are well worth having as our society hurtles down its current trajectory toward an unwelcome future.

Homework Assignment #1

Since this series of posts is on education, yes, there’s going to be homework. Your assignment for the next two weeks consists of choosing a book-length work of fiction that (a) you haven’t previously read, and (b) was written before 1900, and reading it. It can be anything that fits these capacious limits: Little Women, The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Scarlet Letter, The Tale of Genji, or something else entirely—take your pick. Whatever book you choose, read it cover to cover, and pay attention to the places where the author’s assumptions about the world differ from yours. Don’t pass judgment on the differences; just notice them, and think about what it would have been like to see the world the way the author did.


1 – 200 of 321   Newer›   Newest»
Veronica said...

Little House on the Prairie was written in the 20th century. It was published in 1932.

Patricia Mathews said...

Ooh! Mouse-sized print! What happened?

Pat, running for her glasses.

Eric Backos said...

Dear Mr. Greer
As you suggested in this week’s post on your other blog, The Well of Galabes, the assembled Wizardren and Ruinmen of the Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association, Tower Number 440, and Ruinmen’s Guild, Local 440 discussed and resolved to adopt “a formal declaration that their members have the right to whatever political affiliation they choose, and defending that right from zealots and entryists who try to infringe on it.” The exact wording is under discussion and public comment is welcome.
Eric R. Backos
PS – Perhaps you or one of the assembled Wizardren could suggest an appropriate title for the GWB&PA’s communications officer. Speaker-to-Animals seems just a tad presumptuous…

Eric Backos said...

The weekly joint meeting of the Green Wizards’ Benevolent and Protective Association, Tower Number 440, and Ruinmen’s Guild, Local 440 will be held at 6:30 PM on Wednesday June 1, 2016. Our location is Ruko’s Family Restaurant, Concord Plaza Shopping Center, 9385 Mentor Avenue, Mentor, Ohio 44060, (440) 974-1914. Splendorem Lucis Viridis! Public Welcome! Tables for Failed Scholars. Look for the table topper with the Green Wizard Hat.

Patricia Mathews said...

Homework: something written a long time ago, no problem. Including Thucydides, in which I need to take another look. One not previously read? Calls for a bit of thinking. Especially when one is still housebound, though not for long. Though over-interpretation can even apply to studies of the past, as witness John Lindow on Norse Mythology. Though he actually tried to fit it to the way the Norse actually seemed to think (he's the expert, not I.)

John Michael Greer said...

Veronica, thanks for the correction -- I was thinking of Louisa May Alcott and typed the wrong title.

Patricia, I have no idea -- Blogger decided to reformat it. I'll see what I can do.

Eric, delighted to hear it. Why not "Town Cryer"?

Patricia, granted, overinterpretation is a constant issue. We'll be getting into the fine art of close reading later on.

emarald weather said...

As a reader of almost ten years, it is amazing to me that your writing is as fascinating now as it was when I first encountered it. I've struggled to explain to folks the causes my disenchantment with the academic world as I've found it, and you really hit the nail on the head here.

The article you linked is so surreal, I can't help but feel for the satirists out there. How can they compete with reality? In your opinion, is there "a market" for a more traditional and past-confronting education? I feel like a lot of the people turned off by the educational industry could be excited by such a prospect.

Speaking of learning from history, I'm sure you'll be happy to hear that cold fusion is back in the news and piquing the interest of congress:

Marcu said...

The next meeting of the Green Wizard's Association of Melbourne will be held this Saturday. All interested parties are invited to attend. For people who are unsure about the nature of our meetings imagine a long descent support group with some intentional living discussion mixed in.
If you are interested, meet us this Saturday on the 28th of May 2016 at 13:00. This month we are back at our original venue, Vapiano, 347 Flinders Lane, Melbourne Victoria, Australia.

For this meeting we are experimenting with audience participation. If you have a book that has helped to shape your thinking (in line with the theme of this blog) please bring it along to share with the group.

Please RSVP, or send queries and comments to limitstogrowth1972[at]

Just look for the green wizard's hat.

P.S. I have created a webpage where I will post the details of the next meeting and any further details for those who don't frequent the comments here that often. The webpage can be found at

Ray Wharton said...

The philosophy department I went to was quite proud, rightfully methinks, that the did not assign text books or commentaries as required readings. A general guide line was that to read a work well required reading it three times.

Question on the homework, why do you specify fiction?

I looked over my book shelf for options, and realized that I haven't read The Divine Comedy yet, so it will most likely be the work for this assignment.

Mary said...

A belated welcome back, JMG. It's a relief to have your weekly report; helps me keep my feet on the ground and head on straight. I hope to partake in your reading exercise, but have been flat out with taking advantage of our 2nd drought spring to clear and fence a new paddock, clear 2 gardens that got terribly overgrown and lost in my last few years, and generally scrambling trying to repair the damage last year to my pastures. I've decided to cut back on the veggies this year, closing one bed for the year and just focusing on the critical ones for now, especially the peruvian potatoes since they're not locally available so if I lose my line, I've lost them. Made a mistake in my hutch design (now is fixed, but rather too late) and as a result am preparing for baby bunnies. Kindling is due middle of next week.

Clinton/Nuland, now there is a terrifying thought. The general belief in my circles is that the Clintons are being carefully taken down, to be replaced at the convention with Joe Biden. Time will tell, of course, but I think we are seeing the beginning of the end of Clintonism...the public corruption just became too brazen and blatant, with the Clinton Foundation basically serving as a money laundering operation.

More next week...

Eric Backos said...

"Town Cryer" like the Elvis Costello song... I like it...
"Just a little boy lost in a big man's shirt"
That nicely sums up my place in the world.
(Matt Brown’s ukulele cover on YouTube might be instructive…)

John the Peregrine said...


I would caution against using historical anecdotes do draw conclusions about the present. It makes for great storytelling to compare ancient Athens to modern America, but the tapestry of history is rich and varied enough that it's always possible to cherry-pick examples to support just about any hypothesis. That's not to say there's nothing we can learn from history, but we have to do it carefully, using as broad a selection of evidence as possible.

Also, are you suggesting that all assumptions about reality are somehow equivalent? If my culture believes infinite growth on a finite planet is possible, does that make it so? Because that's postmodernism 101 (except they use the term "metanarrative"). I tend to believe that there is an objective reality independent of our perception, and humans are capable of understanding at least an approximation of it.

Greg Belvedere said...

Glad you have started to talk about education. I have been looking forward to you getting into this topic for a while. Camille Paglia has come back into the spotlight recently and has made many of same criticisms you have about public education. She has similar views on the loss of connection with the past, post-modernism, critical theory, intermediary administrators taking over, PC culture, and vocational schools. She laments the disappearance of the great survey courses universities once offered. She is well worth checking out.

Here are two interviews with her.
The first link is shorter and deals just with the problems universities in the US.

When I first encountered post-modernism in college I thought it aimed to do what you have laid out here, put ideas in context. But it creates its own filter over everything that makes it very hard for the light get through. It tends to drown everything in word play. I always have gravitated to the old and appreciate the political incorrectness of authors from before that made people measure every word in worry of offending someone.

Anyway, below is a link to my submission to the space bats contest. I wrote most of it while incredibly sleep deprived, so it is not as polished as I would have liked. But I'm happy with how it turned out and hope everyone enjoys.

Rich_P said...


Thanks for this lovely post; it’s weirdly serendipitous because last night a friend and I talked about how we prefer books that were popular in their time, but have since fallen out of favor. Some of my favorites:

-The Imitation of Christ by Kempis. One of the most popular books in Europe for centuries. Even if you’re not religious, it’s a worthwhile read given its influence and insight into a particular worldview.
-On Duties by Cicero.
-Cato, a Tragedy by Addison. Hugely influential in eighteenth century America and England. Historians suggest that many phrases we associate with the Revolution, e.g., “Give me liberty or give me death!”, were inspired by the play. Washington even had it performed at Valley Forge for the troops!
-The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius. A moving work written by a Roman senator awaiting his execution after the fall of the Western Empire.

Do you (or another blog reader) have a good source for discovering these gems? Given the quantity of books available, the opportunity cost of reading one instead of another can be huge.

If anyone's interested in the Enlightenment and early American Republic, this site lists the works found in the libraries of the Founders, including Washington and Jefferson:

James M. Jensen II said...

All too true. I've only been a university instructor for a few years and I've already seen a lot of silliness done in the name of keeping things modern and relevant.

I've started trying to drag things back the other way, in whatever limited ways I can. As a computer science instructor, those ways are limited, indeed. But I've begun introducing students to ancient computing tech--I handed all my students this summer a small set of log tables and gave them a homework on using them--in the introductory programming class, and focusing as much on the mathematical end of computer science as I can.

As for the homework to this post, I think in honor of just getting word that my copy of The Weird of Hali has shipped, I may finally get around to reading Robert Chambers' The King in Yellow. I almost feel like that's cheating, though: horror novels have always been easiest for me to relate to, no matter when they were written. It's almost as if they are the true forerunners of modern thought, which is a thought probably worth more contemplation.

Bill said...

Having studied Japanese on and off for most of my life. And,living here in Japan on and off and now for 23 years, I really understand and agree that language is culture. If you only know your own language it can be very comfortable but very limiting. And, those limitations are invisible to you.
It still amazes me how many English teachers are happy spending a large part of their lives here and never learning Japanese. Especially they never learn how to read Japanese.Also,most of my Japanese students are very comfortable never learning to read English well enough to read freely in it.
Because my main interest is reading and especially kanji(Chinese characters)I get to learn what is probably the most complex and beautiful writing system in the world. And,through it of the tangled relationship between Japan and China.
By the way, I think anyone can learn a language if they are so motivated. I took and passed the 4th level of the kanji exam with junior high school students when I was 72.
Thanks so much for your writing.It is always interesting and thought provoking.

Yellow Submarine said...

Bravo, a grand slam right out of the ballpark worthy of Babe Ruth! One of your best yet. Look forward to the other posts in this series.

Clay Dennis said...


The story from Brown is certainly absurd on its surface, but I will expose myself to scorn and ridicule by giving the students there a bit of a defense via some background. My son is a recent graduate of Brown so I know a bit of its history and inner workings. The first important thing to know is that in the late 1990s Brown made what is now turning out to be a bit of a Faustian Bargain. The entire university community decided to face up to the fact that the money which established the university in the 1700s came entirely from the Triangle Trade, as Providence RI was one leg of the three legs which supported Slavery in the western hemisphere. They hired as Browns President the first African American Women to ever hold such a position in the ivy league. She led the university on a mission that was part historical racial introspection and part political correctness. It was successful in part as it led to one of the most racially harmonious and racially diverse institutions in higher education. But it lead to overly sensitive political culture where any "wrong" is deemed to be equivalent to any other.
The other thing to note is the set of forces creating the modern ivy league student. Far from the stereo type as kids of the old money elite ( strangely, the prep school wasps can only get in by being good at sports) they are over-programmed children who have spent 18 years with extreme pressure to excel at everything. My sons two best friends were from the ghettos of Chicago and Miami and were the first in their families to go to college, and felt the weight of their extended families to succeed. These are kids who have never gotten anything but an A, and now they find themselves graded on a curve against an entire class of other kids who have also never gotten a less than perfect grade. These are not big 10 college football players taking a schedule of rocks-for-jocks , etc. They face an academic challenge that requires 6-8 hours a day of reading and homework and many of them are burned out from the stress.

You are right to point this out as an absurd example of how convoluted education has come. But it is the result of many forces including coming to terms with American History, the stratified economic system where only the top few percent do not face diminished chances of achieving the "American Dream" and our demented system of meritocracy which is mostly an excuse to perpetuate the class war you have described in your earlier posts.

Patricia Mathews said...

Thanks. And BTW, when Dr Lindow was teaching the subject as a visiting scholar at UNM - a university where the students are far too concerned with earning their lottery ticket out of burger-flipdom to indulge in such nonsense as the kiddies at Brown - he seemed to be quite concerned with disillusioning the True Believing Asatruar among the the class, especially the "Ho, La, Odhinn!" crowd. Of course, anyone who has actually *read* the lore, knows full well that Odin could be an utter and total ratfink, and very often was.

And my Thucydides seems to have taken a long walk off a short cliff trail. Hey-ho for Half Price Books and their ilk by mail order, alas.

Yellow Submarine said...

The American philosopher John David Ebert made a very interesting point in one of his video lectures on Oswald Spengler. He noted that the post-modernist Left frequently uses terms like "Eurocentric" and "ethnocentric" as terms of abuse and as snarl words. Ebert pointed out that one of the great ironies of post-modernist discourse and scholarship is that it has tended to become more Eurocentric, not less over time.

Incidentally, Ebert's lectures on Spengler, post-modernist philosophy and other topics can be found on his YouTube channel. The short introductory series on Spengler can be found here. A later and much more detailed lecture series can be found here.

SamuraiArtGuy said...

While reading this, I recall reading The Scarlet Letter and later Moby Dick in High School, in the early 70's, before Classic Literature was excised. However, the version of Melville's tome was an abridged version, skipping nimbly over the details - some of it gross - of whaling and life on a whaling ship. Biut at home I had my fathers full edition with glorious illustrations by Rockwell Kent. I noticed that most of my classmates just could NOT wrap their brains around the fact that colonial America, either on the seas or in the Massechusets colonies was a very different place than Brooklyn of the 70s, and had very different cultural assumptions, yet only one or two centuries removed. They did not understand the characters conflicts, motivations, or the expectations of the cultures they were set.

Since then, the NYS system has sawn off one of the legs of the educational tripod. The NYS Board of Regents has done away with Vocational and Techinical HS Diplomas. The curriculum is now 100% College Prep. Nearly every trade school that is not an accredited university has closed its doors. This appears to come from two directions, a liberal elite disdain for "The Trades", and a hostility to the Unions that are formed of tradesmen. Eliminate Trade education and deny the unions new members, starving them.

Of course this is monumentally stupid, as a technological society needs it carpenters, plumbers, electricians, masons, construction workers, mechanics, and technicians of all kinds. But apparently when your toilet is overflowing you'll pack it up and ship it to China. The pathetic for-profit Trade Schools that have popped up like so many toxic mushrooms are barely beyond scams and are only marginally less effective at shoving young people into crushing debt for little hope of employment, But NYS has plenty of Lawyers and Financial Managers and other professional parasites.

Now it is, except within certain radical and cranky, mostly Pagan, circles, a struggle to find ANY historical awareness among the general citizenry, beyond the rah-rah propaganda about American Greatness spewed forth by the political class and happily regurgitated by the corporate media. They appear to live in a forever "now" that they assume goes back to the dawn of time which has NOTHING to do with "Zen mind." But I'm in my late 50s, and I have noticed a lot of change over the decades. The trends are, yes, alarming.

I am rather glad that even as an art major, a lot of my teachers were old guys (and ladies) who made me look up and read some long dead people. And try to GROK what they had to say.

James M. Jensen II said...

Also, this post reminds me of a post at Siris:

If you just look very briefly and vaguely Neoplatonism, students just think it's weird. But start getting into details, when they start to realize that the weirdness is heavily argued, at great length, by arguments to which they often have no ready answer at all, and things change. I have had -- and I mean this quite literally -- students freak out, try to shout me down, or storm out.

The blog author is a Catholic philosopher, and he puts out some pretty high-quality stuff. He's also done a review of your book, A World Full of Gods:

He found its conclusions unpersuasive but said you'd succeeded in showing that polytheism should be taken seriously as a live option.

fudoshindotcom said...


I'm curious, if the lessons of history were intentionally erased from common wisdom, who ultimately instigated this, and what benefit were they after?

I'm not looking for a place to lay blame. Instead I'm trying to wrap my mind around what train of thought could possibly lead to the conclusion that there's an advantage in having to learn that touching a hot stove is not a good idea repeatedly.

Dudley Dawson said...

Homework? Love it. Bring it on!

latheChuck said...

I just can NEVER get past the abuse of meaning inherent in declaring anything actually present as "post-modern". When I first heard the term, I thought it was intended as a joke. (I'm still not sure that it wasn't!) To state that "Modern" is "past", and therefore the present can only be "post-modern" is as nonsensical as asserting that any word means whatever I want it to mean, at the time that I use it.

Don't overlook the fact that a "modern, relevant curriculum" requires the latest textbooks, and who better to write them (and rake in royalties) than the professor who's teaching the subject? I actually had an engineering class where the professor wrote the textbook, and copied it out with chalk for every class. "If you find it unclear, just say so," he said. "But otherwise, the best way I know to present this material is the way I published it, so that is what you'll get." At least engineering contains a body of settled theory and facts, so the argument is only about presentation.

whomever said...

For stuff that needs to be translated, it's always interesting to read multiple translations. All sorts of different assumptions of the translator can come out. I sadly am terrible at learning languages so I am aware that experiencing these through translations is like Platos cave. But, an excellent assignment and I'll try and find something interesting and different.

Speaking of different, I see that Cephalopods are doing really well in the current situation. This is heartening for a few reasons; and given how smart they are maybe the next species to take over after us primates will be a descendent of the Octopus? Given that the they evolved down a different track then we did (eg, their eyes evolved independently), this is truly a different culture. Plus, they are really tasty grilled over charcoal with some lemon juice (gotta enjoy my alpha species status while I can).

Graeme Bushell said...

Knowing only one story is death, right?

A classical example is the continuing Australian obsession with owning property. The conventional wisdom is that borrowing many times your annual income to buy property is the one true path to financial security. Failure can't possibly happen, because the housing market will never collapse. Most people literally can't imagine an alternative story. Happened somewhere else you say? But that was there, this is here!

It's blind faith, impervious to argument, and can be very frustrating.


Angus Wallace said...

Thanks JMG,

There was an interesting article mentioning Thucydides recently on The Conversation, that is relevant to this week's post:

Cheers, Angus

Yellow Submarine said...

The story from Brown University is a sign of just how crazy the campus Left has gotten. What a bunch of spoiled, pampered little brats. It doesn’t help that college administrators have been absolutely spineless in the face of increasingly radical, loud-mouthed and demanding protestors. Former Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s colorful description of his detractors on the London City Council describes nearly all university presidents and other administrators to a T.

I thought the idea of university was to challenge one’s mind and get an education, not to receive an even heavier dose of salary class liberal political indoctrination. Clearly alternatives are needed for those who actually wish to get an education and expand their minds and I hope that is something we will be discussing in the coming weeks. The public schools and universities have become worse than useless in that regard.

I really feel sorry for the young people coming of age these days. The so-called educations they are receiving are not only mostly useless but will leave them woefully unprepared for the world that is coming. Many of the young people I know are very much into DIY, gardening, traditional arts and crafts and the like, but so many of the young are going to be in for a brutal shock as the Long Descent gathers momentum.

As a follow-up to the Brown University story, have you seen what happened at DePaul University the other day? I look at the behavior of the demonstrators at DePaul and I am reminded of the Maoist Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution and the Brownshirts during Kristallnacht. Here is yet another example of the apostles of “tolerance” and “diversity” showing just how tolerant they really are of diverse points of view. Definitely another sign the post-modernist Left is well into the circular firing squad stage and driving even more people into the hands of right-wing populists like Donald Trump.

Yellow Submarine said...

@ Eric Backos:

Loved the “Ringworld” reference...

Chris Smith said...

In fairness to critical theory, it is a useful tool for challenging assumptions and revealing out hidden biases. But this is all it really does. It seems like too many students (and professors) think that critical theory (and a fairly dumbed down version at that) is the only tool they need.

It's like grabbing the hammer out of a tool box and throwing the rest of the tools away. You really do need the rest of those tools if you plan on doing anything worthwhile.

I taught symbolic logic at Tulane University in the late 1990s and early 2000s. i opened my first class of the semester with the same bit: logic is a tool. It is really good at determining if an argument is valid (where validity means that if the premises are all true, then the conclusion will be true - at least for classical logic.*) Logic cannot do jack to help determine if your premises are true. It won't help you evaluate the aesthetic value of prose, and it can't help you read poetry at all. Ambiguity in language does not even show up on the radar of logic. So, I warned my students, don't think you can use this tool for jobs beyond that which it is intended.

Professors are failing to give this same advice to their students today regarding critical theory. (And I can go the rest of my life without hearing "check your privilege" ever again. While it may have once been a call to introspection, it's become just another high falutin' way to tell someone to sit down and shut up.)

As for apprenticeships, I fully support this idea. After I left academia, I went to three years of law school. I learned most of what I know at internships at various legal aid organizations. They expect you to do real work and the consequences of fouling it up are readily apparent.

On a lighter note, I got an email saying that my copy of "Weird of Hali" shipped today. I'm looking forward to reading it - but being the good student I am, the homework comes first.

Nick Nelson said...

This is absolutely extraordinary. Today while i was working i was thinking about why it might be that none of my friends and acquaintances who i talk to about the issues raised in this blog seem to have any ability to retain the ideas. Every time i bring it up it seems like theyve forgotten everything ive said about it in the past and i have to re- explain all the concepts.

Then i had the idea to ask if you had any insight as to whether people from certain countries or cultures are generally more receptive to the idea of the Long Descent. Then your post is about how language affects our grasp of the world! Serendipity. So i pose the question to you and the other readers here. Though ive spent my fair share of time living abroad i haven't had much opportunity to engage non- americans on this issue, but now im eager to see if there might be a more receptive audience out there somewhere.

Nastarana said...

Guess I need to get out of the garden more. Public masturbation? Really? Flying cars? Who knew?

The Tale of Genji is a delight, but it takes more than two weeks to read, unless one has an obliging spouse who will cook, clean, run errands and so on. OTOH, one of Austen's books can be read in an evening. Perhaps we should all agree to read Liasons Dangerouse or the Golden Lotus; a lively discussion of one or both of those might even shock the archdruid himself.

Peter VE said...

Well, now you've done it! I'm still working on The Great Transformation, two weeks ago you added Burke to the pile, (which already has Spengler and Toynbee), and NOW I have to read The Tale of Genji or Tristam Shandy in the next two weeks. I recently read Seamus Heany's Beowulf, so I can't fake it and claim it.
I grew up speaking both Dutch and English, and learned Italian as an adult. The roots of both languages (plus Celtic) also formed English, but there are things which are easy to express in one word in one language which require several sentences in another. In Italiano, si dice tradutore / traditore. In Italian, you say translator / traitor. The pun is elegant in one tongue, non existent in the other.

Tom Schmidt said...

I rarely read fiction, but I never finished the Golden Ass by Apuleius. I'll get on it.

Remember, JMG: the Federal government pays about 16% of all the money paid for higher education in the USA. However, over 95% of all the dollars spent in higher Ed have to follow Federal rules because of this. The political correctness is enforced not by the students -- I've found Millennials to be eminently sensible Burkean conservatives in this regard -- but by the hordes of bureaucrats put in place to enforce compliance with Federal regulations, and keep the university from getting cut off the Federal teat. The irony: about 16% of university budgets are spent on administration. So, you could fire all the administrators and refuse all Federal dollars and wind up even. Sounds like heaven!

Eric S. said...

Since we've been exploring the various interdependences of pop culture, occult spirituality, revolutionary movements and utopian fantasies interact in their various cyclical manners, maybe I'll tackle Vril, The Coming Race and try to put myself in the mindset of the time. That one ought to make me sufficiently uncomfortable to stretch my sense of perspective some.

thenoteswhichdonotfit said...

What a coincidence that this post comes a day after I started reading Paradise Now: The Story of American Utopianism. I'm not sure you would be interested in reading it since I think you already know at a lot of the material (it's mainly about 19th century American utopian communities, with particular emphasis on the Shakers, Owenites/New Harmony, Fourierists, Icaria, and Oneida), but I am finding it very interesting. Even though it's a book published this year (2016), there are a lot of quotes from 19th century people, and the writer is trying to describe these people/ideas/communities, not judge them. I'm having moments of surprise at both how different that time was, and how much it was the same.

As far as the homework assignment - I have a copy of The Italian by Ann Radcliffe (first published in 1797). I can see it from where I am sitting now, and I've been meaning to read it for years, yet I never got around to it. Hopefully the fact that I've read a different novel by Ann Radcliffe and thus already know something about her point of view won't be too much of a detriment to the assignment.

Elizabeth Kennett said...

Dear Mr. Greer,

Thank you for your description of the University. I am currently attending what I now recognize as a trade school, and studying drafting technology, as it is my intention and great desire to rejoin the productive class.

Unfortunately, your specification in the homework that the book be one NOT read before completely rules out Mark Twain for me. Fortunately, at least some of the Stoics are available online.

Perhaps "the Whisperer" instead of Speaker-to-Animals?

@Monica (from 6 months ago, please forgive my slowness)
The book you are looking for is "The Compleat Astrologer" by Derek and Julia Parker. All the basics, all the necessary reference works and ephemerides, as you specified all the tables of proportionality, very complete instructions, and IIRC not even so much as a mention of log tables.

For everyone:
I was grazing the internet and came across this:
On the one hand it is totally and literally homebrew, which is encouraging, on the other hand, I can't help thinking it is the predecessor of Mr. Carr's bioplastic clothing!

As always Mr. Greer, thank you for the regular weekly dose of sanity.

Elizabeth Ann Kennett

thenoteswhichdonotfit said...

Also, when I was in high school, I went about teaching myself Ancient Greek, and I even managed to read the entire Iliad in the original (alas, I did not get around to Thucydides since I was more motivated to read Ancient Greek poetry than prose). Learning an *ancient* language is definitely a way to learn a different language and learn about a different era in the same endeavour. I remember the sense of wonder I had, reading aloud and understanding words which had be composed before the English language had even existed.

I used some of the very same materials (Lidell & Scott, for example) which were used for Classics Education back in the late 19th/20th century. I definitely wish some aspects of that education were still widespread in our education system, but there are also aspects which I am fine with leaving in the past.

I taught myself Homeric Greek with Clyde Pharr's book - and yes, I was shocked by, not so much Pharr's racism, as how BLATANT his racism was (as in, it's the kind which even Trump supporters would not dare say out loud). It was a demonstration of both a) how my era is different from Clyde Pharr's era and b) how Clyde Pharr was seeing Homer through the lens of his own time, and projecting early 20th ideas about race only an ancient text. Nonetheless, Clyde Pharr did a good job of teaching me Homeric Greek.

PRiZM said...

I've been looking forward to a post of this sort for quite some time now. Thanks for getting around to it, and thank the gods for providing such rich irony in the media and world to inspire the post.

I can't help but reminisce about my high school educational experience. It was my junior year of high school. I was living in Odessa, Texas as the time and able to join the "honors classes" for the majority of my student life and thus was honored with the option to study concurrently with a local community college. One such class was a history class which focused on Post-Civil War US History to the present (which was 1997 at the time). Most of the class focused on the Civil Rights era so that when time came around for finals, we were presented with three moments from the Civil Rights era and asked to argue why one of those were the most important Post-Civil War moments in American History. Perhaps the Civil Rights era was the most important Post Civil War part of American history, but I didn't like the fact that I was not given the option to choose for myself and thus for my final essay, I used examples from the Civil Rights era to argue why having the ability to decide for ourselves was more important than our teacher telling us that Civil Rights was the most important post Civil War event in US history. My insubordinate thinking resulted in a failing grade for the essay and for the entire class. Fortunately, I knew this would happen and was ready to take the fall-out, but I was glad to have advised against doing this for the other students who thought my idea was what the teacher really wanted to hear.

I had long been reaching the conclusion that my education was mostly propaganda for not having real thoughts, but that moment clinched it. I gave up on the desire to pursue a university education and for the most part, stayed out of the current education system.

Yellow Submarine said...

As I type this, I keep looking at that copy of Les Miserables over on the bookshelf that I bought at a garage sale a while back. Your homework assignment sounds like a good reason to dust it off and start reading it, although it might take longer than a week or two to finish reading...

Keith Huddleston said...

I would be interested in your thoughts on whether or not your homework assignment is gets best results at certain ages. For my part, I would say after 30, or at the very least, past the age of 22.

I'm not saying younger people shouldn't read classics. Instead that they should re-read any great book from there youth again 30 (or whenever they really start thinking -- "damn noisy kids"). But again, I would like your feedback on the matter.

G E Canterbury said...

Excellent idea. Last summer I re-read Herodotus' Histories for the first time in twenty years; in company with Gene Wolfe's concurrent tale of ancient Greece, Soldier of the Mist. Herodotus was very entertaining, and served well to read aloud on an extended car trip that week. Such a stew of comedy, revenge, war, traveler's tales, hearsay, generational family drama... with a very engaging voice that spoke well across twenty-five hundred years. I was flabbergasted to read his description of the mail delivery innovations in the Persian empire - a Pony Express type of relay system. "Not snow, nor rain, nor dark of night shall keep them from their appointed rounds." Who knew the U.S Post Office's motto came from the Persian Empire?!?

And, from Wolfe's introduction to his novel (featuring an mercenary in the invading Persian army who suffers a head wound in battle at the temple of Demeter and begins to speak with the gods while losing all memory of his past), a final thought that seems fitting here:
"In ancient Greece, skeptics were those who thought, not those who scoffed. Modern skeptics should note that Latro reports Greece as it was reported by the Greeks themselves. The runner sent from Athens to ask Spartan help before the battle of Marathon met the god Pan on the road and conscientiously recounted their conversation to the Athenian assembly before he returned. (The Spartans, who well knew who ruled their land, refused to march before the dark of the moon.)"

dltrammel said...

To echo your comments about Brown and today's college life, here's a long article on the same subject

"The Big Uneasy" on the New Yorker.

Reading it I was struck how many of these students seemed so lost as to who they were.

Repent said...

Excellent post as always!

Thank you for the homework assignment. My first thought of a book written before 1900 would be the bible. I have read large sections of it, however some of the latter old testament books were skipped in my first reading. I remember that my reading of the book of numbers was a tortured reading, and one reading was enough for mine or anyone else's lifetime. I was so overjoyed to read Ecclesiastes, that none could compare afterwards. Still for the homework project maybe I'll read the book of Ezekiel which I missed first time around, and I'll see how it affects me and my worldview?

Also, last week you chided me in the comments for suggesting that you should do a post on meditation, that this belongs on your other web blog site. I don't see that. Have you considered bringing elements from metaphysics, and magic into your archdruid report blog? Everything is interconnected, your regular readers of economics and politics could be introduced to 'The golden dawn', and benefit from expanding their worldview to include insights from the taboo occult fringe. In my recent experience of the last couple of years, things on the fringe are actually closer to the truth than the dogmatic materialist culture we are brought up in.

Truth is what is the most important irregardless of the source.

casamurphy said...

I had the pleasure recently of helping a neighbor's 10th grade son compose an essay comparing two writings, one over 200 years old and another over 100 years old. Ironically, the English teacher that gave the assignment majored in feminist studies. The two works were the essay, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, by Mary Wollstonecraf; and the play, The Doll House, by Ibsen.

For the purposes of your assignment I recommend the Wollstonecraf essay since it focuses on the education of women, a very hot topic today.

Ynnothir Coll said...

Well, this was an eye-opener. (You are pretty useful in that regard.) Some years ago, I set aside Plato's "Republic" after getting maybe halfway through it. I remember thinking "life's too short". I also remember that the offense I took with some of Socrates' viewpoints was the reason I didn't finish the book.

I'm going to count "Republic" as a book I haven't read (that's technically true, after all) and revisit Socrates and his merry abductors.

casamurphy said...

An easy and short book in the public domain for your assignment would be Voltaire's Candide. It would be interesting to get Mr Kagan's take on the quote "It is forbidden to kill. Therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets."

LewisLucanBooks said...

Dear Mr. Greer - I spend a lot of time with the Romans. Not so much the whole 500 year history, as, specific times within their timeline. But I know how it all hangs together. (Most recently read and highly recommended? Prof. Mary Beard's new "SPQR.") What's constantly on my mind, or, what I notice, is how similar they were to us, and yet, how different. And, I try and grasp the whys, of that. Of course, I wonder the same things about the Victorian's when I read Ruth Goodman's books. :-).

Languages? Two years of Latin and two of French. Not that I can remember much. But I can still tease out (once in awhile) the general meaning of an inscription. And, it sure jazzed up my vocabulary, and the meaning of some English words. And, it was a revelation, to this 14 year old, that different languages are constructed differently. Who knew?

I'm excited about the homework assignment. But, please, no "Scarlet Letter!" Spent a whole half year on that as a Junior in high school. Matched only by the ENTIRE SCHOOL YEAR spent on Dicken's "Great Expectations." Wonder if I can round up a copy of "Agricola" by Tacitus (his son-in-law). Always meant to get around to that.

One of the silliest bits of academic political correctness that I've seen, is changing the B.C / A.D, (Before Christ / After Death) to B.C.E / C.E (Before Common Era / Common Era.) Just my opinion. Lew

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160526T033129Z

Dear Eric Backos ("5/25/16, 5:04 PM"),

In a week in which we start discussing topics related to classics, I hope I can be forgiven for gently repeating a point I have made to you at least once before, and on which JMG has also on one past occasion criticized you: "Splendorem Lucis Viridis" does not seem right. Why is "splendor" in the accusative? There is no explicit verb in your motto which takes this noun as its object.

If you meant to write the Latin for "Splendour (brilliance, radiance) of a green light", that would be not "Splendorem lucis viridis" but "Splendor lucis viridis", with "splendor" now in the nominative case.

Still, this is stylistically awkward, since the motto is a mere noun phrase, with no verb, and does not succeed in expressing a complete thought.

An example of a complete thought would be "Diligimus splendorem lucis viridis" - "We like, we're rather keen on, we're fond of, the splendour (brilliance, radiance) of a green light." But this thought is trite and weak. We do not want a motto to descend to the level of autobiography.

One could put into Latin, as an expression of a complete thought which is not too trite, "Let the splendour (brilliance, radiance) of a green light shine forth". That would then be "Luceat splendor lucis viridis." Or, alternatively, one could have "Lucebit splendor luceat viridis" as the expression not of a wish but of a prophecy: "The splendour (brilliance, radiance) of a green light will shine forth (is going to be shining forth, is destined to shine forth)."

We went through this kind of awkwardness with another user of Latin, a lady whose name I do not now recall, a few months ago. She confessed to not having herself studied the language, and to having relied on something like Google Translate for her incorrect local Wizards' motto. In the end, her case got straightened out nicely, with her revised motto looking just fine. We cannot at this point expect people on this blog to have studied Latin, or even to have mastered any very solid set of modern languages. So we try to help each other out, in as cheerful and gentle a spirit as possible.

hoping nobody gets too upset by this insistence
on accurate Latinity,


PS: Dreadful, dreadful, dreadful story from Prof. Gavin Betts at Monash University (Google him for useful textbook, and for short Wikipedia writeup). I mentioned this before on JMG's ADR, and Cherokee (whose farm is not very distant from Prof. Betts's erstwhile campus) quite broke up. The ever-so-proper Melbourne private school meant to put onto its crest "Age viriliter." What instead, however, got typeset - surely on (as Prof. Betts stressed to us) letterhead, souvenir merchandise, articles of clothing, the works - was, rather, "Virile agitur."

LewisLucanBooks said...

Ooops! Got to be fiction. Back to the drawing board. Lew

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160526T035439Z

Dear JMG:

"Blogger decided to reformat it," you write, in a comment timestamped by the server "5/25/16, 5:23 PM"),

Oh yes. I have likewise, while having less experience than you, found Blogger unpredictable, to the level of a spoiled child from a rich family.

Although I am still learning, my latest startling cyber accidents (around UTC=20160524T0100Z, when I was tweaking an upload on my own blog) suggest that it is safest to write the essay out in full, in the simplest possible software - not with software providing multiple font sizes or other font stylings, as "Microsoft Word" and "Microsoft Wordpad" do, but with something like "Microsoft Notepad". (In the Linux world, one uses some text editor, for instance /usr/bin/vim, as opposed to a word processor, like OpenOffice. Word processors are, generally speaking, overkill.) One can then copy the entire essay to the local computer clipboard, and finally one can do a paste of this clipboard text into the blogger input window.

There is a useful American phrase for topics like Blogger - "PuhLEEEZE, don't get me STAR-did." (I pick this up from a wonderful American cartoon called Doonesbury, or something similar. The hero has paid some money to watch a friend's wedding in live Internet streaming. The pastor says, "And if any know just cause why this man and this woman may not be united in bonds of holy matrimony, let him speak now ..." At this point someone in one of the pews calls out that useful American phrase, and the hero (looking with increased interest at his computer screen) says approximately (I quote from memory), "Hey, this thing is **WORTH** nineteen dollars and ninety-five cents."


(in Estonian diaspora; in bygone years in UK, Australia, USA, etc, but since 1989 in Canada)

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160526T041523Z

Oh jeepers: I may have had a careless error in my own Latin.

"Luceat splendor lucis viridis" is correct.

But I **MAY** have additionally offered "Lucebit splendor luceat viridis", where I meant to type "Lucebit splendor lucis viridis."

In 1066 and All That, the authors offer an erratum - "For pheasant, read peasant, throughout."


PS: Dr Spooner was said to have mystified his college with an unusually opaque sermon. On descending from the pulpit, he allegedly said, "Of course, for 'Aristotle', you must understand 'Saint Paul', throughout."

PPS: Must get to bed, NOW, before making more mistakes. It is past midnight here in Ontario.

Bryan L. Allen said...

Oh gosh, a post with education and politics and literature and flying (cars) all together! Not sure I can withstand the burst of ideas and associations all that triggered in me!

For education, my father was a very good and highly praised elementary school teacher, who retired as soon as he could since the final few years of his teaching career were eaten up by bureaucratic insanity (New Math, et al.) Shortly after I finished college, I had the good fortune to see "Deschooling Society" by Ivan Illich on the shelves of a local bookstore, which once acquired and devoured figuratively blew the top of my head off. It's been years since I read it, so am not sure how well it has aged, but it had a profound effect on my life and caused me to question numerous things in our educational mythos.

For flying cars, oh gosh, I have some slight disagreements with how you contrasted cars and aircraft (for instance, light weight is an excellent characteristic in cars if performance and high fuel efficiency Is paramount) but that's just quibbling; your central point, that cars and airplanes have very different points of optimization, is spot-on.

Your 30-40 year cycle applies very well to an event transpiring right now, where some wealthy Swiss are flying a solar-powered airplane in a series of hops (slowly) around the world (it just landed at Allentown, PA.) I worked briefly on a solar-powered plane project 36 years ago, and the only thing innovative about the Swiss solar plane is the use of lithium batteries and social media; all the other tech was available in 1980, and we arguably built and flew a superior airplane back then! Ours (Solar Challenger) was certainly stronger, simpler, higher performance, safer, and cheaper...

Two nights ago we had some Danish friends over for dinner. Around the table, the topic of American culture came up, specifically the reluctance to reciprocate socially (I invite you over for dinner, and then you later invite me over.) As my wife is French, I was the lone representative for American characteristics. But I explained that I'm not an exemplar of American behavior, likely because I, like my mom, was and am a voracious reader, and with my Aspie mind had early-on formed an idea of how people behave and think and act based more on reading Dickens and Dostoyevsky and Hesse and Nietzche and Melville and Baum and Muir. Needless to say, my early adulthood was a series of puzzlements, to me and to my erstwhile friends and associates.

Reading assignment? Groan, I have too big a queue already, but they'll have to wait. I stared at my bookshelves, where I have one shelf with a few old books my mom loved, and out stepped "Kidnapped" by Robert Louis Stevenson. What's that doing there? Never read it. So I guess I'll be getting in touch with my long-dead Scottish ancestors over the next couple of weeks. Och.

Nathan said...

Thanks for this post JMG. It's always heartening to read some sense to push back the sea of postmodern nonsense that makes up the thoughts of my friends and acquaintances.

Also, I would love to listen to a podcast discussion between you and Nassim Taleb. I think the two of you have enough similarities & differences (not to mention raw curiosity on both sides) to make a lively conversation.

knutty knitter said...

I think I just got enlightened about why I found University English in particular so difficult to comprehend (this was in the 70s). Never were we allowed to formulate our own ideas as to what the text was actually saying to us. Of course, being me I had to try so that course got well and truly failed.

Strangely enough, the Masters programme I am now in expects us to look at the texts and art etc and formulate our own ideas about it with one or two references to other critics or works of a similar nature. That caused a bit of a revolution for me after my last run in with academia but a very welcome one.

Unfortunately I have no linguistic skills (I am dyslexic) but I do speak art and music :)


BoysMom said...

Suggestion: if you have no idea how to start recognizing older literature, try This is the home school curriculum we use as a base. There are at least one or two required texts in every year that are older than 1900. Pilgrim's Progress in second grade, The Iliad in Sixth, just off the top of my head. Choose curriculum, pick a year by number, then detailed, and scroll down to literature. One of the several goals of this particular curriculum is to use as much public domain literature as possible so that folks may get it from Project Gutenberg and similar free sources.

John Michael Greer said...

Emarald, I've long thought that being a writer for The Onion or some similar satire publication has got to be the most unforgiving job on the planet. How on earth do they stay more absurd than the real world? Thanks for the cold fusion link -- yes, that's a great example. If I were less ethical than I am, I'd make up some bogus new energy technology and get out there and market it -- between investors and governments who seem to throw funds reflexively at anything sufficiently stupid, I'm quite sure I'd make ten times the income I get as a writer!

Ray, you went to a good department -- and yes, three readings is a bare minimum; we'll get to that as this sequence proceeds. As for fiction, a whole series of reasons which we'll be building on as we go. Stay tuned!

Mary, the paddock et al. definitely comes first! I've heard the same rumors about the Clinton campaign. Keep an eye on DNC chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz; if she loses her position before the convention, that's a pretty solid signal that the Dem leadership has realized that Clinton's going to suffer a catastrophic defeat at Trump's hands, and is about to throw her under the bus and try to give the nomination to someone who can actually win.

Eric, I wasn't thinking of the song, but that'll do!

John, congratulations -- I wondered who was going to fall into that trap first. No, I'm not suggesting that all assumptions about reality are equivalent; I'm suggesting that compassionate understanding should precede judgment, and that the reflexive habit of assuming that current presuppositions are always right and good and true while those of the past are always wrong and bad and false makes it impossible to perceive the shortcomings of our current beliefs. The only sense in which all assumptions about reality are equivalent is that all of them are culturally constructed human phenomena that fail to account for all of the universe of human experience -- that's not postmodernism, unless you consider Chuang Tsu, the authors of the Upanishads, and the Greek philosophers of the Old Academy to be postmodernists.

As for the use of historical examples, that's been this blog's bread and butter all along, you know, and I've already discussed your objections to that habit in a previous post. The parallels between Athenian policy before and during the Peloponnesian War and neoconservative policy in today's United States are precise and extensive, and could be developed at great length; I haven't done so here, as the point wasn't central to this week's post. I quite understand that fans of neoconservative policies bridle at the comparison, given what it implies about the future of the United States, but there it is; I'm sure the war party in Athens would have been just as incensed to be told that their preferred policies were going to bring about the ruin of their country.

deedl said...

On example i instantly thought of when reading how vocabulary influences thinking was the word "argument" in englisch. It has two meanings, that are two different words in german. One is "das Argument", which means a rational piece of Information or logic that helps to prove your point of view, the other one is "der Streit" which means an emotional verbal conflict. This influences heavily the idea of how differences in opinion are treated in both cultures.

The englisch speaking world has the tradition of rhethoric, which is the art of putting forth your arguments to persuade the other side and thus "win the conflict", since "having an argument" because of the shortage af the vocabulary always contains the conflict element.

In german tradition, a dispute carried out with arguments is not about winning and convincing, but about increasing knowledge. So if your point of view is your thesis, and the other one thinks different, than his point of view is the antithesis. The goal of the conversation is not to win and convince, but to exchange pieces of data and logic ("Argumente") that increases both sides knowledge until they find out how the previous contradiction came about and can both achieve a higher level of knowledge, called the synthesis. The concept of thesis, synthesis and antithesis was developed by Hegel and Fichte, but i think they just formalised the cultural behaviour they were exposed to. While this way a difference in Point of views can be solved for both sides advantages, Germans have no concept of "agreeing to disagree", which is the rhethoric stale mate in the english culture.

Another difference between english and german culture (i can only compare those because those are the languages i am fluent in) is what the author of "the german Genius" called "inwardness", the concept of moral selfevaluation, which Kant formalized to his categoric imperative. This difference is nicely reflected in the titles that Marc Aurels "Meditations" got in each Language (very old and very good book). The original greek title translates to something like "pointing to myself", which is translated in German to "selfobservation" because it hits a concept existing in german culture. The english speaking culture does not have this concept, so it just translated to "Meditations", which means "something you do with your mind without talking and i dont have a better word for it".

And while talking about losing the past, due to both heavy american cultural influence and cultural senility, the Germans are starting to lose the connection to their philosophical traditions. While everybody reads Goethe at school, Kant, Fichte and Hegel are not part of the curriculum in most parts of germany and instead the Idea of the english concept of rhetoric, practised in "debating clubs" is starting to spread.

John Michael Greer said...

Greg, got your submission -- many thanks! I'll have to read Paglia one of these days; the adulatory tone of the reviews of her first famous book left a sufficiently bad taste in my mouth that I've avoided her writing, but that's hardly fair, is it?

Rich, I don't know of a good source for lists of that kind, but you're right, it would be worth having. Many thanks for the link!

James, The King in Yellow is fair game. All horror fiction is great as a glimpse into what scared people in an earlier day, and Chambers is particularly good in that he's got layers within layers, conflicting visions of reality in which sanity, madness, and supernatural powers dance jigs with one another.

Bill, thank you for this! You're quite right, of course; learning a second language is something that pretty much anyone can do, so long as the lessons are adapted to the student's needs, whatever those happen to be. I'll put in a post about some of the forgotten tricks for language learning as we go.

Submarine, thank you.

Clay, oh, granted -- it's a more complex issue than a brief amused comment can express. That said, the basic fact does have a fundamental absurdity to it, and I think deserves a chuckle on that basis.

Patricia, I wonder how many of the true believers were acting out of the sort of textual obsession too common in the Reconstructionist scene, and how many were able to balance it against religious experience. That said, all deities behave in ways that, from a human perspective, approximates to ratfinkdom from time to time -- even (or especially) those deities whose followers make the most noise about how perfect and good and loving they are.

Submarine, do you know if Ebert's got essays available online? I don't do video if I can possibly help it -- I find the act of watching little colored pictures jerking around on a glass screen perhaps the most boring and irritating of all human activities, up there past watching paint dry and listening to Hillary Clinton fans try to defend her record.

Samurai, I suspect that it was precisely the fact that you tackled the unexpurgated originals that laid the foundations for your ability to recognize the stupidity of shutting down the trade schools. That's exactly the value of encountering the past: you learn to understand the present.

James, I bet he found the conclusions unpersuasive -- if he found them persuasive, he wouldn't be a Catholic much longer. ;-) Yes, I saw his review, and welcomed it; to my mind, A World Full of Gods is one of my three best books, and like the other two, it basically vanished without a ripple.

Fudoshindotcom, I see it as what happens when you take the religion of progress to its logical extreme. If we're by definition so much smarter and wiser and more moral than our ancestors, the lessons of their experience can teach us nothing, right? Ahem...

Dudley, there's the spirit. There'll be another assignment in two weeks; I plan on outraging the sensibilities of current educational theory and practice in that post even more extensively than I've done in this one. (The post in the interval will be another visit to Retrotopia.)

LatheChuck, you'll get precisely no argument from me. I considered once launching a movement to be called Postfuturism, as a bit of deadpan satire along these same lines.

jbucks said...

I'm glad another commenter posted a link to the New Yorker article entitled The Big Uneasy. After reading this latest post, I coincidentally came across that article, and I would recommend that readers take a look!

EntropicDoom said...

I have read through the comments and find my own are in a slightly different vein. Perhaps baser, but none the less true. Not involving higher education, but the lower more practical knowledge that we all crave. More carnal than cranial. My memory of these events may be foggy, but the humor survives.

Portland OR has had a liberal policy towards smut for decades. When we migrated to Seattle in 2004, the children questioned: “Where are all the strip clubs and porn stores?” Washington State was wound a lot tighter than Portland and limited such establishments to under five. Portland had one or two per neighborhood. Well marked and flashy. The children felt deprived as they entered their teenage years, but by then we had the internet.

Previously, in Portland, in the late 1970's, the smut industry came under a little pressure and one of the chief entrepreneurs was named Ginger. She tried massage parlors and dating services to promote her wares. They came under increased scrutiny due to a change in city regimes. Meaning the authorities wanted new brides. So she installed an institution called “Ginger's Sexy Reading Room” as an alternative service, complete with a library of the classics in the relaxing waiting room. This confounded the police. In the pulsating center of the city, across West Burnside Street, where today stands the empire of the Powell's Book, Ginger opened a Reading Room. A Sexy Reading Room.

The police sent in their finest under cover to request services. Ginger knowing the mission and the special forces, met the challenge with Thucycides, Plato and other classics, in some cases bound in leather. Although binding in leather was not her specialty. On the night of the raid, my friend was walking past, on the way to his nearby rock polishing shop to check on a set up, grinding over night. After closing time at a neighborhood tavern, he stumbled into the crowded waiting room of Ginger's, lined in books and he inquired as to the party. The cops were threatening and cajoling, asking everyone why they were there.

My friend picked up a copy of Thucycides and started reading out loud. Books were plucked from the shelves. Another person started loudly reading Gibbon's Fall of Rome. Ginger was quoting Shakespeare. A play by Euripides was acted out by an elderly man in tweed. A scantily clad chorus of girls emerged from the back room to echo his soliloquy. The classics prevailed. The cops were quoting Miranda.

In the cacophony there was a stand off. Everyone plead that they were there at 3:00 am. for the ancient knowledge of the texts lining the walls. No laws had been broken. No offers of overtly Sexy Reading had been proposed or accepted. Just the classics and nothing more. After all, if the Christian Scientists could have their reading rooms, so could Ginger and the classics. Even at 3:00 a. m. Thucycides had won the battle. The reporters following the police radio leads, wrote it up as a comedy.

Later, the police and Ginger quietly negotiated a new price and the establishment closed in favor of more lucrative ventures in other parts of town, on an old state route, in the shadowy suburbs to the east. Parking was limited on Burnside and the location was too visible for secretive entry. The sign stayed up for months to the delight of the tourists. Ginger's Sexy Reading Room had served its purpose, calling out the forces of goodness and battling high mindedness with the Greek classics.

This story shows that the past has merits and lends meaning in our present lives. A document from ancient times can have power beyond what lies hidden under the dust. It can force change on the young and inexperienced and reveal truths that stand against today's budding tyrannies. And the classics are Sexy!

latefall said...

Nice read, can I has this week off though?

Last one was "The Chancellor" by Jules Verne.
Part of the plot includes sailing back to the old world on a ship that has an uncontrollable fire on it, which the captain keeps suppressed by limiting oxygen flow. It is a very nice read (or listen) especially from the perspective of "setting a civilization down for a soft landing". I admit it is pretty soft on the modern consciousness, perhaps the biggest rub being the physiognomy bit. But that is so unapologetic it is actually less of an issue than what is the routine in many modern productions.

Before that was Pierre and Luce by Romain Rolland. This one is really recent of course but interesting because in my impression Rolland brings with him another good bit of historical perspective (a picture in a picture so to say). "The world of yesterday" by Stefan Zweig is a related one that does this job (for the most recent times) pretty good I'd say.

Of course none of those really are "large caliber", but I have pretty much quit contemporary fiction since the digital libraries came online (particularly the audio versions).
I wonder if part of Nietzsche's emphasis on music derives from it being complementary to "worded language". Further that makes me wonder if the English music scene is (was?) so successful because by and large the people have very limited ability to express themselves via language, and thus do what they have to by means of music. Scandinavia would be a counter-example though. Hm.

@JMG: You often use "special characters" that you copy and paste into the text when using other languages. If you paste and cut them, e.g. into your search bar, before they go into the text - they should be stripped of their original formatting and not stand out in any way.

Interrogante said...

Let me suggest Gulliver, if you have not read the original you are going to be surprised when you do.

Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are famous examples, you might know already the discussion about rewritting them to please our modern sensitivities.


latefall said...

By the way one of my least favorite imprecise translations from English to German is unfortunately: "Survival of the fittest." -> "Überleben der Stärksten"
Even though "Stärksten" to me has a bit of an association with "highest performing", the every day consequences of this are of course devastating in far too many cases.

The better translation to "Überleben der Angepasstesten" ( is a horrible tongue twister so it is never uttered. My humble suggestion would be to translate it loosely with "Überleben der Angepassten.", which I much prefer because the superlative suggests a determinism which is in most cases is misleading.
Perhaps someone can shout me down in time before I change the wikipedia page...

nuku said...

Regarding the complete abdication of adult responsibility for learning:
Here’s a quote from the new principal of a New Zealand primary school,

"I believe our children can know what they need at five years old. I believe at five years old they can know what their next steps are. I believe that because at my last school on the East Coast where I was the principal, my 5-year-olds were leading their student-led learning conversations with confidence".
She said education should become more "learner-centric" to enable students to be change-makers, rather than being put in a box and told to conform.
"I like kids that challenge, and I like kids who challenge me and the system. But also that we give them a set of really good values as framework".
The key values were integrity, adaptability, open to learning, respect and empathy.“

Yeah right, let those 5 year olds tell us what they “need” for their next step in their education. We’ll just “give them” some really good values and let them get on with it. I wonder just how one goes about “giving“ values in school. I thought that was what parents were supposed to “teach” their offspring from the get go.

From primary school in NZ to University education in USA...

For a very informative read about the historical and intellectual underpinnings of American Unversity education up through the 1980’s I can recommend
“The Closing Of The American Mind -How higher education had failed democracy and impoverished the souls of today’s students” by Allan Bloom

Bloom was a professor at Cornell during the infamous 1960’s armed radical student confrontation with faculty and university administration.
I was a student at UC Berkeley 1962-1966 and it was a real eye opener for me to read his chapter “The Sixties.”

Somewhatstunned said...

Oh dear! I keep waiting for a post that doesn't instantly attract a zillion comments because I don't want to add to your workload - but that doesn't seem to be happening so I'd better say it.

Yes, add my congrats - and thanks- on ten years of bloggery. As with many others you have influenced me, not so much in inducing any radical change of mind but more in that: (a) your work triangulates with other authors who have previously influenced me and (b) your specific influence is more in the stylistic *way* you write - I could really learn from that ...

Also - funny that you took your example about language from Welsh, because that really struck me when I learned some myself a few years ago.

John Michael Greer said...

Whomever, in my experience, most people who think they're bad at learning languages have been forced to try to learn one using a method that didn't work for them -- I'll discuss some of the alternatives as we proceed. Still, you're right about translations. As for the cephalopods, I for one welcome our new tentacled overlords! ;-)

Graeme, spot on. You get tonight's gold star for a blast from the very early days of this blog!

Angus, thanks for that! Funny.

Submarine, alternatives that will allow people to get an actual education will indeed be on the agenda as we proceed. As things stand, at first, it'll only be those who recognize the need, but we'll see what happens.

Chris, no argument there. I tend to think that one class in critical theory would be well worth having on the curriculum of any literature degree -- but just one class, and then, having learned to recognize the issues critical theory addresses, we proceed to the many other things worth discussing. That's more time than I'd give to Derridadaisme, which probably deserves all of two week's attention in an occasional 500-level seminar on recent Trends in Comparative Onanology.

Nick, good question. My audience is scattered thinly all over the world, and I have yet to encounter a country or cultural group anywhere that has responded to what I have to say with "Well, of course!" That said, if anyone has noticed differential responses across cultural or linguistic lines, I'd be interested to hear it.

Nastarana, no, it wouldn't shock this archdruid. I found the Marquis de Sade dull -- flog flog, hump hump, ho hum -- and the novels of the French decadents decidedly droll, while Aleister Crowley's fiction never fails to bring a laugh -- well, except when he was trying to be funny.

Peter, in that case, I won't suggest Proust. ;-)

Tom, fascinating. Yes, that would be a sensible experiment!

Eric, oh my. Yes, Bulwer-Lytton ought to do it.

Notes, thanks for the heads up! I know a certain amount about 19th century American utopianism but my interests have tended to focus on just a few groups -- the overview will be of interest. As for Radcliffe, that's fine -- doesn't matter if you've read another book the the same author. (Anyone who's read Hawthorne already and wants to read another, The Blithedale Romance -- a story set in an early 19th century American commune -- is worth its weight in gold.)

Elizabeth, have you read all of Twain? If so, I'm impressed -- and encourage you to read somebody else for a change. ;-)

Notes, an excellent point! I was fortunate enough to learn Latin by way of that durable early 20th century monument, Wheelock's Latin, which hadn't quite been shoved out of its place in the University of Washington Latin Department yet; I then helped found a Latin club that met at a Seattle bookstore for some years, which also used Wheelock as its core text. Wheelock, fortunately, didn't suffer from Pharr's nasty belief system, and did (and does) provide a very solid intro to the language.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

I've got a stack of Get Around To Its on my shelves. Thanks for the homework, JMG.

Dear LewisLucanBooks, in the years that I've been reading your comments, today is my first serious disagreement with you. B.C. as you say stands for Before Christ, and Christ means "The Anointed One", a title of the Jewish Messiah who has not yet appeared on this planet (though Bar Kochba, Shabbatai Zvi and R. Schneerson were among the men so hailed during their lifetimes). A.D. does not stand for After Death. It is the abbreviation for Anno Domini, "In the year of Our Lord." Should the five-sixths of humanity who are not Christian be required to make a declaration of faith in the divinity of Jesus every time they cite a date in the world's most widely used chronology? If you impose this on me, perhaps I'll be driven to dating everything AUC, and then only classics majors will have any idea what year I'm talking about.

Do you expect atheists to lay a hand on the Bible and say "So help me God" when they testify in a secular court? One man's silly academic political correctness is another man's decent respect to the opinions of mankind.

goedeck said...

By fortuitous coincidence, reading Wuthering Heights.

355a637a-2314-11e6-9239-935f52c66564 said...

May 26, 2016
Dear John Michael Greer,

I'm a huge fan of your blog and have been reading it now for a year and a half. I'm an English/Environmental Science major at UMass Amherst. I love what you have to say about the teaching of literature today. Everyone I know regards me as a little weird that I prefer classic/old literature- I read "the hollies" as a friend of mine put it, meaning I read, Dickinson, Frost, Dickens, The Brontes, Yeats, Shakespeare, and Virgil. What I find really funny is that the Emily Dickinson museum is right here in Amherst and not many of the English/art majors here have made a voluntary pilgrimage to it. She is my favorite poet. It's a safe bet that if I wasn't a huge fan of Emily Dickinson's poetry I wouldn't be here at UMass Amherst.

I started out in college as an engineering major. It became clear to me after only one semester that engineering was about striping all the humanity out of life. Everywhere I looked in the engineering building there were posters advertising nuclear energy and clean coal. These things I already disagreed with whole heartedly. The engineering program at Western New England College is largely self guided; when I said I wanted to do green energy I was quickly made wise to the fact that green energy isn't going to fill all our energy needs. The green engineering program the college offered turned out to be a simple marketing gimmick that involved a small windmill that ran a few light bulbs and a solar water heater on the front lawn. These devices were marketed as powering Slieth Hall but in actuality did an inconsequential amount. I wish so much that my love of writing, poetry and art had been encouraged in high school; when I got to that first semester at Western New England College I was a wreck. It was writing and drawing that gave me the courage to change course and I flunked out of Western New England College on purpose; my parents were going to force me to endure another semester there. I realized then that our society essentially grooms people to be astronauts. From then on, I was trying to just get in touch with the Earth/reality.

How I got here to UMass is a long story. In my academic death/suicide I found the preverbal axe to grind and something to write about. The Juniper Summer Writing Institute of Poetry in 2013 was the first real academic success I had in college and my first course at UMass.

The most educational experience I've ever had was in high school. I ran into the woods and I had a very spiritual experience sitting at a beaver pond; there I found my creativity again. It was how the sun touched my skin, the wind went through the trees. Still I can't come to terms with that day because I still seek to bridge an unbridgeable dichotomy. Real human contact is what people going to college want; that is the college experience people crave. Human contact doesn't really exist today. Right now I'm trying to harness that creative spirit I found at the beaver pond nine years ago and if possible make my living by it.

Sincerely, Austin

PS It's 3:30 am here in Massachusetts sorry about any misspellings or grammatical errors. I also tried using the google ID the from UMass apparently college students can't post blog comments.

ed boyle said...

I heard about this uniphenomenon but in uni I learned engineering and such. In high school i got great works direct from silent generation teachers. I just had nine days off and read:f.scott fitzgerald, tender is the night, great gatsby and henry james, portrait of a lady. I had interrupted my reading of milton'sbparadise lost for this. I am readin in parallel that, divine commedy and iliad, partway through all. I know some french, russian, spanish, italian and fluent in german.

Zauberberg and portrait of a lady seemed prominent in tender is the night composition. Expat americans should definitely read henry james and tender is the night. James explodes stereotypes between europeans and americans which are a basis of our cultures. Americanization of europe has dumbed europeans down but feelings are still there. Work is exhausting but pleasurable for its own sake and for human contact so my reading outside of days off is slow. Genre lit like scifi, detective leave me critical. Who writes as artist nowadays, john updike? Was james joyce, faulkner, virginia wolf trying a 60s type experiment of ridiculing naive narrator to say'think for yourself' through flow narrative? 60s went further towards middle ages then. Tell people what exactly to think. Worse than dickens black white moralizing or henry james greys moralizing by far. How many angels on the head of a pin? Irrelevant ideologies die off quickly. You said totalitarianism was squeezing all areas of life into one area in othr blog. It seems that politics hs taken over culture as well as invading religion. PC thinking from left dominates universities. This destrys critical thought. If churches in south preach neocon patriotism the effect is similar inother area. Since money controls everything it is clear where it is all coming from. Need for oil and trade on right and on left spreading human rights civil rights at home and abroad. Global system is anti imperialist as usa can by definition not be imperialist being a collection of rejects, freedom fighters and this is a multicultural antiracist, antinationalist experiment so surveillance state, torture are ok in name of greater good. This cycle is ending with this elction.

As to being modern and realistic I am reading Great expectations and pip's sister in 2nd chapter so like my wife I laughed my head off.

Masturbation and other homemade porn is main internet content.Private art if you will. Intimatest moments made public. Lady chatterley's lover also controversial or nudist beaches. Who cares. Work hard, play hard goes the saying. Drink, dance and screw on the weekend. Prudery was for victorians.STDs spreading through casual sex internet dating at record pace. Downside to internet sexuality and polyamorism.

Your holistic learning pproach with discussion forums is a great boon to integrative knowledge of self and society. Great works and current events discussion forums.

My spirituality has broken through to group problematic so that deep internal life is a practical daily political problem of sexual and race relations. I can't hate nobody when i love everyone too much so my political ideas are just ideas without substance.

I read comics preteen so I know where all our marvel films originate. Cultural desolation. Keep up good work.

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

How about: 'Be the children in play in the garden' as a closer translation of the Cymraeg, JM? Hwyl! ( :)

Vintage post this week, BTW. Love it! Your work is a bright beacon of insight in the dark world of our time.

John Michael Greer said...

Prizm, that's a classic example of education as she is writ. Gah.

Submarine, then there's no time to lose -- start reading it at once!

Keith, I disagree. Obviously people of different ages are going to benefit from different old books -- but would you deny Alice in Wonderland to a child? It's a 19th century book. As a child, I delighted in Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur (and any other original Arthurian legends I could get my hands on), the autobiography of Ben Franklin, and many other old books. If anything, the younger the better, so that the child grows up with a broader sense of the possible.

GE Canterbury, Herodotus is also just plain good reading -- as of course is Gene Wolf, as the quote you cited demonstrates. He's quite correct, too.

Dltrammel, thanks for this!

Repent, I'm sorry you felt chided! That wasn't my intention -- it's simply that I try to keep the themes of my two blogs broadly separate so that each one is accessible to its own audience. I'll consider your point, though.

Casamurphy, delighted to hear it. I wonder if the teacher had ever heard of either work.

Ynnothir, may I make a suggestion? Start with a shorter dialogue of Plato's. The Republic is in many ways the capstone of his thought, and it helps to work up to it by reading some of the others first. The Meno or the Crito would be good places to start.

Casamurphy, Voltaire is always worth reading, but I'd follow it up with Burke!

Lewis, by all means get Tacitus' Agricola; it's available online if nothing else. But of course you'll need fiction for the homework. How about Petronius Arbiter!

Toomas, Virile agiter remains one of my favorite Latin jokes, and I think it's one that would have appealed to the old Roman sense of humor. Thank you. As for formatting problems, I did exactly what I usually do, so I'm gathering that Blogger "upgraded" -- that is, made things worse, which is what that word does generally mean, of course.

Have you by any chance read "The Origins of English Nonsense" by Noel Malcolm? One of the 17th century nonsense poems it discusses has a long list of such errata in it, concluding with "for sense, read nonsense throughout."

Rhisiart Gwilym said...


latefall said...

Lastly I have a couple of points that I'd like to throw out here, also with a view of the upcoming interview with the Mikkelson plant manager:
The intellectual courage part
The content part

I haven't managed to rummage through everything there, so there may be a better snippet I can find still, but please hear me out.

What do you think about doing a (technology) time capsule challenge - perhaps even using their web interface (there are already people that only write with pen on paper and have others interface to the website)? It always struck me that such a time capsule is an inherently interdisciplinary and inter-generational undertaking. Even a symbolic effort could yield interesting result in terms of narratives to be explored.

John Michael Greer said...

Bryan, my dad's also a retired schoolteacher, which probably has something to do with this post. By all means enjoy Stevenson -- a really first-rate storyteller, who got by just fine without flying cars. ;-)

Nathan, I'd welcome a chance to talk to Taleb, on a podcase or otherwise, but I doubt it'll happen. He's a respected pundit, and me -- well, I'm an archdruid, and thus consigned to the outer fringes. (I'm good with that; the beer's better out here.)

Knutty Knitter, glad to hear that you've found your way to a more sensible program. As for languages, though, dyslexia is a problem only when nobody bothers to make accommodations for it. Do you have any trouble memorizing tunes? How about lyrics? You can absorb a language aurally, starting with songs -- in fact, singing a language is a powerful way to pick up vocabulary and grammar, which is why most cultures teach their children to sing songs in the course of their early education. With me, everybody: "A, B, C, D, E, F, G..."

BoysMom, thanks for this! Bunyan's great fun, too -- very well suited to the second grade, as well as thereafter.

Deedl, those are first-rate examples -- many thanks! The interesting thing is that "argument" didn't originally mean "verbal fight" in English. Old narrative poems routinely had an "Argument" at the beginning, which was a prose account of the story, so that the reader had some idea of what was going on and didn't get lost in the thickets of prose. I'm glad to hear that German schools still teach Goethe, and I'm not going to complain too much if Hegel gets forgotten -- to my mind, Schopenhauer was correct to label him as a poseur who used incomprehensibility to pretend to profundity -- but no Kant? That's appalling.

EntropicDoom, thank you. That's a grand story.

Latefall, large caliber isn't required. In some ways the pop fiction and children's books of earlier eras are just as revealing, if not more so, than the serious stuff. As for formatting, I write all these posts on OpenOffice and paste the whole thing in a lump into the New Post window on Blogger; I hope I don't have to separately cut and paste and repaste each individual accented vowel!

Interrogante, three good examples. Yes, I'm familiar with the business about Twain. I wonder if any of the people arguing for that know what the verb "bowdlerize" means.

Latefall, a good example. It's probably unnecessary to point out that Darwin never uttered that phrase -- it was coined by Herbert Spencer, and represents a falsification of Darwin's concept.

Nuku, that's a classic. The rationale dates back to Rousseau, and no, it didn't work back then, either.

Somewhatstunned, thank you!

Unknown Deborah, you're welcome.

Goedeck, there you are -- ahead of the pack. ;-)

John Michael Greer said...

355a(etc.)/Austin, "I realized then that our society essentially grooms people to be astronauts" -- a nicely turned phrase expressing a neatly constructed metaphor. My guess is that you'll achieve your goal.

Ed, a very sensible use of nine days.

Rhisiart, I considered that, but "mae" isn't an infinitive form -- that'd be "bod," "to be." It's third person singular, thus the English equivalent is "is," or with the implied pronoun, "it is." Yes, I'm picky about grammar!

Latefall, what do you have in mind in terms of a "technology time capsule challenge"? I'm not quite following you here.

Millie Pickle said...

I started my teaching degree during the Back to Basics hoopla, and it was obvious at the time what a deluded and naive idea it was. I was fortunate during undergraduate education courses to read Neil Postman and others. Later I taught at a school which used the Waldorf curriculum, and I was sold. I have used the curriculum myself for homeschooling and it definitely delivers on the promise of developing a balanced, socially adept, free thinking individual. My kids were never star students but they are able to talk with people of any age, and more importantly, they want to. I loved teaching the curriculum because I learned so much that I myself never got at public school. Subjects are dealt with at certain times for specific reasons and are developmentally appropriate. But it puts one at odds with mainstream society. It was difficult and a bit alienating to do it before ipads, but I shudder when I think of trying to do it now. I keep all of my treasured teaching supplies because when the dust settles on all of this hyper-connectedness, the old education methods will be valuable.

Kutamun said...

Yeah have been doing an online degree and cant help but notice how obsessed they are with forms , structures , semiotics. The droppings of the machinery of the universe or Schopenhauers "will". As you say they are very keen on directing us toward a certain gender / race/ sexuality based interpretation of same . The other big wheelbarrow they are pushing is " communitarianism ", an evocation of the group " will" in order to reduce anxiety and offset the atomising effects of predatory global capitalism . This defnitely has fascist elements to it as i have observed in my local area. I started reading about communitarianism and came across Amitai Etzioni and the UNs "agenda 21" , which calls for global governance to combat international capital , ainc increased agency and enfranchisement at the local level. This is turn led me via search straight to David Kortens " the great turning " which in turn led me straight to a re-reading of the Archdruid report from 2007 and its book review of Kortens work !
Pheww . Its obvious the university is charting a course into some sort of techno - utopian future , although they havent said anything yet about my essay reference list which includes druids, liminalists , curmudgeons and russian mariners .
They did however pose a question over my links to sandra bullocks crash landing and swim to shore in "gravity" !
Watch this space

Brezelburg said...

Great post, looks like an interesting topic!
Here are three observations:

1. Spending time within the normal society of a very different country might serve a similar purpose as reading old books. A few weeks in a Ghanaian village will make any unreflected, habitual notions about the industrial world very visible.

2. This week's essay brings to mind an anecdote that opened my mind to the possibilities of scanning reality for possible preconceived notions, which always contain opportunities to to affect seemingly effortless change simply by leaving the agreed-upon mindframe.
Contemporary German gardeners consider bishop's weed their arch nemesis, for it is increadibly resilient and fast-spreading. One local permaculturist here found a fantastic solution, though: He just decided to not see it as a problem anymore. Afterall, it makes a much better companion for his trees than lawn, while also being a great wild food. Thereby he spared himself tons of meaningless work (fighting something that wants to live) and got better soil and thus better fruit, plus free spinach equivalent, just for the cost of a preconceived idea that wasn't all that useful to begin with.

3. As for the homework, I'm already 400 pages into War and Peace. Here's hoping that I can finish it in two weeks, though, it's a mountain of a book. But it's great!

Looking forward to the aproaching train of thought :)

Don Plummer said...

Well, I would have translated your Welsh sentence literally as, "Are the children at play in the yard," but in English that word order sounds too much like an interrogative, so I suppose that's why you began your translation with the "It is..." construction? Less to explain. (As I'm sure you know, to make it an interrogative in Welsh, you change the verb form, thus: "Ydyn yr plant yn chwarae yn yr ardd.")

How's the Kalevala for your homework assignment? I've been reading a newer English translation that came out about 28 years ago and am about 2/3 through it. The worldview therein is quite different from ours, needless to say. I've also been reading some medieval literature off and on in recent year, including things like the Mabinogion, Arthurian romances, and Piers Plowman.

Shane W said...

"The era of cultural senility came in when the generation of the Sixties, the generation that insisted on excising the past from its university education, hit its thirties and rose into positions of influence, and it’s gotten steadily worse since that time."
Wow, so the generation that faced limits to growth in the 70s, and then buried it's head in the sand ever after, is responsible for this one too? Good to know. Also, it's good to know that the whole SJW scene is prodded on by egotistical Boomer professors trying to relive "fighting the good fight" from 60s glory days vicariously through their students. Also good to know...

Shane W said...

Reading Retrotopia and posts like these, JMG, it seems like you're calling for an almost total rebuke to the late 20th-early 21st century, that you want to drive a stake through its cultural heart, and that certain forms of tolerance and the ecological gems of the 70s, like Overshoot, Limits to Growth, Appropriate Tech, etc. are the only good take-aways from the era. Would that be a fair assessment of your thinking?

Shane W said...

Archdruid homework, have to get on it right away. Sit up front and take notes...

Don Plummer said...

Re. my translation of your Welsh sentence that I just posted, I just read the comment from Rhisiart and your response. Yes, mae is singular third person (i.e., "is") and I made it plural ("are"), but my understanding is that the plural third person form maen is rarely used, even in situations where one would think it is called for; since the subject (children) is plural, that's why I used "are" in my translation.

Maybe Rhisiart could help us here.

Shane W said...

OMG, "intellectual condom" ranks right up there with "a giant penis squirting into space" ROFL You really need a warning not to put your beverage down while reading the ADR...

Greg Belvedere said...

I have only read Paglia's recent Salon columns and listened to some interviews with her. I know you don't enjoy looking at colored images on the screen, so might I suggest pretending such videos are podcasts and just listening while you do something else around the house if you can't find an equivalent text. That is what I usually do, because with two little ones I get very little free time to read and have to try to get some intellectual stimulation other ways these days. I might pick up Sexual Personae at some point. Oddly enough the knee jerk reaction she gets from a lot of feminists and SJWs was what made me give her a second chance.

Mean Mr Mustard said...


Done my homework, Sir and Mister. Apart from the book-length requirement, that is. Being short on time, but wishing to enter in the spirit of things, from Project Gutenberg, I chose 'A Mere Interlude', an 1885 short story by Thomas Hardy. The story centres on a young teacher who regrets her chosen profession, and opts for marriage to escape it.

The only other book I've read of Hardy's was 'Far From the Madding Crowd' - and unfortunately that was a forced reading at age 16, for my English Literature 'O' Level. (Regarding the modern preference for moving pictures, that dreary book only came to life halfway through our studies with a viewing of the Schlesinger film with Julie Christie, Terence Stamp et al. Our English teacher was a hard taskmaster, but not afraid to take short cuts).

The plot of this story, written 11 years after 'FFTMC' has obvious similarities. A capable and educated young lady, marriage as the central focus, to an older man, and a relationship with a younger but arrogant type. And contented camaraderie providing the happy ending, all set within the rigid constraints of Victorian society.

But would Thomas Hardy, for all his sympathy for his female characters, ever be considered a modern day 'SJW', what with marriage as the focus, and lines like this..?

"On examination the poor girls turned out to be not only plain-looking, which she could have forgiven, but to have such a lamentably meagre intellectual equipment as to be hopelessly inadequate as companions".

Perhaps that's just a reflection of the Victorian preoccupation with class, and that only education could deliver 'betterment'. Or is it that such blunt description is now no longer permitted, lest it cause offence?

Here's hoping there will be old-fashioned and honest marks out of ten for our assignments... ;-)



Damaris Zehner said...

Amen! Preach it, Brother Greer! I'm an English professor with a degree in Medieval and Renaissance literature; now I'm given textbooks (not that I use them) that are a collection of unknown modern writers whose views run the political and social gambit from A to B. C.S. Lewis, on the other hand, agrees with your ideas for education:

"Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook – even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united – united with each other and against earlier and later ages – by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century – the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?” – lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books."

The full essay can be read here:

George Coles said...

Another excellent post, Mr. Greer. Thank you. I wanted
to share an excerpt from Conrad Black's biography on President
Nixon entitled Richard M. Nixon:A Life In Full.

It relates to former French President Charles De Gaulle.
De Gaulle - well known as a war-hero and political reformer
- was also a devoted historian and often critic of Western
"progress". I'm sure you will appreciate it.

Quote: “In April 1960, Charles de Gaulle made his first trip
to the United States since he had visited President Truman
in 1945. On this trip, De Gaulle also made his only visit to
California, and as his motorcade sped across vast suburbs of
Los Angeles, he sat silent for a long time, contemplating what
he feared could be the urban future of the West, and then said,
to no one in particular: “This will end badly.” "

Melson said...

JMG, I have to disagree with you on the 'Survival of the Fittest'. Darwin may not have coined the phrase, but he certainly liked it enough to include it in The Origin of Species as the title to chapter 4. In the first four edition that chapter was simply called 'Natural Selection', but from the fifth edition on it became 'Natural Selection; or the Survival of the Fittest'.

As for the homework assignment, I'll read Heart of Darkness. I tried to read it in high school, but never finished it.

Unknown said...

Hello, and thank you. I came here following a link from Rod Dreher to your Trump post, and have read the archives in the intervening time.

I grew up Amish-Mennonite, in Appalachia. While I grew up in the US, I often feel like my experience is more like that of an immigrant.

I will try to read The Blithedale Romance, since I'm fascinated by communities--how they work and how they break.


Brian said...

Why confine the assignment to fiction? Read just about anything by H.L. Mencken. You'll learn incredible stuff, you'll inevitably be offended in some way, and you'll come out a better person. I just finished his memoirs, the Days trilogy, and laughed and cringed in almost equal measure (more laughing, actually). And I'm a person who reads very little written in the last four decades.

Thanks for stressing the language issue; I just yesterday wrote a blogpost ( on how learning a language changes your brain and creates whole new ways of thinking, sparked by James Welles's The Story of Stupidity. I haven't made it out of the Indo-Aryan family yet (though I did try a little Mandarin), but believe me, learning ancient Greek and Latin will alter you in important ways, besides giving you a means of reading Thucydides and Homer in the original, an experience not to be missed.

Those languages used to be taught in high schools, but went the way of your history of college education. In fact, most college subjects were taught in high schools before the 1930s, because it was realized most folks wouldn't go to college and needed as much education as possible. Not anymore!

fudoshindotcom said...

AH.......So the premise is that we are too smart and wise to believe that touching the hot stove is a bad idea.

I'm all for challenging common wisdom in the interest of keeping us honest, but adopting the position that nothing of current value could possibly have been discovered by our forebears seems a particularly painful methodology to employ.

I think I was expecting that the erasing of history was a misdirected endeavor to give some faction a leg up. Something I could understand, if not agree with.

Instead it turns out to be yet another example of our collective capacity for truly monumental stupidity.

Synthase said...

I've been subjected to a top tier 21st century university. Any suggestions for exorcising critical theory from my brain while reading old books? I desperately hate it, for exactly the reasons you've identified here, and would class critical theory as intrusive, unhelpful thoughts when reading.

I'm about to take on Plato, and I want it raw.

Tidlösa said...

Good take on postmodernism, I never thought of it that way! The idea that everything is relative really means that *we* are all-knowing and don´t need to learn what the text really means, which in turn means that our deeper presuppositions never get challenged.

As for novels before 1900, I read a lot of Jules Verne as a child/tween, but Verne´s novels are very modern, optimistic and Idea of Progress, except when some mad scientist shows up. Sounds like the kind of ideas I had until fairly recently...

Can I cheat and read one of your novels instead? :D

sanguinesophrosyne said...

"Patriotically correct" - oh that's gold! I'll be using that in my travels.

I recall a very teachable millenial moment in my favorite history class where we were introduced to "primary sources", and being the teacher's pet/only-engaged-student I asked something not too far from "why should we care about these dusty old things when we can just read an expert's opinion on them?". Translating an ancient work from another language seemed an unnecessary and arduous task, especially when we could spend more time on science and create universal translators while zipping about the stars.

I am of course very happy to have been freed from such a pasture! I'm also encouraged by the comments section that so many others have added additional languages to their repertoire on their own time and dime, I have always fancied learning German and my partner has decided that I need to learn pronto so we can have a bilingual+ child. Looks like this project will be moved to a front burner.

Sadly the book in mind for homework missed the 1900 cutoff by 2 years, as The Little White Bird was published in 1902. I did recently rewatch the Disney film on recommendation from a friend and was highly amused that even white washed and disinfected as it was at the time, it would never pass PC muster in this day and age.

aunteater said...

I look forward to further posts on education! I'm right now wading through the deep tangle of education options for my not-quite-school-age kids, and leaning more and more to homeschooling them. But I'm still trying to decide what that'll look like. Charlotte Mason's ideas are appealing-- she liked getting kids out in nature every day, teaching handicrafts, giving kids lots of free time, AND introducing elementary kids to Plutarch as a jumping-off point to the classics. There are still small colleges out there devoted to studying the classics (my sister graduated from one), and they are almost exclusively Catholic: St. John's College in Annapolis comes to mind, as one of the larger non-catholic (I think?) ones.

Languages: I took the mandatory two years of Spanish in school, and learned almost nothing, but have made it a bit further studying it on my own in recent years. So far, either I'm not good enough, or the language is too close to English, to have the effects you're talking about. On the other hand, I've been hacking away at Vietnamese on and off for the last decade, and it's an extraordinary experience. The grammar is simple, and there are no words of more than one syllable, but it's been challenging and enlightening. I think the language is 85% what we would think of as idiom. There is no single word for "sun". The phrase is "mat troi", literally "sky face" or "face of heaven". There are category words that embrace things I think I understand, until I run into the other bizarre things they cover. "con", for instance, is a category for animals and small children. And also knives. The best english equivalent I can come up with is maybe "creatures". I've made far less progress here than in Spanish, but it's been vastly more educational. And I cackled last week when I realized that the word for kangaroo translates as "bag rat". I wonder if one gets more benefit from the study in proportion to how radically the language of study differs from one's native tongue.

David said...


I've selected "The Moonstone" by Wilkie Collins (1868). Only through the prologue so far, but already I am seeing usage of native (Indian, in this case) characters as stock mysterious "other" set-pieces. The imperialistic worldview is clear in the writing, which makes me wonder how much of it I miss in today's contemporary discourse simply because it is "normal" from an American perspective -- and that is even considering the fact that I acknowledge that our empire exists (which many people do not, apparently).

Tidlösa said...

Funny about the students who "freak out" when they encounter Plotinus and Boethius. I know the feeling - during my most strict atheist-materialist days, I was also very uneasy about Neo-Platonism, since it seemed to, ahem, make sense... (Except the part about karmic balance in the universe. What balance?)

But the blogger Siris only teaches the philosophical form of Neo-Platonism. What about theurgy? Perhaps he would freak out over that himself, he he he...

Tidlösa said...

Perhaps somebody asked this question already, but which ones are your three best books, according to your own humble Druid self? You mentioned "A World Full of Gods". Which are the two others?

latefall said...

The local motors place does challenges where a bucket of money gets put up and distributed to participants in some more or less simple way (1st prize, 2nd prize, etc.).

You take the concept of a time capsule, but with the express purpose of (jump?) starting a beneficial technology, that may easily get lost in the dark ages. Say for example optics.

Some interesting criteria would be:
Who should find it, and who should not? And then how to convey the necessary information, at what level of detail, up to what point (e.g. optics with coatings, simple glass recipes or more complex, toxicity, etc.)
The part of the purpose of the project is to help people to collaborate using new and old techniques (perhaps not the most interesting part to people here). Another result will likely be a much, much more in depth and expert infused discussion about the technicalities and technological resilience. And inevitably also a illustration of dissensus with regard to how much certain suites of tech are valued. It is basically an exercise in alternative retrotopias.

I could imagine money coming from very different corners (nuclear waste storage, long now foundation-esque. But also large industrial sectors which are afraid about their future viability, people who like to have their name remembered).

The copy and paste thing should be fine if you do it the first time (provided you don't already use "insert - special character" but grab it from somewhere else via copy and paste)

Mark Rice said...

An interesting assignment.

"pay attention to the places where the author’s assumptions about the world differ from yours".

I assume this part is so we might put some holes in our own intellectual condoms and have a least a little bit of sensation of the past.

I have already just started reading a translation of Anna Karenina. Do translations fit the bill? There are certainly difference in the world here. It is illegal to educate the lowly factory workers. Assumptions are much harder to spot. I have noticed that "love" in many 19th century novels seems to my modern sensibilities a bit more like infatuation. These characters are "in love" but -- how shall I delicately put it -- have not even started on a physical relationship.

Dan Mollo said...

One of the many comments I get from friends and family after the birth of my first child is how I need to start saving money for his college education. I have long since given up trying to explain to them that in 18 years, if the college system has not completely collapsed under the weight of its own baroque structure, it will most likely be worse than it already is. Colleges no longer teach students how to actually think and to learn the value of actively pursuing knowledge on their own. There are so few liberal arts universities these days worthy of the name. I think we will see trade schools and apprenticeships making a comeback, as you have described in your Retrotopia story, as well as most colleges closing down or scaling down.

In the meantime I am reading everything I can in all subjects (heavily influenced by book recommendations from you!) and slowly building up my own personal library. I see those books as my children's inheritance, something they can draw from for sources of knowledge and inspiration, as well as a needed inoculant from the information they will receive for what passes as education these days. Practical skills as well as learning how to live with LESS is also a must.

Martin B said...

"universities existed to launch students into a full-on, face-first encounter with that foreign country we call the past."

Interesting. I never thought of it that way, but I see what you mean.

Personally, I studied engineering at university, i.e. I went to a trade school in your parlance. But I did do one year of Political Science. In his introductory lecture the Prof said, "We are not here to change your stupid political ideas. We are here to give you better arguments for you to support your stupid political ideas."

Regarding the homework, I was half way through Lorna Doone. Perhaps I will take it up again. The main thing I got from it so far was how difficult it was to get anywhere in southern England in the late 1600s. What I motorcycled through in a pleasant afternoon was a couple of days' rough riding for the hero. People had to be far more self-sufficient, and to know the weather, horses, how to judge strangers, carry maps in their heads, etc etc.

@ Toomas. It's fifty years ago now, but my high school motto was, from memory, Iustorum Semita Lux Splendens. "The path of the righteous is as a shining light". I hope we got it right and some Latin scholar doesn't get a fit of the giggles on reading it. (I studied Latin in high school. Forgotten everything except amo, amas, amat....)

Chris Smith said...

Rich P -

"-The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius. A moving work written by a Roman senator awaiting his execution after the fall of the Western Empire."

A lost gem of a book if ever there was one. It had a profound effect on my thinking when I read it in my first year at college. Three fellow students and I even convinced our favorite professor of medieval philosophy to teach an independent study course on Boethius and St. Thomas Aquinas using the Latin texts.

I still keep my little red Loeb edition on my altar with my other dharma books. I recommend everyone read "Consolation"!

Vashti said...

As someone who hasn't studied Welsh but merely speaks it, I really have to quibble with your ideas about our sentence structure. We don't get any mystical ideas of non-causality from our language. "Mae'r plant", as a semantic unit, is *identical* to "The children are", right down to the idea of "being". The concepts are the same. The thoughts they embody are the same. The sentences are equivalent, and even their structure is near as damn it identical.

This seems like the sort of idea a philosopher studying Welsh as an adult would have. Please don't confuse it with how Welsh people think. My adult-acquired language is Japanese, and while there absolutely are very different structures to it that give endless insight into the culture and the people who speak it, I'm afraid your observations about Welsh strike me as more akin to the discredited idea that Japanese is so imprecise that it must be more intuited than understood.

barrymelius said...

Well said Mr. Greer. Our educational system is long overdue for a complete reform. I suspect it is beyond saving and developing alternate parallel systems are the only hope for someone in search of something better . I often thought the main benefit I received from my education was opening me up to the vastness of the world and preparing me to grow. Got a lot more of that from being in the world than being in the university. Self teaching gave me most of my real knowledge about myself and the world I live in. Trusting someone else with that crucial task means settling for second best.

beneaththesurface said...

As I peruse the shelves in the library's children's section where I work, I often contemplate how contemporary children's literature might be regarded by future generations. It's much easier for many of us to look at works from the past--sometimes published only a few decades ago--and notice what is unacceptable to us, such as certain racial attitudes or gender roles. But it's harder for us to look at contemporary works with an equally critical eye. Future generations may look at a lot of current popular children's books (that most people today don't find objectionable) and see them in a much different light. The glorification and unquestioned acceptance of fossil fueled powered lifestyles, a worldview of no limits, the culture of consumption, or even just the mass amounts of trivial, vacuous themes that obscure and leave deeper, more important themes unmentioned: I wonder if these may be grossly apparent to future people who stumble across them. They may seem so outdated and objectionable to future generations that parents may debate, "Do we allow our children to read this evil stuff?"

After being out of school for 14 years, I'm excited to have a homework assignment again and especially one that I'm intrinsically motivated to do! Sadly, I can find very few books in the children's section that were published before 1900. I've chosen one--Five Little Peppers and How They Grew--which I don't think I've read (if I have, I don't remember any of it).

James M. Jensen II said...

Unknown Deborah,

I'm not a Christian, either, but I sort of agree with LewisLucanBooks. As I see it, B.C.E./C.E. is lipstick on a pig, since it's still dating from the approximate birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Calling it the "Common Era" in an attempt to ignore that strikes me as especially bizarre: common to whom? Was the time before this an uncommon era?

I understand your concern about A.D. being a declaration of Jesus as lord, but I'd argue that the abbreviation has lost that meaning and become an empty formality. Most people think it means something else, after all, if they think about it at all.

Personally, I don't mind seeing either form. Our host uses B.C.E./C.E. and that's never bothered me. I just don't find the argument for its superiority convincing.

Oh, and I'd totally be OK with switching to AUC. I also expect regional calendars to slowly come to dominate again in the centuries ahead.

Patricia Mathews said...

Languages are an interesting thing. In English, "you should," carries overtones of "...but I can't make you do so." In many languages, the usual phrase is more like "It is necessary that....," which in English is essentially a weasel-phrase used to get a corporation or a government off the hook for an unpleasant action. (Latin uses that construction a lot: "It is (adjective) that....(verb)" which is not weasley at all.) In Old English, however, "you should" is a double-barreled imperative meaning "it is absolutely mandated that you...." And that's just one concept.

And driving in Quebec makes one realize how upper-class the very road signs appear to an Anglophone! The highway "debuts" in 30 km? etc. A meme one can trace back 1o 1066 in the cultural descendants of the English.

Song is also interesting. I have had a very hard time relating to poetry on the printed page, even Kipling. But when Leslie Fish put a bunch of Kipling's poems to music, they started singing in my brain and gut, and are now engraved in permanent memory with a lot of feeling-level backup. Likewise, the movies have brought Shakespeare home far better than the book. And I grew up a total bookworm in an age when print was paramount! And read a lot better than I hear or listen. But....

William said...

Just finished the original Wizard of Oz, but that was published right on the line--1900. I do have Tale of Genji on the Shelf, but I just finished the Story of Hong Gildong a few weeks ago so I might go with Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time this week instead.

Mister Roboto said...

At the risk of straying from the topic, I think it's really remarkable that the social-justice mindset as it exists on today's college campuses seems so thoroughly designed to fare very poorly upon coming into contact with the real world. As I have said previously, I deeply involved myself in this mindset when I was a schoolboy, and this self-defeating design appears to have become even more the case today than it was back then. I have a theory about why this is so.

Basically in the society of the Era of Pretense in this country, adults are conditioned to spend their lives chasing after what they think they're supposed to want. If one is physically attractive and socially well-skilled and well-adjusted, or at the very least has connections conferred upon them by the social status into which they were born, their pursuits will be mostly accommodated by society. These people are looked upon as the "winners". Then there are those who are partially or entirely lacking in any of these advantages. Their attempts at pursuing the conventional forms of self-fulfillment frequently get them ignored, rebuffed, or in some cases low-key persecuted by "winner" types. So that would make these people the "losers" in this pursuit-game.

It's not difficult to understand how the social-justice mindset would be appealing to some of the "losers". After all, what the whole political correctness trip attempts to do is take the social ostracism and bullying tactics employed by the "winners" and turn it back on the more privileged group in an attempt to achieve some kind of victory. Unfortunately, it's because this kind of rescue game is approached with the mindset of feeling like a "loser" (which, in fairness to these less-privileged types, is a mode of feeling into which they have been conditioned for quite some time), the social-justice approach will necessarily reflect the many neuroses of people who feel like "losers". And when you approach a situation with the mindset of a "loser", you will, quite simply, lose again. That's just how life in human social environments has always worked.

Tomuru said...

Even the way science is taught with Biology, Chemistry and Physics is a limiter. To understand environmental issues an environmental scientist has to be a jack of all trades. Not only must they have an understanding of the above topics but need to add subjects like economics, politics, mathematics, history, anthropology, meteorology, archeology, and many more. If you cannot do this it is practically impossible to understand world sized problems let alone their solutions.

Peter VE said...

JMG. I spent a delightful 4 months reading Proust on the commuter train home from work, so I've already lost that time.

The deeper I read in the past, the more I find common elements and ways of thought joining us to our history. Tribalism is so obviously hard wired into us. The need to be a part of the tribe, and to set us off from the other tribe. A few of us have always seen all humanity to be our tribe, but they usually are killed off to keep the rest in line.

LewisLucanBooks, AD is short for Anno Domini, Latin for the year of the Lord. Current scholarship posits that Jesus was born several years BC, and there are Arian Christians who do not accept the divinity of Christ, and would contest the idea that his birth brought the incarnation of the Lord. Meanwhile, persons all over the world have started to use the same calendar system with no reference to Christianity. BCE and CE seem to me to be proper adaptions to our common use of the calendar.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160526T151637Z

@EntropicDoom ("5/25/16, 11:53 PM"): oh wow oh wow, your comment was good...


Eric S. said...

The Texas Tech honors college functioned like a traditional liberal arts institution, so I got lucky with education. It was extremely classics oriented with little of the postmodern deconstruction you’re describing. I took classes on Greek myth in British literature, Pre-Raphaelite art and the Victorian novel, Russian literature and Soviet culture, and Irish history, culture, and literature (with a study abroad component). And we learned to look at everything in its own context, rather than from modern sensibilities. The classes required for my Natural History and Humanities degree looked at the history and methods of the natural history tradition combined with field ecology, lab work, and wilderness trips through the university outdoor center, and we learned plant identification, navigation, wilderness first aid, outdoor leadership and related topics, topped off with a capstone project and senior thesis. It was a very good education, made me the person I am, and opened up some great internships and volunteer experiences (I didn’t follow the career path that opened up because I wanted to put down roots near friends and family, and I’d have had no control over where I moved). I found out that the TTU honors college just graduated its last ever NHH major, so I’m one of the few graduates they had.

Recently, I went back to school briefly for some classes I needed for my resume, and was shocked by the shift in the school culture. The classes were much easier, rarely assigned reading, and never assigned essay writing. The big shock, though, was the student life on campus. When I was in college the first time, I was an officer in an environmental club and a film club. In the former we organized all the recycling on campus, worked on community gardens with the ag department, worked with the university for things like campus xeriscaping, better bicycle lanes, etc. and put together workshops on topics like peak oil, sustainable development, reskilling, regional ecology, and permaculture, plus presentations by climate scientists in the atmospheric science department. In the film club (I know you have your issues with film, but some film I think can be useful), we studied the films of artists like Andrei Tarkovsky, Ingmar Bergman, and Michelangelo Antonioni … and presenters put together discussion packets with recommended reading and discussion points relating to philosophy and literature the films engaged with. This time, the environmental activist group sat around talking about green techno-gimmicks, and the one actual event they put on was a visit by a technician at a solar power plant. When time came for questions he couldn’t answer any of my questions about net energy output, energy bleed in electronics, or raw materials for part replacement, and responded to questions about grid dependence by insisting on the potential of nuclear power to make up the difference. As for the film club, I didn’t finish the first meeting, since intensive critical discussion was replaced with talk about whether popular movies pass the “Beshdel Test.”

The younger generation worries me more. A friend of mine has kids around the age of 12, and aside from the things their father makes them read, they don’t get exposed to things older than they are. And there’s an obsession in schools with protecting these children from the trauma of failure (they’ve even stopped giving “Fs” because it hurts self-esteem.) And attempts to teach kids about social justice don’t making them nicer or less prejudiced, (that still has to happen by discipline and teaching manners), it is making them more insistent on their own feelings. I’ve seen young children spout pop psychology to protest being told “no.”

As for Bulwer-Lytton… yeah, I figure I need something that’s going to require mustering some “intellectual courage,” in order to get the full effect of the exercise you’re suggesting. And reading something that has threads to ideas that influenced my own beliefs, and to ideas will probably push every rage button my 21st century mind has will be a good workout.

Gavin Harris said...

Regarding flying cars, IIRC I think it was an XKCD cartoon or reference where he answers the question "Where are the Flying Cars?" His answer "We already have them, they're called helicopters". He then goes on to answer the question "Why doesn't everyone have one?" with "Apparently society is a little squeamish about flaming balls of wreckage falling from the sky!"
People aren't just blind to the practical requirements of creating a particular devices, they are also blind to the practical implications of having them if they could create them. It shouldn't take a large leap of imagination to ask yourself what a fender bender at 3000 feet would look like, but it does seem to escape all those flying car enthusiasts.
As for reading material, I must confess to already being a fan of Wells, Verne, Lovecraft and Doyle, but I haven't read my Peloponnesian history since I was at school in the 80's. I was lucky to go to one of those eccentric English schools that measure their age in centuries and would take that long to consider changes to their curricula. :) Time to go hunting.

FYI - for those interested in finding old (and very old) books, I recommend the Gutenberg Project ( who provide free electronic copies of books out of copyright.

Eric S. said...


"Let me suggest Gulliver, if you have not read the original you are going to be surprised when you do."

I read Gulliver's Travels when I was 12, having been mostly familiar with the 1939 cartoon. And that... was how my innocence died.

over the hill and down the other side said...

Thank you for a thought provoking post!

Certainly, being cultured and educated as to the past and (hopefully) being surrounded by beautiful physical accomplishments left by our ancestors is a great thing. However, I am beset by memories of being a student in Europe in the early sixties.

Everywhere the evidence of an educated, historically literate world struggling to live after the enormous trauma of two world wars. I felt very grateful for being an American--privileged and with very little national history.

The feeling was one of freedom from the encumbrances of the past.

There was a disgust among artists and thinkers with all that culture which, if it had not led to catastrophe, had not prevented it.

"History is a nightmare from which I am struggling to awaken." (Aldous Huxley?)

Jake said...

I was just beginning a collection of Adalbert Stifter's short stories as it was, making this assignment a bit too easy. Are there any extra credit opportunities?

Steve Thomas said...

Oddly enough I had an inspiration to start reading "Little Women" about a month ago. I think that my thinking process was something like this-- I want to read fiction written in the 19th century, because I want to understand how people thought then. Not what they thought about what they thought-- I think that's what nonfiction is for-- but what sorts of things they took for granted, left unsaid-because-unnecessary-to-say, implied, or assumed. If I only read the first 2 chapters, can I return to it for the "assignment"?

Other option-- After reading this last night I picked out an old volume of Chaucer's complete works, and began reading his Troilus and Chriseyde. First observation-- and you can see this in the Canterbury Tales, too-- is just how much a Pagan worldview is the assumed-unspoken in the age of "Christendom."

Mike said...

My initial reaction to the Brown students was similar to yours. But after reading an article about Oberlin in the latest New Yorker (The Big Uneasy, by Nathan Heller) I began to formulate a different opinion. In their pursuit of 'diversity' many small elite colleges & universities have begun to heavily recruit and import urban minority students. Such students would largely be from the wage class you have been discussing, while the more traditional students (as well as the administration and faculty) would largely be from the salary class.

The salary class believe that they are offering a wonderful opportunity to the wage class to move on up and acquire the perks and privileges they already enjoy. But the wage class students have seen through this and have decided instead to challenge the comforts of the salary class.

You said "We can, I think, presume that universities don’t exist for the sake of giving privileged youth a place to play at changing the world, before they settle down to a lifetime of propping up the status quo in corporate and government careers." I think we can presume that they *shouldn't* exist for that purpose, but the students from the wage class may well be arguing that that is precisely their purpose, as currently configured. And they are refusing to play that game.

Hiero said...


I read an article a few weeks ago stating that the history of American universities is the result of the philosophical compromise between the ideals of the British university, an educational system of acculturation for the elite, and the German university, a educational system of technical training.

Your analysis seems to echo this conclusion, though perhaps not in those exact terms. The result of this compromise has been, I think, different political constituencies seeing different parts of the system that are useful to them and that they want to encourage - and what isn't useful to them that can be discarded. Right now, corporate and market power is in ascendancy, so only those parts of the compromise that benefits the market - the technical training aspect - are encouraged, while the rest is seen as "fluff."

One other thing - having gone through a humanities program at an engineering school, I will say that not every professor in the humanities (or history, for that matter) understands that the reason you read things not written in modern times is to see the historical echoes and lessons to be drawn times past and how they can be used to interpret today's occurrences. There are still those instructors who understand the purpose, but they seem to be preoccupied with the act of analysis of the text.

Rich_P said...

@Angus Wallace - Thanks for sharing the link! Once again, Thucydides proves as relevant as ever.

If anyone else is on a Thucydides kick, the BBC made a play summarizing the Peloponnesian War as a means of analyzing the First Gulf War. As the presenter said, "We use television tonight to diagnose the present by reenacting a major conflict from the past." And Sir Ben Kingsley plays Pericles!

Atilio Baroni Filho said...

Hello JMG!

I'm on it! Will dust off my Ana Karenina and finally read it (it barely fits in the challenge, but it does).

That's a topic close to my heart and life, having a child and suddently being faces with the prospect of educating a human being for the next generation puts it high on the priority list. Your post today reminds me of the way Steiner sees the human mind as a mirror of things past. First I considered this to be a strange and negative view, but lately it makes a lot of sense, since our thoughts are rarely our own... and knowing where (and when) our thoughts come from, polishing the mirror in a sense, can be very liberating. And educational.


Sven Eriksen said...

I am sure it is not entirely accidental that whenever you write a post that touches on education in some way, you reliably rake up comments about three times as much and as fast as usual. You've hinted before that you would need to do an entire series of post on this subject. Is that what you are gearing up for now? If so, it would be very welcome, I think.

This post takes me back to my days my as a freshman studying archaeology at a university. Having enrolled craving precisely that full-on, face-first encounter with the past, getting instead a muddy descent into the swamp of absurdity of the contemporary is something I still recall as one of the worst disappointments of my life. Desperately needing to be "relevant" (btw, that word has always triggered my gag-reflex, so thanks for clarifying its origins), the discipline did the obvious thing and made itself subservient to the religion of progress, embracing a collective agenda of trying to fit the last 200.000 years of human experience into the world view brought about by three hundred years of industrial society. Given that archaeologists are the red haired stepchildren of the humanities, constantly struggling to justify their own existence, I suppose it would have taken superhuman capacities for reflective thinking on their part to do anything else, but the resulting intellectual gymnastics, where "critical" works out in practice to identifying totally and unthinkingly with the unconscious assumptions, beliefs and narratives of the present and projecting it with militant fervour onto the human legacy as a whole, is truly one for the records.

Now, John, I must say, given the explanation of what a university education is supposed to be and what it is supposed to accomplish, you do a really good job of providing us with exactly that. Looking forward to more of this, as well another dose of Retrotopia ;-)

Nastarana said...

In a stack of books close to hand I found "The Europeans", by Henry James, so I will be reading that. As I find H. James rather slow going, I am sure it will take me the entire two weeks.

At some point in the recent past, instruction in History, Civics and Geography was scrapped in favor of a misbegotten bastard called Social Studies. SS consists of indoctrination in correct attitudes. As those change with each new decade, you can see just how useless this is.

Matthias Gralle said...

I am reading De Consolatione at the moment and like it very much, especially some of the poems.

Boethius is another author who might be a patron saint for the cultural conservers, yet I have never seen him mentioned here! Do you have any opinion on his work, both the translations and the Consolatio?

David said...


Re-reading the assignment, I realized that my first comment already violated one of the instructions, as I was certainly passing some form of judgment on the imperialist worldview. I will keep that in mind as I continue reading.

The first work I'd selected, "The Dominion in 1983" (written in 1883) was too short, being only 30-some pages. But I am always interested in future histories, so I will read this as an additional assignment. (I'm assuming that no extra credit is being awarded here...)

OT, but interesting, the Donald has apparently announced his intention to transform the GOP into a workers' party over the next decade:

Note the article's immediate tie-in to the Nazis.

Stuart said...

Excellent, this is exciting.

I think there are intellectually valuable aspects to what you've called postmodernism and critical theory, it's just that they risk being lost among the chiefly negative effects on academic morale. Ideally postmodern theory is useful because it furnishes the imagination with more ways to understand-- it corresponds to classical skepticism. The pervasive and, dare I say, goofy abuse of it is to take it as telling you how to think, i.e. to make of it an ideology. Basically a category error. Critical theory has the excellent virtue of raising the question, "Whose past?" There are more pasts than one, always more worlds and perspectives to consider than prevailing powers will entertain. The error, seemingly, is to answer "Our past!" and put an end to it. For "relevance" there is no excuse.

There are also the corrosive social forces: universities have the misfortune of being economically useful by producing fiat goods of minimal relation to energy use, namely academic publications, white-collar positions, and latterly debt. And archetypally the university resembles the ecclesia, which means people will fight ruinously over what it means and who owns it.

I studied at an excellent Canadian university and I think the golden thread was still to be found there, but it was in spite of an overwhelming assault on academic morale. It was a constant struggle to keep serious attention where it belonged. The changes Robert Mathiesen has described happening at Brown in the 90s were well underway when I left.

By the by, my experience of the mandatory class on literary theory was that the subject would have been better served by a term spent with the Presocratics.

I do miss the collegiality though. Morale is so important. I am looking forward to hearing your ideas on how adults can create suitable bodies for study.

Multi-Mode said...

Using the education system as a consumer training center is starting to backfire in some ways. Many parents I know are already opting for home schooling, would be college students are starting to ask about return on investment. Eventually an education system that refuses to teach won't survive contact with reality. Parents and students looking to actually learn something open the door for alternatives. Online training course-ware could be a major asset for knowledge seekers.

I think self-reliance (and the trades) will become more fashionable when being dependent on the systems is more painful then being independent from them.

Great homework assignment. For me reading Walden really highlighted how alien contemporary belief systems can be when viewed from an outside context. Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius helped me see how native and human a contemporary belief system can feel from an outside context.

Our society has conflated education and entertainment, we've confused the availability of knowledge with the ability to effectively wield it. It isn't until you become an expert on a certain subject that you realize the limitations of internet. A novices sees the mile wide ocean of information and assumes that the entirety of the worlds knowledge is contained within. An expert dives in quickly finding a lack of depth and substance within their area of expertise.

Edde said...

Heyo John Michael,

Here's a comment on education I recently came across.

I apparently missed a lot of academic weirdness, limiting my institutionalization to a BS in Riot back in '71, paid for by the GI Bill. The Feebs made it impossible for me to continue at university, got me fired from my student job. I did get a Green Guide certificate from the local community college, recently...

Learned house-building via apprenticeship to my father-in-law, then, jumped into bike mechanics via trial & error;-)Fun to watch y'all discuss this stuff, though. As usual, I find there's lots more about which I have no clue.

I should pay you more for continuing education credits;-)


Janet D said...

Your comments about the importance of a second language are very true...there is a very strong revival among a number of Native American tribes to revive their spoken languages and to speak them on a daily basis with each other and with their young people. As one of the leaders explained it to me, "you can't realize how different our cultural values and worldviews are [from the U.S. culture] without speaking our language, because the structure of the language - and where the structure places the subjects and all surrounding relationships - are completely upside down from the English language."

On another note, one of the reasons I homeschool is so my children can read many books in their entirety, especially "old" classic books. (side note: Jane Eyre is one of my favorites, with some of the best writing I've read - ever - on the need for character). So obviously I don't like the 'postmodern' disregard for classics.

Yet, after 8 years of homeschooling, I also am sick-to-death of being surrounded by Christian conservatives who believe the only classics worth reading are those that cast Christian European culture in a positive light. Anything written from the enormous wake of destruction that European culture has left behind is conveniently ignored or discounted and dismissed (with a sniff) as 'postmodern' (nothing like a label to ensure instant dismissal). I know a number of Christian families that won't even let their children read about the Greek or Roman gods, as they don't want the kids to have exposure to other gods (or the thought that cultures make up their own version of such). So I'm torn. I see where modern education has gone and how worthless it is. But I also have empathy with what they were trying to originally accomplish in breaking out of the singular mindset. It seems, rathering than adding well-written diverse pieces onto a classical education, they threw out the baby, the bath water, and the bath tub.

Professor Diabolical said...

Or such as the Irish say: "T'is!"

Hubertus Hauger said...

JMG, you encourage me. In particular not to worry about that transition from our sophisticated rich world, to a resilient and austere world.

Even so here I hear you being disappointed, that our rich culture is wasted in shallow opportunism. However I see it differently. Yes, the formerly diverse education is deteriorating. Like towards some narrow-minded training for submissive subalterns. Yet to me this is already part of the empires decline. Missing the resources, for elaborate teachings and nursing of liberal and profound thinkers, all is scaled down. Compulsory.

And, yes, the power elites try to influence it in a direction, which helps secure their privileged position. Naturally!

As both the rulers and the subjects want to stabilise the system, I see no system change to happen voluntarily. It shall otherwise come, when the wave of decline is carry all along in its maelstrom.

I see it like this; Complaining about this lost case is wasted energy. Better it would be, to gather together for conserving the endangered knowledge in sort of an ark. Just like to European monasteries did do so over one millennia. A time of perish needs reservation.

thenoteswhichdonotfit said...

I never made any serious attempt to learn Latin, but when I was studying Ancient Greek, I had a lot of contact with people who were studying Latin. In our circle, Wheelock was not actually considered part of the traditional/classical set of textbooks, since it first came out in the 1950s (to be considered part of the older education tradition, a textbook had to come from before WWII, like Clyde Pharr's Homeric Greek: A Book for Beginners, which was first published in 1920). There was a lot of criticism of Wheelock - in particular, people who agreed with Professor Dowling thought that Wheelock got in the way of learning Latin. Some even said that Wheelock was partially responsible for the decline of Latin education in the United States (too watered down to have the advantages of older textbooks, without the advantages of modern language learning textbooks). Lingua Latina Per Se Illustrata, a textbook from Denmark, was much more favored (like Wheelock, it first came out in the 1950s, though it took decades for it to become known in the English-speaking world). Everyone I know who has used both Wheelock and Lingua Latina find Lingua Latina to be a much more useful textbook. I happen to have a copy of Linguag Latina, and if I ever try to learn Latin, that is what I am going to use.

Shane W said...

Reading the ADR can often be a humbling experience, as I'm forced to admit just how often I've fallen for the fallacies JMG so expertly dissects over the years. One thing I've tried to cultivate since I've started reading this blog is a sense of timelessness, not getting caught in the moment, and realizing our place in the greater scheme of things, and it's placed me at odds with virtually all of the people I encounter. All of them are very much "of the moment" and "prisoners of their own time", and now JMG has so expertly explained why. Really, that seems to be the fault line that separates me and the people I've encountered--the looks of blank incomprehension and frustration at my efforts to detach and be timeless. I think it ties what JMG says about people being "prisoners of their time" and digital addiction, which forces people to live in an eternal, non-reflective present. I think detachment is one of the prime values JMG cultivates on this blog, and for good reason. It's one of the primary tools recommended for friends and relatives to maintain their sanity when a loved one is engaged in addiction. Realizing the addict is doomed and basically a "dead man walking", the friend or relative is counseled to detach and stop "rescue" behaviors. An attitude of detachment is useful in dealing w/digital addiction and the other symptoms of our sick culture as well.

Alvin Leong said...

It seems to me that really postmodernism and critical theory are just the rebellious bastard children of "higher criticism", stemming ultimately from the use of comparative methods to textual and linguistic criticism by the Renaissance Humanists.

Don't get me wrong, I think the philological method is a lot more rigorous and requires a lot more actual effort than most post-modern writings, but they both are based on the use of texts in a way that is foreign to truly "traditional" forms of education.

Comparing Tibetan monastic scholasticism, traditional Sanskrit scholarship and Islamic madrasah education to how even 19th century Europeans approached their texts I find that they are a lot more similar amongst themselves than they are to the post-Renaissance Western approach to texts. I mention these traditions because they still survive in the present, but I think the mediaeval European approach was more similar to them than post-Erasmian Western approaches too.

The traditional approaches involved memorization and oral transmission of select texts through a qualified teacher. Autodidactism was rare. By contrast, in the modern approach, while a teacher can be helpful in shedding light on unclear points, self-reading of texts is the general rule. In modern universities, at least in my experience, it's taken to the extreme where one rarely reads any few books through from start to finish in a given university course; one reads excerpts from books and articles that are relevant to the course syllabus.

The shift in meaning of Aquinas' fear of a man who knows only one book captures this quite well I think. While Aquinas feared a man who had mastered one book very well, by Casanova's time at least the phrase was used to disparage people whose reading was limited.

Ceworthe said...

Would the Sagas of the Icelanders or some other Norse literature count? (trying to kill two birds with one stone, hey hey

Shane W said...

Regarding public masturbation,
one of the first things I learned exploring BDSM was that all of it was as old as the hills, and I certainly wasn't doing anything novel or new. Now, I'm not going say that I didn't have baser motives for my interest, but I found that it could be used meditatively, to bring an inner calm, awaken the mind/body/sensory connection, and that fascinated me. One thing I did learn from very traditionally Southern practitioners was the age-old Southern manner of discretion, and that there was a time and place for everything, and that consent means not explicitly discussing things around unconsenting ears. I've been taking a hiatus from the community b/c I'm not sure how to engage in a way that isn't late stage consumer decadence. In my mind, it just seems frivolous and wasteful to purchase gear and spend time doing a scene when there's so much practical collapsing to do, though I meant to comment in the gay marriage post in the polyamory thread that a leather family would be an interesting paradigm to explore collapsing now and avoiding the rush...

Yellow Submarine said...

So far as I can tell, John David Ebert posts most of his stuff online in the form of video lectures, but he does have some essays posted at Cultural Discourse. Ebert is a huge fan of Spengler and cites him regularly. He has a great review of the Decline of the West posted on the Evil Empire's website, in which he describes the Decline of the West as "probably my favorite book" and which is well worth taking the time to read.

He has a couple of recent essays out about the Trump phenomenon, which he argues has some disturbing parallels with the rise of Caesarism in the late Roman Republic. I would add that I don't think its likely we will see Trump play the role of Caesar this time around, in part because I think it's too early in the cycle.

But I could very easily see him playing the part of Marius: a wealthy, charismatic demagogue who rises to power by tapping into the seething anger and frustration of the internal proletariat and upends the system, thereby setting the stage for the rise of Caesarism.

I am guessing you have seen some of the stories coming out about Debbie Wasserman Schultz. There have been a lot of stories circulating lately about widespread discontent within the Democratic Party establishment with Schultz. I read one story earlier today saying that at least 12 US Senators are calling for her ouster. There was another story that said that as Chair of the DNC, she has the right to name all 15 members of the Platform Committee. But instead, she agreed to only name four, while offering Clinton the right to name six members and Sanders the right to name five.

You won't hear DNC officials say it openly, but I get the distinct impression the Democratic establishment is getting very worried. It's starting to dawn on a growing number of Party insiders that if Clinton is the nominee, the Democrats will probably get crushed by Marius, er Trump, in the general election.

There have been rumors that the Dems might dump Hillary and bring in Joe Biden as a compromise, but honestly, I don't see that as helping. Biden has most of the same liabilities as Hillary: uncharismatic, widely disliked and distrusted, lots of scandals in his background and a prime symbol of everything that is wrong with the senile elite. If it's Hillary or Biden, it will be an epic beatdown by the master of cage match politics. At this point, I think the Democrats only chance of winning is if Sanders is the nominee. Lets see if the Party leaders are smart enough and wise enough to swallow their pride and give him the nod.

Patricia Mathews said...

Ceworthe - would the Sagas of the ICelandrs count? Oh, by Freyr and Freya, they certainly should! And thanks for the reminder. For differences in values, BTW, try Egil Skallagrimsson's Saga. In today's world, Egil would be in maximum security under 24/7 lockdown without fail.

Samwich said...

Once again I am glad that Canada is always a little behind on the social trends. I received my bachelor's in history in 2015 (and a Master's in 2015), and certainly there was absolutely no whiff of the Social Justice stuff that seems to be demolishing America's institutions of higher learning. Certainly there were no safe spaces, or big banners announcing inclusion or some such. There were, of course, student political protests of the the usual (or perhaps used-to-be-usual) kind- Palestine, GMO foods, African drought- but they followed the rules, weren't loud or aggressive, didn't accost passers-by or block traffic. In fact, there was a week set aside for the Palestine protesters, who set up in one of the larger lobbies and had their placards and information booths there for the week. The rest of the year, you didn't see them.

I hope that I am not deluding myself why I say that I think my experience was something like the old-time University education you described, though it certainly is not thanks to the administrative staff. I was lucky to have several older professors who had been teaching since before Post-Modernism appeared (by older I mean that they were all well into their 80s) and I was very fortunate to have a chance to learn with them before they retired. I am glad to say that I know nothing of Post-Modernist theory, or of any particular theory. I merely learned how to research, how to analyse, how to communicate and how to develop an argument. Pretty useless skills in many departments.

I know that what I received is not what many of my friends received. The courses that were the best- that is, the ones that challenged me and forced me to do a lot of work, but that I was always looking forward to the next class- were the ones with very small enrolments. The classes that had large enrolments were either easy and airy or boring slogs that did not deviate from the textbook.

The good courses were the ones taught by the older professors, who taught us to think rather than to apply theory. In all fairness tot he younger professors, I should perhaps change that to 'the best courses'-none of my professors seemed to be too worried about applying the grid of theory to any part of the past, but the elders seemed best at teaching. One nice deviation was a young German professor of the classics- in his course I read both Herodotus and Thucydides, so their use is teaching is not dead yet!

Looking back at it, I feel that the best indicator that my University education was in fact an actual education is that there was an element of risk. Maybe that sounds a little strange, but as high school and university become developmental stages rather than educational options, one begins to worry that these schools are simply shuffling their students through a life stage. You often hear- and I'm glad I never said it, at least not to a professor's face- the litany of "I worked hard on this, therefore I deserve an A". One begins to worry that their professors are simply pushing you through an assembly line and that what you are doing has no particular bearing on your grades. I am happy to say (now, at least- at the time I was distinctly unhappy) that there were several major assignments on which I worked extremely hard and which I failed- sure proof that our papers weren't being rubber stamped. Then again, I did graduate on the honour roll, so clearly I didn't have much trouble getting my grades back up, but still, I never felt complacent. At any rate I certainly never complained that my extra circulars took precedence over my education.

Yellow Submarine said...

I read "The Coming Race" recently for the first time. It was a genuinely scary story, even if you didn't know about the story's subsequent influence on Nazi occultism. It was one of the best horror stories I have ever read.

Brian Kaller said...

This was before my time, but when I read accounts of college in the late 19th to the late 20th century, a few things stand out:

1. Massachusetts in 1850 was estimated to have a 98% literacy rate, and you could probably find similar rates for most of what is now the USA – far higher than the USA’s literacy today.

2. At the same time, people took for granted that college was not for most people. Clarence Hall Robison’s “Agricultural Instruction in the Public Schools of the United States,” published in 1911, wrote that public schools “have a duty to the majority of its students who will not go to college.” They didn’t mean that students would miss out on college because they were poor – although there was some of that – but that most would become normal farmers, printers, builders, carpenters, and so on. Being a professor isn’t everyone’s speciality in life, and they knew that.

3. College sports involved students showing up to support their fellow students, not millions going into a money-making machine of television contracts, bidding, scholarships and sponsorships. Look at a picture of fans at a sports game circa, say, 1950, and you’ll see no screaming or painted faces, no obese people, no beer-cap cans – just rows of healthy-looking teenagers in suits and ties. It was a social, formal event, and people dressed up for the occasion.

4. Most students took courses to specialise in their field, but then, in their final year, took a “capstone” course, taught by the dean or some venerated professor, to tie together everything they had learned. The idea was to bring the disparate strands of education together into a common cause, as they would all be members of the same society.

5. By the time I got to college in the 1990s, of course, some courses existed solely to teach grade-school-level remedial reading, and the fashion was for literature and film teachers to ignore things like plot and characters and focus instead on the lurid sexual subtext they imagined to be there. It was all very postmodern and useless.

Samwich said...

Also, on the other notes of this week's offering:
I can point to flying car concepts from c. 1900., (dirigible carriages) so clearly this something a lot of generations have come up with. Another 30 year repeat, or at least a cousin of it are the scams and products the internet advertises. Looking at magazines from the '50s, catalogues from the '20s and newspapers from the turn of the century one notices some rather, well, familiar concepts. Instant/ Easy this, no pain that, ancient secrets now affordably revealed, etc. Internet popups have less text than those old ad spreads, but the message is the same, and the product, if not identical, is at least recognizable. One rather wonders if X-ray and ultraviolet emitters will make it back into the health regime anytime soon. They went out in the '30s, so the times ripe for a repeat.

Also, as someone who knows a lot of pilots and who flys model aircraft, the most important criticism I can level against the flying car is not design problems- it's user problems. Most people seem to be barely able to handle navigation in two dimensions, and these pie-in-the-sky futurists want to add a third dimension to that? I rather prefer your vision of the future- at least in the lakeland republic one doesn't have to worry about a drunk driver crashing into a living room 70 stories up.

Yellow Submarine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
avalterra said...

Second reader for Heart of Darkness. Although a certain brand spanking new Lovecraftian book will pose quite the temptation!


Sylvia Rissell said...

Mr Greer:
I have frequently learned interesting things by reading old books. For example "A Girl's Birthday Book" (with no date or author, but Victorian fashion in the illustration) has many stories with morals for well-behaved Victorian girls. The book was also in remarkably good condition when I purchased it for $2, so I suspect the birthday girl didn't like it much.

A book which I would recommend for this exercise (except that it is non-fiction) is "Hymen's Recruting-Seargeant or the new Matrimonial Tat-Too for Old Bachelors" by Rev M. L. Weems, from 1823. I found it on Google Books. It is only 50 pages, but has many examples of how the home economy works, and how unmarried men run amuck and cause trouble. I am unsure whether the style is intended to be a humorous version of an earlier style with lots of poetry, or a sincere use of that style... perhaps someone with a better grasp of the style can tell me if I'm supposed to laugh or not.

I have not chosen my book yet. Considering Moby Dick.

(Shane W, your BDSM equipment choices clearly need to be items that will work equally well for human play now, and animal management later. I do not have the expertise to advise you on either.)

aiastelamonides said...


As luck would have it, I've just started Don Quixote. I have a couple of other reading projects going on at the moment (not least among them The Decline of the West – I have found a few people nearby interested in talking Spengler with me), and I read pretty slowly, so it might not be done in two weeks. At whatever pace, I will keep this essay in mind as I read it.

I've only read Thucydides very quickly and superficially, but the Sicilian Expedition immediately struck me as the perfect subject for a 60s-style anti-war song. I tried to write a Syracuse Talking Blues, but it didn't go anywhere. On reflection, I am less than confident in the analogy between Vietnam and Syracuse. Vietnam seems more like the first half of the Peloponnesian War. So far we have escaped anything so disastrous as Sicily. A proxy war with Russia would do it.

Brigyn said...

Mr Greer, I'm currently reading A World Full of Gods, and I am enjoying it thoroughly. It may be unique in its kind, and polytheism needed (and deserves) a scholarly work like it. My better half is keen to read it as well.

On that note, I am left wondering: What other 2 books do you consider your best?

Kind regards, Brigyn

marxmarv said...

Shane W,

I wouldn't be surprised to hear of a Gorean house or three in the Lakeland Republic any more than of New Shakers. Leather families do seem to function well as member service organizations and pay some mind to their communities (benefit events for charities/cancer victims/others in need, maintaining play spaces, outreach/education, even the occasional purchase of an apartment complex for the like-minded). I think they could be an effective, cohesive, and more transparent (if not exactly democratic) framework for practicing the art of LESS and managing/protecting a common natural resource, such as a stretch of wetland or a coppice farm. I'm sure most poachers, freeloaders and vandals would be as terrified of being caught by them as by Shuar headhunters!

Unknown said...

Family List:

Me: Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Son, 16: Candide
Daughter, 10: The Swiss Family Robinson
Daughter, 4 and son, 2: Just-So Stories

Denmandiver1 said...

Hi Everyone,
I chose Jane Austen's, "Emma," as my book. It was published in 1815. Austen is a delight to read as her characters as so full of life. I live on a small, rural island and I find great similarities in the two cultures. I do not think I would be too out of place in England in the 1800's.

I live on a little farm and my neighbours are all farmers and gardeners. I have a Mille Fleur bantam hen rearing a clutch of chicks as a present to my neighbour who is an orchardist. Ladies in the 1800's were very keen on fancy poultry and entertaining. Same here.

Such books are best read by candle light in a quiet room. It gives me the feeling of being there.
Max Rogers

Leo Knight said...

I picked up "Around the World in Eighty Days." A vanished English past as written by a Frenchman. Hooboy!

I may have mentioned this before, but this week's essay reminded me again. I have applied for jobs that someone who can read and count could easily learn, but the employer demands a minimum of a bachelor's degree. One job involved going to various stores, and setting up and stocking displays. That's all. A trained chimp could do it. But they wanted a minimum of two years college for all applicants. Why? Who knows? A cynical friend of mine believes employers want to see college because it shows the applicant can spend two years doing what someone else tells them, and pay for it in the bargain.

John Poindexter said...

Yes,Mr.Greer,precisely my thoughts;

Recently I chanced upon a wonderful little book "‎The Art of Worldly Wisdom" by Baltasar Gracián written 400 years ago.Looking in my rearview mirror I realized that of 160 rules of conduct stated there I violated about 90%.With predictable consequences.You step on a rake,it smacks you in the face.If not immediately then soon enough.

John Michael Greer said...

Millie, I don't know a great deal about the Waldorf system -- my interest in Steiner's work has been focused elsewhere -- but from what I've heard, it seems to work quite well.

Kutamun, a druid, a liminalist, a curmudgeon, and a Russian mariner walk into a bar -- oh, wait... ;-)

Brezelburg, granted, but a copy of War and Peace costs a lot less, and has a much smaller carbon footprint, than traveling to Ghana!

Don, if it was written before 1900, it's fiction, and you haven't read it before, it counts. I'll stretch the definition of fiction to include myth and legend.

Shane, nah, you're letting your Boomerphobia run away with you. The generation responsible for the educational "reforms" of the 1960s was the previous generation, which produced the radical young professors who spearheaded those changes. The Boomers in this case were simply cluelessly cheering along.

With regard to your second question, not quite. As I've noted in the past, my take is that America in particular, and industrial civilization in general, took a catastrophic wrong turn in the 1980s, and a huge amount of what's problematic in today's world has unfolded from that wrong turn. The issues I'm discussing here helped pave the way for that wrong turn -- like most tremendous historical mistakes, this one is well rooted in our culture's past -- and so needs to be addressed in the course of sorting out where to go from here. Not everything that's happened since 1980 has been a disaster -- there are definitely things worth saving -- but there's a lot of rooting up to be done.

Shane W said...

Well, then, I stand corrected. It was the Silent Generation's fault for the educational reforms...

Shane W said...

perhaps we should start a LESS leather thread on the Green Wizards site. Maybe Bill could chime in. Who knows...

John Michael Greer said...

Don, the habit of using the singular mae even when the putative subject is a plural is an interesting one, isn't it? That's one of the things that shows the underlying structure of a complex condition of being, just as an Englishism such as "it's raining" -- what's raining? -- shows the habit of framing things in cause and effect terms.

Shane, thank you. I try to keep keyboards well moistened...

Greg, so noted, and I may put it on the get-to list as well.

Mustard, good. Now think of ten things that the politically correct say now as a matter of course that people a century and a half from now will consider as out of line as Hardy's comment does to us. ;-)

Damaris, thank you. I'll certainly accept a vote of confidence from Lewis -- I have my disagreements with his religious writings, obviously, but when it comes to education, the man was spot on.

Coles, I had no idea de Gaulle was a historian! I'll have to find some of his work -- fortunately I have quite a decent reading knowledge of French, as I doubt one word of it has been translated into English. His comment in Los Diablos is perfect.

Melson, thanks for the correction -- I wasn't aware of that.

Unknown SamChevre, I'm living in the Alleghenies right now, and plenty of Amish shop at the local stores, so I think I may have emigrated the other direction!

Brian, we'll get into essays and the like later. This lesson's assignment is fiction, for reasons we'll get to as we proceed. By all means, though, enjoy Mencken -- some of the liveliest prose this continent has ever produced.

Fudoshindotcom, pick an ideology, any ideology, and if you take it far enough it'll end in absurdity, followed by mass death. The modern faith in progress looks as though it's going to follow out that rule right to the end...

Synthase, do you by any chance practice meditation? Getting rid of irrelevant thoughts is a standard meditative skill. If not, find a book that sets off the critical-theory chatter, and when something pops up from that source, return your attention to the words you're reading. Try different ways of shoving aside the intrusion -- I have a friend who imagines King Arthur from Monty Python and the Holy Grail whacking the anarcho-syndicalist peasant and shouting "Shut up! Shut up!" -- but keep on going back to what you're reading, and refocusing there. Don't engage the thoughts -- push them aside and go back to what you were doing. It becomes easy with practice.

Justin said...

JMG, regarding your comment to Fudoshindotcom, well, isn't that the basic tenent of Burkean conservatism - don't mess with what works?

Being of Scandinavian descent, I'd be tempted to read the Norse epics, but I suspect that I'm not mentally capable of actually thinking like a Norseman 2000 years ago did. I'll go with Beowulf, which I've never read, but apparently had something to do with the Lord Of the Rings, which I've read (as an adult) three times now, plus once when I was 12-13 or so.

I'm not sure how close this is to how actual Norse 'pagans' would have thought about their gods, but the notion of a pantheon of gods who can simultaneously be interpreted as both a group of supernatural consciousnesses and as a heuristic for understanding one's own nature is very appealing. And on a purely secular note, any god who cut out his eye for knowledge is good in my books.

John Michael Greer said...

Tidlösa, Derrididdling was all the rage in the History of Ideas program where I finished up my BA in the early 1990s, so I had plenty of opportunity to reflect on its many dubious features.

Sophrosyne, German's a splendid language, especially when you have a child with whom to share it! You might consider getting some beginning-reader books in German, and using them as supplements for your own learning -- that's a trick a lot of people find helpful -- and if your child decides that one of them is the book that gets to be read at bedtime every single night for two and a half years, I promise you every bit of German vocabulary and grammar in that book will be yours forever. ;-)

Aunteater, good question. There's certainly much to be gained by learning at least one radically different language!

David, fair enough. Now go deeper -- instead of simply identifying the sort of tropes that current critical theory likes to discuss, find other ways in which Collins' vision of the world differs from yours.

Tidlösa, heh heh heh. Neoplatonism's great for that, because it's so eminently logical and reasonable, and explains why the material world follows material laws and the other modes of being intersect with them in the way that, ahem, fits human experience. I have no idea how Siris would react to theurgy, but probably not very well -- Iamblichean theurgic Neoplatonism was the last and most serious rival Christianity faced in its struggle for dominion over the Roman world, and Christians still get acutely uncomfortable when faced with it.

As for my three best books, those would be Inside a Magical Lodge, A World Full of Gods, and After Progress. All three of 'em were frankly too far from the conventional wisdom to get an audience, but if any of my books are remembered a couple of centuries from now, it'll be these.

Latefall, interesting, but not really something I want to focus on right now, due to the funding issues -- I'm interested in "where you are, with what you have, right now" options.

Mark, translations certainly qualify, if you don't happen to know the original language.

Dan, stick to your guns. Eighteen years from now the academic industry will have collapsed of its own weight, and your child will be much better off without it.

Martin, good. That's certainly something to notice.

Vashti, I never said there was anything mystical about it -- just that different language structures imply somewhat different ways of thinking about the world. All the modern Celtic languages, if I understand correctly, share that habit of using the verb "to be" to frame sentences that would be transitive in English, and it's worth noting that Celtic literature, poetry, and philosophical thought tends to apply cause and effect relationships much less often than English-speaking equivalents do -- for example, there are only two Western philosophers who've denied the reality of sequential time, and both of them were Celts (John Scotus Erigena and George Berkeley). Different habits of speaking result in different habits of thinking; the differences are subtle, but I'd argue that they're there.

Barrymelius, a real education is always a matter of guiding and enhancing the student's own efforts to learn. I also learnt most of what I know from my own studies, but now and then I've had somebody more experienced to help me aim my studies more effectively and challenge me to think through the consequences more deeply, and the resulting education was better than it would have been if I'd been out there entirely on my own.

Patricia Mathews said...

Chosen homework - reading the Icelandic Sagas I haven't yet read ( big fat anthology of them - I dipped in it and read a few, then got interested in other things.)But if they're not short novels, I have no idea what would be.

Matthias Gralle said...

@Damaris: I didn't know that quote, but was hunting down some similar sentiment in another of Lewis' essays! I think when he talks about textual criticism. He certainly expressed JMG's argument quite neatly, too.

John Michael Greer said...

Beneath, it's occurred to me that what's going on in literature these days is the exact equivalent of the bowdlerization that used to be inflicted on older literature in the Victorian era. Like the Victorians, we're deeply offended by certain things that didn't use to upset people, and we insist on getting rid of the offending item, by banning books, producing bowdlerized versions, etc., so that people don't have to experience the offending whatever-it-is. Note how well that worked; the Victorian era was followed by a convulsive reaffirmation of sexuality. Will our era be followed by a convulsive reaffirmation of racial and gender divisions?

Patricia, all valid points.

William, I read A Hero of Our Time in the original in third year high school Russian, and it was a heck of a story, so my vote would be for that!

Mister R., hmm! That makes a great deal of sense.

Tomuru, no argument there. You can start with ecology as a core and branch out into other sciences from there, and end up with a very good general view of things; the problem is that if you do that, you stop supporting the status quo -- and that's why that approach to the natural sciences got dropped like a hot rock thirty years ago.

Peter VE, I'm planning a post on what you've called "tribalism." It's going to go in directions you may find uncomfortable.

Eric, you definitely got lucky! I certainly understand that a lot of people find film interesting, and I'm all in favor of them watching films, studying them, discussing them, etc. My lack of interest in visual media is something like tone deafness, really; it simply doesn't communicate to me what it apparently communicates to a lot of others.

Gavin, I should have known that XKCD would have something funny to say about that!

Over the Hill, fascinating. I wasn't aware of that.

Jake, sure. Finish that one and read another that qualifies, too!

Steve, either one will do.

Mike, interesting. I hadn't gotten the impression that the protest activities were primarily on the part of students of color, but I'm prepared to be wrong.

Hiero, yes, that's underlying this analysis. I'm quite aware that many professors in the humanities have no clue what they're there for -- Postmodernists had to come from somewhere, after all!

Atilio, Steiner's quite correct -- the mind reflects the past so we have something we can use to make sense of the present. More on this two weeks from now!

Sven, yes, I'd noticed the same thing -- and yes, this is the opening salvo of a series on education. It should be quite a ride.

Nastarana, yeah, the school districts I attended were early adopters of "social studies," and I found them a total waste. I found books on history at the library to feed the hunger they didn't touch.

John Michael Greer said...

Matthias, there are a lot of authors I haven't mentioned here who are very good, and Boethius is among them. The Consolation of Philosophy is a classic in every sense of the word.

David, good. You've also learned about your own readiness to pass judgment, and that's a lesson worth learning.

Stuart, oh, granted! Both postmodernism and critical theory started out with valid questions; down the road we'll talk about how they turned into ways to erase the past, and metastasized into forces destructive of learning.

Multi-Mode, yes, the backlash against the failed system of education in the US is beginning to build steam. That's one of the reasons I decided that this topic is a timely one.

Edde, the School of Hard Knocks is always a valid source for a diploma!

Janet, I've seen the same thing among some Christian homeschoolers -- they aren't upset about a vacuous education, they just want to choose the vacuities! Still, that's to be expected. It's going to take time for people to recover from the loss of any sense of what an education means.

Professor T., I'll take that as a vote of confidence.

Hubertus, nah, I'm not complaining, I'm offering a diagnosis. Treatment follows.

Notes, interesting. If I have reason to consider Latin textbooks in the future, I'll have a look at Lingua Latina.

Shane, yeah -- sometimes you just have to step back and let people chase their fate.

Alvin, interesting. I don't have a lot of background in comparative textual scholarship, so didn't catch that.

Ceworthe, indeed they would.

Shane, that entire world is basically unknown territory to me, so I'll just smile and nod and say, "Sure..."

Submarine, I always get a little uneasy with analyses that use Roman history too precisely. Other civilizations also had their ages of caesarism, and the exact sequence from Marius to Augustus wasn't exactly repeated in any of them.

Samwich, delighted to hear it. I'd figured that it was a distinctly American rot, for whatever that's worth.

Submarine, Bulwer-Lytton is underrated. Several of his books are well worth revisiting.

Samwich, I didn't know about dirigible cars! Funny.

Avalterra, I admit the thought of a mashup between "The Shadow over Innsmouth" and Heart of Darkness is rather tempting... ;-)

EntropicDoom said...

This week's comments have spread out over many threads and courses like a river delta merging with the sea. On the subject of education, we home schooled the boys in Oregon after issues with the local school. At home, the boys were not really taught in a class room setting, but let loose. After some attempts to use store bought manuals and “What Your Fifth Grader Needs to Know” books, the boys took off on their own.

One ended up developing software for a Swedish company he found on-line that needed environments written in code for games. They sent him all the software and he wrote the code. I only discover this when he showed me the cool warehouse he built with rain, sun and lighting switched on and off with a button. After that he went into building computer hardware and fussing with electronics as a hobby.

Our younger boy set up the internet, using microwave antennas, with a friend from his house, a block away utilizing their high speed web connection used for business. They wired up our house, at a time when I was satisfied with dial-up.

Oregon has very liberal homeschooling rules and we were not under any programs or curriculum requirements. They both tested high in the state required test given by a private Christian homeschooling group. We were decidedly non-religious. Looking back, I realize I was lax and we needed firmer control and a more disciplined program. We had books around the house which the older one read for pleasure. But generally it was chaos.

On weekends the boys and I went to the local game store for Dungeons and Dragons, 3.0 sessions lasting many hours. We also met people who opened their house to Saturday night gaming and some sessions lasted into the morning hours. The boys memorized countless books and charted numerous D&D characters. Both became rules lawyers and the other adult players and our strict GM were amazed at their tenacity for such a young age. Socially both boys were engaging and communicated at an adult level. We still role play twice a week.

Once we moved north to Washington State they went back into the school system. The programs here allowed them to move to Community College, while still young and get associate degrees at state expense. Now the older one is finishing college after some military and the younger one needs a job.

Looking at my own education, long ago, (1949 to 1969) I know that I never really tried or applied myself. I was lax and unfocused. I had no self disciplined or to-do list of goals. In high school I got “C's.” Instead of learning I puttered and wandered. If I snowed, I announced I was sledging and I returned home, whenever. Sometimes it was the next day. Calling home was never required. I roamed and had adventures and near death experiences. No one was the wiser and there was no police reports to contest.

My summers were spent on long bicycle rides and hiking in the mountains. Freedom can be taken for granted, but does not always educate by itself alone. The main quality I gained was self-limiting caution. I developed sturdy antennas for danger and “not-rightness” which I continue to use today. I did not step into direct challenges, but learned to sidestepped danger and conflict.

I had an unsupervised childhood, but that made me inner directed and self guided. My brother focused on languages, where I failed (Latin) and he now speaks several languages easily. We both focused in college and earned degrees we never used professionally. I confess I am still learning or trying to learn how to learn.

When I grow up, I intend to be smarter, better and more youthful. Until then I grow shorter, grayer and sleepier.

There are tens of thousands of books to read, absorb and digest. A thousand lives would not suffice for all the learning that could be taken in. I diminish with age and I am amazed by all I thought I knew, but only faked to fool myself.

For the kids today, the system is failing them at all levels. We are in a collapsing empire, where self education may be a blessing or a curse.

John Michael Greer said...

Brian (out of order), all good points! I'll be discussing at some length why college shouldn't be for everyone, in due time.

Sylvia, both those sound fun. And very revealing, in a Victorian sort of way. ;-)

Aias, Don Quixote is particularly interesting because Cervantes was parodying the style and ideals of a genre of literature that was already old in his time -- so you've got your attitudes, Cervantes' attitudes, and those of the chivalric-romance genre to tease out!

Brigyn, the other two are Inside a Magical Lodge and After Progress. All three of them went way outside the conventional wisdom, and so none of them sold well -- most readers like to be told what they already think they know -- but that's the risk you run.

fudoshindotcom said...


I think you're right about where the religion of progress ends.

Still, knowing what's ahead and generally why it's going to happen doesn't make the pill any less bitter. Lately, along with making wine, permaculture gardening, leatherworking, and studying herbalism, I've been wracking my brain for what size wrench I'd need to mitigate how horrific the not to distant future is likely to be. At present that tool, and where it needs to be applied, elude me completely.

I'll have to give some thought to which book to choose. I try to read two books a month, but almost none of that is fiction. Without a doubt my favorite to date is Cervantes' Don Quixote. It comes to mind because right at the moment I feel a strong kinship to "The knight of the sorrowful figure".

Dan Mollo said...

In regards to Brigyn's question about which other books you think are your best, I have to agree with you about After Progress. Though all of your work is truly great, I really think that After Progress is your best non-fiction book thus far (I haven't read A World Full of God's yet but look forward to getting a copy soon.) For me, it was the best treatise I have ever read that laid bare the myth of progress, the defining zeitgeist of our time. I have been chomping at the bit to read it again, but I told myself I wouldn't start until I have finished Spengler's The Decline of the West. I have a bad (or good?) tendency to read four or five books at a time. That's my limit before I start forgetting what I am reading about.

On a side note, I am eagerly awaiting my fancy copy of The Weird of Hali!

roberta actor-thomas said...

I really think this post should have been called "Against Cultural Infantilism" with all due respect. It seems like never-ending childishness is more of a problem in dealing with people than cultural senility, figuratively speaking, but maybe you'll address that (again?) at some other time.

Great suggestion to read some dead guys and gals; my recommendation will be Tom Jones by Henry Fielding, which will take most of us more than 2 weeks I believe. Like Cervantes, in one sections he satirizes the pop literature of his own era, which he despised, but it's a bit obscure if you don't know what's up. Fortunately I had a sister-in-law with an advanced degree in English to clue me in to the joke. If you've seen the movie, forget it, you ain't seen nuttin' and even if you saw the pretty decent BBC series, you're still in for many more entertaining hours and lots of laughs.

Ray Wharton said...

Hmm, I might pick up 'After Progress' haven't read that one yet. Of your books which I have read I find 'A World Full of Gods' to be the most intelligently original; and Inside a Magician's Lodge to be by far your most useful book, I may even need to get another copy, as my first copy was read to death. Of your books I have read, 'The Wealth of Nature' also stands a bit above the lot.

Thank you for the focus on education in this coming series. It is a topic most dear to my heart, and something I think likely to be most useful.

I picked my favorite teacher in college the first semester there. There was a class on reading great books, though most of the books were still wet behind the ears, and quite rubbish, there was one book that was a great book. The Epic of Gilgamesh. Awesome, the most romping adventure story I ever read! Anyway, about that favorite teacher, he's leading the class trying to talk about a super sexy scene early in the book, Shamhat's taming of Enkidu, and one student is not having it. This guy is going off about how inappropriate and offensive it is. Professor tries to describe what we know about the sexual norms of Ur, that much which we find offensive simply isn't part of their story. The Student ain't having it. Finally Professor snaps 'Lighten the F*** up!' I signed up for all of his classes the next semester.

onething said...

Well, I've had the thought that the ability to communicate across centuries, to have ongoing conversations especially upon issues of philosophy, is what really separates us from the animals. A dog knows nothing of the history of its own breed nor its place in the annals of dogdom. It is all well and good to Be Here Now and we humans do need to practice that but its opposite is to be stuck in the now with little ability to escape from it.

Surely there is nothing so precious as the communications from the ancients, and nothing so catastrophic as to lose them. For this reason I reserve my bitterest contempt for those who put lies down on paper in ways and upon topics that will become 'history'.

As for the homework, luckily it is my habit to prepare for some possible difficult future not only by gardening but also to think of the need for entertainments and so in my ark I gather old classics and things like board games.

Kevin Warner said...

For everybody here who wants to know why modern higher education is so expensive and so top heavy, I would recommend that you spent a few seconds on the page at to answer most of your questions. I have the distinct horrible feeling that the information there is actually drawn from real life examples.
On a lighter note, grammar has its own place but when I see discussions of it in print, my cultural landfill of a mind is reminded of a film clip showing how this can be taken perhaps a bit too far and is at Truth be told, if the English language had not been so soundly ignored for a few centuries by grammaticists in favor of formal French, it would never have evolved to be as successful or widespread as it is today.

John Graham said...

Hi JMG, great post, and I'm looking forward to this challenge and the others ahead.

Meanwhile, I quite often drive past a billboard promoting my old University (Waikato, in New Zealand), which reads: "The Future Belongs to the Masters of The Digital Universe". No shred of irony, just a picture of a young person large and vaguely heroic enough to bring to mind a billboard from some totalitarian regime. Reading your blog I feel sane enough that I can imagine sharing a belly laugh about that one - by myself I'm often too busy being horrified!

HalFiore said...

Someone mentioned Verne and described his work as progressive. No doubt, this is fair, but I would argue his work would still be useful for this assignment. It's been many years since I read him, and I probably read most of his novels, so won't be doing so this time, but I do recall some of the sense of his time I got reading him and other works such as the Hornblower books. One was the pace of action in the narratives. There was just this natural, for them, sense that things take time, and that it's OK, and worth laboriously and fully describing, that sequences of action take time to fully account for. And it leaves one with a very different appreciation of the continuity of the story when fully played out. Jack London, in Sea Wolf is another example off the top of my head. Well, and just about everything else I read as a child. Conan Doyle, who I devoured in those days, certainly.

On the subject of children's literature, I have been reading Last wills of various Colonial ancestors in preparation of doing a write-up for my kids and noted that one distant ancestor bequeathed to one of his sons an individual named "Sambo." I'm not making that up. People born after the 50's may have to look it up, and I'm probably in trouble just mentioning the name.

John Michael Greer said...

Unknown, delighted to hear it.

Leo, your friend may be quite correct. Funny.

John, and a guide to not stepping on rakes never loses its value, even if it goes out of fashion.

Shane, and you can trace that particular bit of bad logic back to Rousseau, who has a lot to answer for.

Justin, exactly -- which is not an argument for retaining what doesn't work! By all means give the Norse sagas a chance; you don't have to think like an early medieval Icelander, you just have to experience the collision of worlds between what an early medieval Icelander thinks is perfectly normal and what you think is perfectly normal.

EntropicDoom, I slacked in public school as well, but that's because I was way ahead of grade level in most subjects and there was zero opportunity to do anything but trudge along at the pace of the slowest. By all accounts it's far worse now.

Fudoshindotcom, it depends very much on what kind of future you expect, and that depends in turn on where you are and what preparations you've already made. A very small wrench can be enough if you're in the right place.

Dan, thank you on both accounts!

Roberta, I considered that, but one of the core elements of senility is forgetting, and we do that a lot these days!

Ray, that's a great story. Thank you.

Onething, "The Annals of Dogdom" sounds like a book I should read! ;-)

Kevin, many thanks for both links!

John, that's funny in a bleak sort of way.

Larz (near San Jose, California, USA) said...

I submitted this this morning but it didn't show up so am re-doing it:

Part 1 of 2:

Hi John Michael,

I have to say a word of thanks first. Thank you for gracing us with your pick-me-ups on Thursday and Friday. By Sunday evening, I am in the doldrums, wading through Monday and Tuesday as if through sticky molasses. I often cannot make much sense of what is going out "out there," and you elucidate things.


Hedge schools of 1700s and 1800s Ireland are a good example of how supplement kids' educations got performed in olden days, although in those days the schools seemed to have been for boys only. NEW hedge schools would be for girls and boys. "Hedge" refers to outdoors but were held mostly in houses or barns. I think this is the way childrens' educations are heading. Just because formal education will collapse doesn't mean that kids don't get educations.

Essays. I graduated high school in 1970 but have found that I never learned (1) how to write an essay. There is hardly any help for people, speaking from my age of 63, who want to re-learn the basics of writing. Over two years, I kept asking "What don't I know?" discovering that sentences are what I need to learn. Sentences are the backbone of English, so I have been partaking of the book "It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worse of Sentences" by June Casagrande. My second step is to learn (2) how to write research papers. I am having to cobble together my own courses because there is very little offered online. I was shocked that courses are offered in almost every OTHER subjects except fundamental English writing for English-speakers. If a person is English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL), there are zillions of programs getting lots of funding but oddly, nearly nothing for English-speakers (WEIRD WEIRD WEIRD). Now is not the time to speak on the vast disparity of resources going to non-English speakers (foreigners) vs. English-speakers (natives) in the U.S.

When you mentioned knowing two or more languages, I am lucky if I can manipulate the ONE language I am familiar with: English. I have a sense of how limiting the one language is, but it is "all I got," so to speak.

There is a big difference between people practicing senility and people practicing what could be mistaken for senility: sitting meditation. There is nothing inherently wrong with staring into space. What is important is what you do with staring—what you do with space—and what you do when perceiving both. When I stare into space, I often perceive infinity or nothingness, which panics the general populace, and staring into space (or staring at the back of my eyelids) helps keep my mind sharp. But then again, I have a decade of training in meditation behind me. I do not need to be entertained — I just "close the eyes." Anything of Buddhist meditation will do. I feel sorry for saps who stare into space but are unable to take advantage of the terrific view ("nothing"). Meditation is a way to get beyond language. Meditation and writing are a good one-two punch.


Larz (near San Jose, California, USA) said...

(continued from)

Part 2 of 2:

I do not remember being taught how to write essays, and the forgetting bothers me. Why can't I remember? I can't recall giving essays a second thought — like ever — until recently. Whether or not I was taught how to write essays is lost to time. Learning how to write an essay is basic "writing," so I mean to learn now. Never too late.

In a way, I am attending my own elder version of "hedge school."

Education in the U.S. has not collapsed completely yet, although when I was in school, it was downright dreadful (upstate New York). Hedge schools for kids are not in vogue yet, but I am convinced hedge schools will happen. I am surprised that I hear nothing about hedge schools popping up in the U.S. In Wiki, it says hedge schools were taught in Ireland during the 1700s and 1800s, teaching English and Irish; and the "three Rs" (reading, writing, and 'rithmetic-arithmetic). Some hedge schools taught Irish bardic tradition, Latin, history, home economics. Parents made hedge schools exist. There are a lot potential teachers available today who can teach today's hedge schools.

I will read The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I know the gist but have not read the book. I am going to cheat by getting the comic book version too.


Rich_P said...

@onething - Your post reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite American historians, Thomas A. Bailey. In the foreword to his book on why the U.S. failed to join the League of Nations, he writes, “I happen to be among those who believe that history has lessons for those who will read … Every generation of apes begins where the previous generation began, because apes can hand down no record of their experience. Man leaves a record; but how much better is he than the apes if he does not study it and heed its warning?”

@Brian Kaller - RE: the literacy rate in Massachusetts in the 1850s. One of the main points in Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death is that America, even during the 18th century, was a very literate place, perhaps the most literate society in human history up to that point. He develops this argument as a means of showing how far we've fallen in political discourse, e.g., the Lincoln-Douglas debates (intended for, and heard by, everyday folk) vs. modern political "debates," which are vapid and dominated by soundbites and handwavy arguments. And our forefathers achieved this widespread literacy and general learnedness using far fewer resources than the modern education system. (The fact that we even call it a "system" is pretty damning in and of itself.)

das monde said...

The whole spectrum of education is in a laughable state, and people find their comfortable cognition traps very easily. On the other hand, government departments for education (or say, environment protection) can work very effectively for the opposite purpose. And they do that with increasingly more evidence. Silent backlash against public or universal education might have similarly long history as the education itself. When it comes to inevitable financial busts of civilization decline, dumbing down the largely doomed competition could even be rational.

JMG, the explanation of Burkean conservatism 2 weeks ago clarified your apparent apathy against "half smart" progressives. Discussion is sparked. If I can be provocative, isn't the limited conventional wisdom (of this chat) pretty Burkean, in a lazy sense of not doing what was not explicitly tried, of learning lessons only on affirmative examples? Deep down, anticipated (but empirically not greatly known) decline predicaments call for non-Burkean transformational intention and action.

Shane W said...

one of the most striking things to me, coming from the American South, is the striking maintenance of politeness and manners in Canadian culture. An incident I will never forget during my first trip to Toronto was when some tourists stopped to ask a streetwalker for directions to the nearest CIBC (a bank). The exchange was so polite and I could never in my wildest imagine something like that occurring stateside. Now, a lot of Canadians seem to think that they will go down w/the US, but, having maintained politeness and social cohesion this far, I'm hopeful that it won't just disappear once their southern neighbor implodes (even more). Rob Ford notwithstanding, the divergence of civil discourse and manners between Canada and the US is striking.

Shane W said...

Regarding dogs (to a lesser degree, cats), lately, I'm finding I have more meaningful conversations with them then the people I'm around. I'm not really sure what to discuss with the digitally addicted, pop culture soundbite mouthing, chronic canabis users...

Myriad said...

A fortuitous assignment: by coincidence, I just recently started reading Uncle Tom's Cabin, reputedly the most popular and most influential novel of the nineteenth century, but whose status today among social and literary scholars appears to amount to grudging acknowledgment that it existed. (Speaking of present-day oblique bowdlerization…)

After that I'll want to read something older, so my thanks to all the commenters for the many great suggestions. I don't know whom to thank more: those who've suggested works I've already read, making me feel well-read, or those who've suggested works I've missed, reminding me how much more treasure there is out there.

Meanwhile, I've been practicing that most basic of resiliency skills, walking. This is time-consuming, though, and best completed before the heat of afternoon, so… gotta go!

Fred said...

Our current homeschool curriculum is Tapestry of Grace which is a rotating 4 year classical curriculum. We are on our second and final rotation through it, doing the Rhetoric level this time. It is Western history based, and includes literature, philosophy, government and religious readings. Geography is also done each week. For the parent there are questions and answers on the readings, and a mini encyclopedia of the background of each week's reading to supplement the knowledge. The questions at this level are some comprehensive, but most are compare/contrast to other leaders or time periods or events.

The four year cycles are Year 1 Ancient World: beginning of history to the Fall of Rome, Year 2: fall of Rome to founding of the United States, Year 3: the 1800's, Year 4: 1900 to present. It is a Christian-based curriculum and has it biases, but we have found them easy to identify and navigate. It is also history from the Western civilization lense, with some touching on Eastern, African, other history when it intersects with the West. Our family is originally from western Europe, so it is our history and relevant to us.

We've enjoyed the discussions we've had as a family over what we've discovered about the present by reading what happened in the past. There's not a standard mass published textbook used in the curriculum, and the readings have been engaging and enlightening. As an adult it has completely filled in my gaping holes of history. As a public school and state university graduate, the only history I had in classes was Ancient Greece/Rome, the American Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War II. I had all A's and still knew nothing.

Ángel said...

I think I will read a couple of The Iliad's books for homework. It's my all time favorite and a good antidote against some contemporary ideas such as the myth of Progress. Plus the final (and very anticlimactic) book, with Priam and Achilles, always makes me cry out of joy.

fudoshindotcom said...


Thank you very much.

I expect the near term future to remain a comedy of errors degenerating slowly toward a dramatic curtain call.

I've been steadily moving toward a small, simple, self-reliant lifestyle. Survival alone, however, will not satisfy my need for meaning. For that I need to believe I can be of help to other disenfranchised souls.

I can admit that my hope in that regard was waning, so, thank you for reminding me that a small effort correctly applied in the right place can move mountains. I'll keep trying to ferret out these opportunities.

Shane W said...

Offtopic, but I just had a conversation with my mom. She's moving from the Hillary column over to Bernie, and seems to be "feeling the Bern". She has serious doubts about Hillary's ethics. Previously, she's always favored Hillary, and definitely supporter her over Obama in '08. Regarding a Trump/Clinton general election, her words were, "I don't know what I'm going to do", but she's seriously considering pulling the lever for Trump in that case. Granted, this is just one retired, investment class, older white woman, but, geez, if Hillary's support among her base is this shaky, it doesn't bode well for Hillary in the fall.

cracked pot said...

Just finished reading Marcus Aurelius's "Meditations". Assumption #1: The world is never changing. Everything is in constant flux, but nature itself will continue as always. Assumption #2: The purpose of Man is to contribute to society. Assumption #3: Ambition is futile since you're going to die soon anyways and in a short time span nobody will remember you or care about you.

Very interesting book to gain insight into the private thoughts of one of the Roman Empire's greatest rulers, at a point in time when Rome was just beginning to overstretch and start her gradual decay. It's also interesting to note Aurelius's blind spots - despite the picture of a righteous ruler, he still has some unpleasant incidents staining his career, notably the persecution of Christians. Lesson learned - even the most conscientious person will find it difficult to avoid the pitfalls of politics.

JCC said...

"There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"
-- David Foster Wallace

Fred said...

We have Sense & Sensibility as our final reading for the homeschool year, so assuming that "counts" for the homework above.

barrymelius said...

JMG reply>Barrymelius, a real education is always a matter of guiding and enhancing the student's own efforts to learn. I also learnt most of what I know from my own studies, but now and then I've had somebody more experienced to help me aim my studies more effectively and challenge me to think through the consequences more deeply, and the resulting education was better than it would have been if I'd been out there entirely on my own.

Mr. Greer>exactly what I am using you for,gracias. As an aside,the one course from my K16 that I use the most often and think of the most frequently is Latin. The ability to parse new or infrequently seen words is a godsend as is the depth of understanding added to common words.

David said...


Please pardon the rambling. Your comment re my tendency to pass judgment triggered a provocative and frustrating internal conversation this morning and this is an attempt to capture the core of that train(wreck) of thought.

I began by thinking something along the lines of “Of course I judge – if we aren’t analyzing and assessing, then we aren’t existing – cogito ergo sum.” Then I wandered into a familiar conversation re the existence/non-existence of an absolute truth, an absolute reality by which all things can be properly assessed. The fear that I have in allowing that such a thing does not exist is the loss of any frame of reference – the image of tumbling blindly through a black void is what always comes to mind. So I cling to this idea of an absolute reality, which I would correlate to a classical monotheistic deity, though not necessarily sentient (I am reading your “A World Full of Gods” at present and yes, it is provoking many of these same issues).

Next, I thought of your previous post on Burkean Conservatism and the whole empirical approach, as opposed to that of the idealist. Accepting the premise, for the sake of argument, that the ideal of an absolute reality is merely a projection/abstraction of my desire to “solve” the messiness of the myriad subjectivity of existence by invoking a realm of perfection (so to speak), I then fall into a fit of philosophical despair because that would mean that there is no escape, that I am “trapped” in this imperfect, messy reality. (Yes, this is the remnant of the gnostic disdain for material existence that lingers on in my thought. Still working on purging that.)

How can I adopt a framework for assessing my environment knowing that it is not at least an approximation of the “true” framework? (Understanding that even if a “true” framework existed, I could only approach it asymptotically.) But if radically different perspectives are all valid, then the perspectives themselves can have no objective meaning. And if there is no objective meaning, then I am back to tumbling through the void again. Gah!

Zach said...

Dear JMG,

Glad you're finally getting around to the long-promised essays on education.

I just requested "She" by H. Rider Haggard from the library for homework. Coincidentally, just yesterday morning before reading your assignment, I had been listening to a podcast about Frederick Russell Burnham, the American scout who taught Lord Baden-Powell his woodcraft in the Boer War. Burnham was also friends with Haggard, who claimed that Burham's adventures exceeded those of the heroes of his novels!

Thank you for the laugh from "an occasional 500-level seminar on recent Trends in Comparative Onanology."

I have yet to read "A World Full of Gods," but I have a reaction to share anyway. When I saw the description, the thought went through my head "What? A defense of polytheism, in this day and age?!" I got a good laugh at myself over that, since I should know better than to think what day of the week it is has any bearing on the question.

I'm sure you're aware of this, but C. S. Lewis shared your viewpoint. He has a full essay on the benefits of reading old books (see for a snippet) which appeared originally as his introduction to a translation of Athanasius.


Brian Weber said...

I'll suggest the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Might not finish it by next week though.

latefall said...

@JMG "interesting,[...] funding issues -- I'm interested in "where you are, with what you have, right now" options."

Fair enough, I just remember you said you'd appreciate if someone would introduce you to a friendly billionaire. Well this is about as good as I can do. Oh, and is that a singular or plural "you"?

I can also imagine that EscapefromWisconsin would get a kick out of the links/troupe behind them. His support for the time capsule would certainly not hurt either, but I am really not sure if is his cup of tea. Also they did not only do "flying car competitions" but also e.g. vintage bicycles.

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20160527T163849Z

Thanks, Martin B ("5/26/16, 6:50 AM") for Iustorum semita lux splendens. Yes, your syntax is fine. (You had expressed a worry.) A quick check of Google reveals some background - pointers to a couple of schools using this motto, and a reference to the motto source, in the Biblia Vulgata.

I should also remark that all seems to be moving in a good direction with Mr Eric Backos and his local Wizards (his posting timestamped ""5/25/16, 5:04 PM" by the server; and mine in response, "20160526T033129Z" as timestamped in ISO compliance by my workstation, and "5/25/16, 8:54 PM" as timestamped by the ISO-noncompliant server). He and I have done a bit of work on the philological problem through private e-mail. One possible solution now (there may be other solutions) is "Splendeat lux viridis" - "May a green light shine-forth-in-splendour."

Hastily, cheerfully,


Ahavah said...

@Zach and JMG,

Funny, I decided to read a volume I had laying around of H. Rider Haggard novels: Cleopatra, She, King Solomon's Mines, and Alain Quartermain. I just finished "Cleopatra" and am starting "She." (I was not aware this was the origin of the reference to a wife as "She who must be obeyed" in various British sitcoms on BBC.) I chose this book because thought I don't read a lot of nonfiction, but one series I enjoy and have every volume is Elizabeth Peter's Amelia Peabody mysteries (set in the late 1800s and early 1900s Egypt). Frequently, the characters disparaged their adventures as being "something from a Haggard novel" and insinuating Haggard as being an author no person of good breeding and intelligence would read.

Though I enjoyed the story of Cleopatra as he wrote it, it did have some very obvious biases and glaring stereotypes. (The plot twists really aren't so awful as some I have seen in movies today, though.) I am pondering as I start "She" which of my criticisms are valid and which are just mental fluff derived from the post-modern POV, what can be attributed to differences in wealthy class Victorian Culture vs Modern American Culture and what is just Haggard imagining what Eqyptian Culture might have been like under Greek influence...

«Oldest ‹Older   1 – 200 of 321   Newer› Newest»