September 2, 2006

HE THAT INCREASETH KNOWLEDGE INCREASETH SORROW

On hate and drills (George Jonas, The National Post, September 2nd, 2006)

As hate goes mainstream, it turns into pride. It begins to brush its clothes and clean its fingernails. The spruced-up envelopes, improved spelling and, most of all, the signatures and return addresses adorning my recent hate correspondence indicate that anti-Semitism is becoming socially respectable.

That's bad news. While anti-Semitic outbursts come in unsigned letters, written in the sloping scrawl of the demented, there's room for optimism. Anti-Semitism is just a backwater. It's becoming extinct. But when the same letters start arriving in neatly typed envelopes, flawlessly spelled, with return addresses carefully affixed, watch out.

Do anti-Semites spell better because they're becoming more literate? That would be bad enough, but reality is worse: It seems more and more literate people are becoming anti-Semites. Do anti-Semites sign their names because they're becoming more daring? That, too, would be bad enough, but reality is worse: It no longer requires daring to be anti-Semitic.

During the 1960s and 1970s anti-Semitism was largely the fallacy of the uneducated. The fallacy of the educated was anti-capitalism. Illiterate people of irrational impulses tended to be neo-Nazis; literate people of irrational impulses tended to be New Lefties. Why are educated people becoming anti-Semitic in greater numbers? Because our universities, those ever-reliable hotbeds of error and terror, have replaced anti-capitalism with anti-colonialism (read anti-anti-Islamism) as their favourite fad.

I'm not sure what mankind would have lost if we had done away with universities in, say, 1900. We would have missed a great deal, no doubt, in chemistry and medicine, but we would also have been spared nuclear weapons. We would almost certainly have been spared social Darwinism, fascism, Marxism, Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, nationalism, socialism, National-Socialism, Khomeinism, extreme irredentism and separatism, militant feminism, eco-fascism and political correctness. With no Sorbonnes, Heidelbergs, Berkeleys, Cambridges, U of Ts or American Universities of Beirut to spread and nurture them, demented ideologies couldn't have spawned the terrorists and suicide bombers of ETA, PETA, the IRA, the Tamil Tigers, Hamas, Hezbollah, Abu Nidal, Osama bin Laden -- to mention just a few. On balance, we might have been better off.

No wonder God had this thing about the tree of knowledge.

Oh well, we can always just slip away from all this madness and watch a good movie.

More.

Posted by Peter Burnet at September 2, 2006 8:12 AM
Comments

No Nazis without universities? Yes, we all know that Adolf Hitler had an illustrious academic career before he entered politics.

The author takes a good premise but follows it to it's absurd extreme. As he duly noted, anti-Semitism was once the province of the illiterate commoner. Which is why Naziism arose as a populist movement, not an academic fad. There were willing followers here in the States in the 1930s, and they didn't come from the campuses, but from the rural towns and farms.

Give me a break!

Posted by: Robert Duquette at September 2, 2006 11:31 AM

Robert, note that his list included:

Fascism, Communism, Maoism and feminism as EVIL.

I'd be willing to nuke universities just to be rid of Che t-shirts.

Posted by: Randall Voth at September 3, 2006 5:22 AM

Robert:

You should reflect before you vent. While modern rationalist thinking would have us believe that things like racism and anti-semitism just combust spontaneously in grainfields and factories while scholars are all preaching moderation and tolerance in faculty clubs, the fact is that extremisms have all generally been born in universities. Nazism literally swept through German universities and provided Hitler with both a base, intellectual and scientific legitimacy, and an important political catalyst.

Anti-Semitism was not unknown in the first millenium, but it really got going in Europe at the time universities were founded. Its expression within Christian theology dovetailed with the period when theology was a main intellectual focus of European universities and it waned when scholars turned to other matters, even though ordinary folks remained very pious. It resurfaced in the late 19th century (Dreyfus to Hitler)when Judaism was expressed, not as a threat to Christianity, but as a cabal controlling international finance and ripping everybody off. This was the same time that universities were swept by socialism. Today the concern is the Isalmicist threat and oil. Do you think it is the farmers of Iowa and autoworkers of Detroit who are musing darkly about neo-con influence in Washington?

There is a definite correlation between extremist intellectual ferment in universities and the behaviour of the mobs in the stree, who are often carrying student cards.

Posted by: Peter B at September 3, 2006 5:49 AM

So you are conceding the point that universities were founded for religious purposes so that the Christian church could further its knowledge of God and His word. So the learned from early Christendom gathered to study the Bible and thereby invented anti-Semitism, but it had nothing to do with the Bible itself or the flaws of human nature or the prejudices of religious leaders towards those who would reject their authority, it was about the University. Something about creating a center for learning just brings out wacky ideas that would otherwise have no fertile ground to germinate, right?

It is as silly to blame bad ideas on universities as to blame bad airplanes on factories. Let's let the common folk, with their no-nonsense, practical outlook assemble jumbo jets in their garages and whip out governance theories at the dinner table. Just don't let them near a building whose purpose is to specialize in those activities. Once they specialize in learning or advanced manufacture then we all know that their minds will be corrupted and only bad things will arise therefrom.

The whole premise is goofy. Without universities we wouldn't be a civilization, we'd be some indigenous tribe eating roots and hunting some wild ancestor of the cow. Bad political ideas don't arise in a cultural vacuum, they articulate the human passions, prejudices and discontents of their age. They only spread where there is fertile cultural ground to receive them. Naziism was too extreme for most or American society, but it did resonate with certain pockets of the populace, and not just students.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at September 3, 2006 8:45 AM

Aha. Still so anxious to fight the battles of the 14th century that you won't see what is going on around you, eh? The argument, much discussed here, is that the unbridled, unchecked intellectualization of any political doctrine leads to a violent, dangerous mess and that the locus of that is often the university. As pre-17th century society defended the exercise of temporal power in religious terms (much as American foreign policy today is almost always expressed in the language of freedom), sure Christianity was used and abused. Did you think anyone ever argued there was no connection between religion and pogroms in medieval Europe?

But if you persist in holding on to your fairy tale about how anti-Semitism is all the fault of Christianity and wouldn't exist without it, perhaps you can explain what is going on on our campus' today. See a lot of papal forces gathering there, do you?

As I have far too much respect for your intellectual acumen to believe you could possibly have intended us to take your remark about airplanes seriously, I will do you the honour of not taking it seriously.

Posted by: Peter B at September 3, 2006 9:13 AM

Peter,
The airplane remark was unserious, just to show how unserious is the author's simplistic blaming of the university for all the disastrous political movements of the 20th century.

So what is the whole point? Do we disestablish all universities? The real culprit is human nature, not higher learning. Guns and universities don't kill people, people kill people. Higher learning just allows us to layer more sophisticated excuses upon our urge to kill our neighbors, it doesn't create the urge. With higher learning we kill him because he is an capitalist imperialist trying to impose his system of class oppression upon us. Without higher learning we kill him because he looks and talks differently and covets our women and cattle.

I only mentioned the medieval church because you introduced it as evidence, counselor. Certainly you didn't think I would not cross-examine it, did you?

Posted by: Robert Duquette at September 3, 2006 9:40 AM

Well, for one thing we could start challenging the very, very tired cant about truth always willing out of unrestrained debate and that universities are sacred ground where nobody is ever accountable for whatever bile they spew--not students to professors or professors to regents. I am very mindful of the dangers involved in such a challenge. Having much more faith in the common sense of the average American or Canadian and in his/her appreciation of what free speech actually should be than of most of the dangerous idiots in academia, I'll risk them.

...universities don't kill people, people kill people

Are you trying to get a job with the ACLU? I dunno, Robert, but maybe if you tried to set it to music.

Posted by: Peter B at September 3, 2006 10:35 AM

Well, for one thing we could start challenging the very, very tired cant about truth always willing out of unrestrained debate and that universities are sacred ground where nobody is ever accountable for whatever bile they spew

You won't get any argument from me on that one. But that wan'nt the gist of the author's argument, was it? As for the common sense of the sturdy yeoman commoner, I reserve my right to hold him in contempt for those instances when he falls for the dumbed-down version of the latest political theory to tickle his sturdy yeoman ego. But its not like political stupidity needs a firm theoretical basis in order to wreak havoc.

You religious conservatives really need to practice what you preach. Where is all this "Man is fallen" talk when you're putting the common man up on a pedestal? Conservatism used to take the exact opposite view. The comon man was a rudderless simpleton who would destroy the orderly hierarchy of society if given a vote in how to run things. That is why we were founded as a republic, not an outright democracy. Now you're all anti-aristocrats painting sepia-toned icons of the wise, balanced, commonsensical prole, and the effete, corrupt, arrogant, narcissistic, college educated elite that actually runs things.

It would make a good beer commercial, though.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at September 3, 2006 11:03 AM

How could anti-Semitism have ever been a grassroots movement? Sturdy yeoman commoners were ignorant of anything more than a few miles from their homes. Everything they knew was told to them by the clergy or the gentry who easily diverted their anger at unfair treatment to the hapless Jews in the community who were as powerless as they.

The church had no need of universities, they controlled all thought, so it seems reasonable that universities were created as an alternate to the influence of the church.

Then as now, before we can debate issues, we must first agree on the facts. Liberals, well educated or not, only know what they read in the papers and therein lies the problem.

Posted by: erp at September 3, 2006 1:02 PM

Robert:

That's not an unfair question, but I don't think it allows for a theoretical answer that applies in all cases. Sometimes the "common man" is a threat. Not today.

erp:

they controlled all thought. That's the source of a lot of misunderstanding. The modern mind has a hard time seeing medieval popes as other than Stalins during the 1930's. Not only did the Church not control all thought, they couldn't even control all thought within the Church, which is why heresies were always popping up. The history of that period is a constant tension between Popes and princes, Rome and bishops, feudal courts and ecclestiastical courts, etc.

About two years ago I linked some of the ranting secularists around here to several medieval papal bulls and letters demanding that Jews be left alone and not harmed. I hoped it would persuade them that drawing straight lines between anti-Semitism and the Church was a gross distortion and that they should probe a little deeper on the subject. I know, I know, but hey, I was young and naive.

Posted by: Peter B at September 3, 2006 2:36 PM
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