Wednesday, June 14

Satan Exalted

My brief and unsuccessful search for a wingnut comment on Bush's Iraq trip took me to the long sermon on a hot Sunday morning that is Time's one and only Blog of Some Year Awhile Back. Paul "Zeppo" Mirengoff:
Dartmouth students read Paradise Lost , so we learned about Satan. By contrast, it’s my understanding that today you can be an English major at Dartmouth without ever having to read Milton.

Oh, it's worse than that. Many students no longer wear jerkins, even in cold weather. Actually, it's just that you can test out of Milton if you prove you've listened to both sides* of Thick As A Brick.
Most Dartmouth students of my generation, and all History majors, studied the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, the Black Death, the Reformation, the Napoleonic wars, and the appeasement of Hitler. By contrast, next week, my daughter will graduate from a well-regarded college with history as one of her majors without having taken a course that studies any period before approximately 1700. As a result, her less than traditional college education has not afforded her the same opportunity to become a serious adult that my traditional education afforded me.

Sounds like bad parenting and lazy student syndrome to me, Paul. What was stopping her? One other thing: just how old are you? (I checked: b. 1949.) Because if you're old enough to have had your first four semesters of college dictated to you you're old enough to know a) that at the time there were old farts like yourself complaining that you didn't have to spend six months on the ablative absolute; and b) you're old enough to have realized that all those brilliant insights on Life Itself garnered from your study of the Black Death and the appeasement of Hitler have fallen somewhat short of All You Need To Know in recent years.
And the decline in the seriousness of our education is leading to a decline in the seriousness of our politics. A while back, Secretary of State Rice caused a huge uproar when she suggested that our military has made thousands of tactical mistakes in Iraq. Some viewed this with glee as an attack on Secretary Defense Rumsfeld. Nothing excites folks in Washington as much as a breach in the solidarity of an administration, especially a Republican administration. Others viewed it as damning criticism of the war. But to anyone with a sense of history and a sense of what it means to fight a war, Rice had uttered little more than a truism. In warfare, if any military makes 2,000 difficult tactical decisions, approximately 1,000 of them will be mistakes.

But America doesn’t know this anymore. It doesn’t know what warfare is because it hasn’t received a traditional education, which is to say that it hasn’t received a true adult education. Hence, our discourse is plagued by an astonishing lack of maturity. And by the way, that immaturity does not exist exclusively on the left. However, anyone who wants to witness it in its purest form is invited to spend half an hour on the liberal side of the blogosphere.

Well, they're all welcome to come here if they wipe their shoes first and hold all their replies to words of less than four syllables. You know, now you mention it, that is the thing that irritates me about the Right Blogosphere: too many classical references I don't get.

I guess one thing we can deduce (deduce--see, I did pay attention in Philosophy 101!) from the above is that the great heft of the undergrad course load at Dartmouth in the early 70s left no time to learn how to cite. "Huge uproar?" Where? If there was much reaction at all it was a) in the media, and we'll stipulate they're largely ignorant--please don't make us watch that Paris Hilton fender-bender video again--and b) it came about not over some unlettered confusion of the distinction between tactics and strategy, but because nobody in the Bush administration had admitted to so much as a bobble to that point. And the triteness of Rice's utterance sorta raises the question of why she tried to backpedal the next day.

A "decline in the seriousness of our politics"? Hey, that's rich, coming from the party of Clinton cock-sniffing and Algore inventing the Internet. And it's a little shocking that someone so well trained in history could have forgotten the uproar over Jimmy Carter uttering the word "malaise", or Jerry Ford "forgetting" about the Soviet Union, or FDR stealing stamps. Hell, ask your daughter to tell you about the election of 1800--it's on her syllabus.

But let's forget politics for the nonce. I want to hear more about Milton, about how the ultimate expression of style over substance in English letters came to inspire Powerline, a blog which exhibts neither.

*Some days I don't even try to hide my age.


Anonymous said...

Doghouse writes: Some days I don't even try to hide my age.

I suspect Gerald Bostock, who turns 42 this year, and hasn't written shit since his famous 1972 epic poem, might feel much the same way.

Meanwhile, the St Cleve fennel team still suffers the effects of the "Bostock Curse," and has now gone 34 years without making it to the playoffs.

Anonymous said...

A "decline in the seriousness of our politics"?

Two words: "Freedom Fries."