George Melillo replies to me replying to Arch:
>>>You can't make schools teach things that the elected representatives
>>>of the people do not support. It amounts to saying: the People should
>>>not control Education. ...
>>It seems to me that you're opening a door you don't want to open.
>It seems that you, Steve, are missing the thrust of Archimedes' comments.
>Archimedes is saying: if you want to hold education to standards
>independent of majority rule, you are effectively saying that you don't
>want the "People" to control education. Though it is a little unclear,
>Archimedes seems willing to bite the bullet, so no doors have been opened.
Arch struck me as a bit ambivalent.
>Pointing out that one consequence of your beliefs looks unpleasant need
>not imply that you should abandon your beliefs.
>By the way, I hope it is obvious that you're not a snob if you have
>the good sense to hold your beliefs independent of their popularity, or
>if you disagree with what most people believe everyone believes (notice
>the qualification). If you are perceived as showing contempt for others,
>as well as offering as a justification for that contempt superficial
>analyses of the perspective of others, *and* you happen to ally yourself
>with a tradition that has a history of being defended as the sole province
>and also the cultural bludgeon of the intellectual, political, and
>economic elite - well, you will be accused, rightly, of snobbery.
Well, unfortunately, while I don't have contempt, I do have a kind of
patronizing pity, mostly for those who close themselves off without
giving things a decent chance. I don't like it about myself, but there
it is. On the other hand, those on the other side of the divide often
insist on seeing my likes as pure snobbery, that the only reason I listen
to or read or watch certain works of art is because I want to feel
superior. What they fail to realize is that it's not about them.
>People complain about the anti-intellectual vein in American culture,
>but I've never had a problem explaining my love for classical music on
>the bus or in the street. Maybe that's because the ordinary person knows
>full well how to tell someone with class prejudice from someone who reads
>the New York Times or listens to Stravinsky.
It also may be that you're a good teacher. You're not dismayed by
resistance. Unfortunately, I am. I can't think of a reason why anybody
other than me and statistical oddballs like me would listen to Stravinsky.
To me, there's no essential difference in the basic attraction Stravinsky
holds for me as Ashley Simpson holds for an Ashley Simpson fan. It is
so basic I can't begin to analyze it. I don't say it's a matter of
superior intelligence, because intelligence hardly enters into it in my
case. For some reason, undoubtedly the sum of my experience, some music
goes in and stays in and other music either refuses to go in or goes in
all too quickly and leaves.
>In fact, I find that most people still have an instinctive
>(and unwarranted) respect for people who have some familiarity with
>culture. That is, not only do I think that the anti-intellectualism and
>general ignorance of people is blown out of proportion and misinterpreted,
What country do you live in, again? Hell, I hear anti-intellectualism
even among intellectuals in mine. I hear it all across the educational
spectrum. And, of course, the bar for "intellectual" seems to be rather
low. I see very few people the calibre of Jacques Barzun, Mortimer
Adler, George Steiner, Robert Coles, Hannah Arendt, or Noam Chomsky
about. I listen to governmental advisors and get embarrassed. I happened
to mention Thucydides in a political conversation and people all of the
sudden thought I was a genius. *That* embarrassed me.
>I still think that cultured people retain a magical aura that they just
Exactly. But that's not a valid goal of pursuing culture. You want to
know the first-rate (and to get to the first-rate you have to wade through
a lot of stuff, which is not in itself a bad thing) because you want to
learn something, not just about the subject at hand, but also ultimately
>I can give an example. I taught philosophy for two years in Texas.
>When we read the Euthyphro in our intro class, my students instinctively
>reacted against the obvious lack of piety in Socrates' reasoning. I
>remember one student breaking into tears. It wasn't easy. During one
>class my students spontaneously asked me what sort of movies I watched,
>and added that I probably didn't like "entertainment." Those of you who
>have taught will recognize the way students play with and test their
>instructors, though this incident also had a certain element of respect
>to it: they were simply confirming whether I, like the rest of their
>teachers, existed at an unreachable height. The group had formed a
>reasonable hypothesis that reflected their social experience and was
>testing it. "No," I told them, "there is nothing wrong with being
>entertained, so long as entertainment doesn't crowd out other important
>aspects of life." The tension evaporated and I passed the test.
I sometimes get this as well from people I talk to. I also like
entertainment. In fact, I often enjoy outright trash. But this confession
doesn't seem to buy me any slack. And do you notice how often my side
is expected to defend its tastes, while those on the mass-market side
of things get a relatively free ride? To me, it's snobbery to assume
that everybody should like what more people like, an assumption that
one's receptors "work right" and others' do not. It happens on both
sides of the argument, I admit.
>once, instead of puffing himself up and making others feel stupid,
>somebody at the front of the room had admitted the obvious. What did
>my class think of me? They made it perfectly clear time and again. Was
>I smart? Yup, and my students knew it. Was I a snob? Well, in this one
>case I had avoided that little moral danger. They knew that too. In
>this respect they seem to have been our superiors, because they had
>pretty easily mastered that distinction. And these are people who may
>just want to see creation science in their schools.
Would you favor giving it to them, at public expense?
>So, I don't know, maybe people don't persecute us for our intellect.
>Maybe the sullen, stiff (profound?) person who doesn't know how to dance
>to Brittany is misinterpreting the vibes of the good-natured people
>enjoying the party, and at the right time and place, treated with respect,
>the party-goers are more than willing to talk about "what matters," or
>maybe even to listen to some new and difficult music...
I've got very little against people enjoying themselves. Hell, as I've
said, I don't stick around if I'm not having a good time. However, I
think we're starting to confuse things - or perhaps they were already
confused. I'm talking about something more than "like what you like."
I'm talking about consequences of letting education slide because certain
things are difficult. I may not care for the music of George Perle (and
I don't), but I don't say that I shouldn't do my best to understand it.
I may never understand Aristotle or Aquinas, but grappling with them
sharpens what wits I have. When someone tells me - just to take a random
example - and the entire United Nations that there's a link between the
government of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden and, even with a
PowerPoint presentation, fails to specify that link, I want to be able
to construct the argument, pick out the holes, and not get lost in the
pretty pictures. I want to know exactly what crises the Social Security
system faces, not rely on the sound bites or the junior-high handouts
from one side or the other. We seem on the whole to be going down to
the Galloping Dumbs and mainly because actually knowing something is
either too much work or a sign of moral failure and out-of-touchness
with the Divine Image.