Monday, July 07, 2008

OLD BUT NOT TO BE FORGOTTEN

Patricia Cohen at the NYT has an article entitled “The ‘60s Begin to Fade as Liberal Professors Retire” (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/03/arts/03camp.html).

She describes a dynamic at work that I’ve described in the general political atmosphere these days: that was then, this is now, so let’s just forget it. The specific site that the article considers is academia. The gist is that the older profs (i.e. the ones whose intellectual formation, such as it was, took place in the ‘60s-era) are now nearing retirement age, and bid fair to take their ‘politics’ with them as they leave the hallowed halls to a younger generation of profs who are not so combative in attitude and not so interested in old “battles”.

There’s something comforting about this, if you’ve got a respect for education. You don’t have to be a musty or feisty old-school curmudgeon to do the math and figure that if hey-hey-ho-ho-Western-Civ-has-got-to-go succeeded, then American society and culture are going to be vines without a trellis. And vines without trellises naturally tend to make not gardens, but jungles.
But even if Western Civ is still a course offering – or … requirement – at a critical mass of higher education facilities, nobody should be relaxing. To see professors at American universities reviled as ‘truth-tellers’ – and by other faculty members, to hear somebody paid as a ‘professor’ say to national news that “facts don’t matter”, as a so-called professor recently brayed at Duke (the Hahvahd of the Bozarts, in its own eyes), is to hear and feel the queasy fragility of tectonic plates that have not at all recovered stability.

In a slick quickie, it is noted that the new generation of profs isn’t interested in “the previous battles already settled”; women’s studies departments and ethnic studies departments are the only ones therein listed. It seems to me that if “facts don’t matter” constitutes a conceptual bedrock of the Intro courses in either or both of those departments, then the ‘battle’ shouldn’t be considered settled any more than the opening of an embassy in the Green Zone means that the war in the East is settled. This is not to demean women or ethnics but merely to point out, as a now-dead white male once observed, himself reflecting an earlier dead male: “A house divided against itself cannot stand”. The profound wisdom of that simple and easily legible sentence is only beginning to become apparent to a Democratic Party trying to forge a party of national unity out of a mélange of balkanized, aggrieved Identities and then trying to blend that impossible brew with a mass of post-industrial white males who – until recently – had been the object of all those Identities’ scorn, derision, active hostility and blame.

No wonder the Democrats would like to forgive and forget. Well, actually, no. To forgive would require that the sins and crimes committed in the service of the Identities over the past few decades be acknowledged and maybe even examined (we’ll charitably leave ‘investigated’ out of it for the moment). To forget violates the stock-in-trade of every Identity and is, no doubt, ‘off the table’. Next best thing: pretend it never happened and let’s just agree to pretend that American history started in 2000 when the admittedly reprehensible Bush and his treacherous crew suddenly invaded our peaceably correct kingdom and hijacked it into other peoples’ business with force and violence. After all, this is precisely what the apparatchiks of the Bushian Reich are doing even now, in a marvelously apt and unrehearsed revival of German officialdom in the Fall of 1944. Ach, vee meant zo vell, and vee embrace ze vundrous bruzzerhoot of alle menschen, ja! Yah.

Worse, under the aegis of the Democratic National Nanny State and the Republican National Security State one unholy hell of a lot of the revolutionary balderdash that fueled those now suddenly quaint revolutions of 40 years ago has been enacted into law. How bad is that? Bad enough that even in the heyday of the Nanny State, the revered Senatorial bloviator Joe Biden defended his support of the Violence Against Women Act’s rather un-American legal innovations: “It may not be good law, but it sends a great message!”. Ja! Yah. You could get away with crap like that then, if you were doing it in a good cause. Rove saw it and it wasn’t lost on that acute if kinda queasy reptilian mind. Cheney saw it and took careful notes for future reference. Bush didn’t see it, but that’s irrelevant.

But stuff like that is still the law of the land – such as it is at this point, and it still forms part of the warp and woof of the public mindset, such as that is at this point.

If the Identities have indeed borrowed the Israeli playbook, then they will now try to move to the next phase in the strategy of ‘facts on the ground’. You grab what you want by force majeure, hang onto it stubbornly in the face of truth, logic, or anything else, while simultaneously stifling any dissenting discussion about what you’ve just done, until folks have generally given up thinking about it, and then you suddenly show up at the table with the thing in your paw as if you’d had it all along and as if it weren’t even a matter for discussion (This old thing, dahlings? Why I’ve had it for ages, simply ages. But let’s not get distracted, dears.) It hasn’t worked as well as might have been hoped in its original venue but that doesn’t appear to give any of our homegrown faculty revolutionaries serious pause. They’re going to try running the play now. And the new kids on the block are so worried just to get a job and keep it that there’s a good chance the play will work. For a while, anyhow.

And anyhoo, there remains yet another .. ummm .. dynamic aspect to this thing. Once the Wave is allowed to begin receding, folks may well start looking at it more carefully. And certain other folks could get into trouble for what they did when it looked like the Wave was going to be cresting along for a long long time. We recall those old newsreels of village Party bosses standing in front of British tribunals in Italy as the Allies worked their way up the boot (the really big Party bosses simply threw Mussolini under the bus and declared themselves ready to serve – lead, preferably – the ‘new’ Italy); we recall the renewed interest in Argentina among certain of the German elite, sneered at by the even more uber-males who opined that “fifty years from now they’ll be putting up statues of us!”. Ja! History will judge. Yah. It will. It is, even now.

So then, a lot of careers and reputations were made in – may we? – the Time of the Revolutions – as a result of things that certain folks would rather not become public knowledge. To hell with the sex-offender registries! There are bigger fish to fry. How many Iraqi ‘minors’ are dead now, their last traumatic memory not repressed but burned forever into their minds, and into the mind of God? Now that’s a fact that might matter.

So let’s not be too quick to erase the national memory yet again. You don’t need to recover what you didn’t repress to begin with. That’s good news.

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