Let Others Rail...
Two recent essays, in the very different sources of The New Republic and The New Criterion, say many of the same things about the state of the humanities and humanism in contemporary, dare I call it, culture. I recommend them, and in some ways wish I had written them myself. But I would only offer, vis-à-vis the arts, that the same utilitarian mentality that seems to be driving our universities, public policy, and even philosophy (how often is an intellectual position justified on the basis of its utility?) is just as prevalent in the arts, where the mechanics of realism and the coding of urbanism substitute for the richer culture of art and building we once had (albeit centuries ago).
"Perhaps Culture is Now the Counterculture"
A Defense of the Humanities
by Leon Wieseltier | May 28, 2013
For decades now in America we have been witnessing a steady and sickening denigration of humanistic understanding and humanistic method. We live in a society inebriated by technology, and happily, even giddily governed by the values of utility, speed, efficiency, and convenience. The technological mentality that has become the American worldview instructs us to prefer practical questions to questions of meaning – to ask of things not if they are true or false, or good or evil, but how they work. Our reason has become an instrumental reason, and is no longer the reason of the philosophers, with its ancient magnitude of intellectual ambition, its belief that the proper subjects of human thought are the largest subjects, and that the mind, in one way or another, can penetrate to the very principles of natural life and human life….
Ave atque vale
by Donald Kagan
I find a kind of cultural void, an ignorance of the past, a sense of rootlessness and aimlessness, as though not only the students but also the world was born yesterday, a feeling that they are attached to the society in which they live only incidentally and accidentally. Having little or no sense of the human experience through the ages, of what has been tried, of what has succeeded and what has failed, of what is the price of cherishing some values as opposed to others, or of how values relate to one another, they leap from acting as though anything is possible, without cost, to despairing that nothing is possible. They are inclined to see other people’s values as mere prejudices, one no better than another, while viewing their own as entirely valid, for they see themselves as autonomous entities entitled to be free from interference by society and from obligation to it….