Thursday, October 14, 2010

Stanley Fish is Craven and Unashamed

I try to concentrate on the up-building at The Gruntled Center, but today I have to offer a criticism of a fellow professor.

Stanley Fish is an English professor and a famous critic of the Western canon of what is best to teach in English and related fields. He recently wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times about the "crisis of the humanities," sparked by the decision of the State University of New York at Albany to abolish their French, Italian, Russian, classics, and theater departments. Fish recognizes that SUNY's conclusion that the humanities are not really necessary is, in part, the fruit if radical criticism like his. And yet Fish still opposes SUNY's decision. Why? I will let him explain:

I have always had trouble believing in the high-minded case for a core curriculum — that it preserves and transmits the best that has been thought and said — but I believe fully in the core curriculum as a device of employment for me and my fellow humanists.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Professional Parents Spend More Time With Their Kids Than Working Class Parents Do

I am working through Margaret K. Nelson, Parenting Out of Control: Parents in Anxious Times. She contrasts parents in the professional middle class (professional and management jobs, post-college education) with parents in the working class (blue collar and lower white collar jobs, less than college graduate education).

The professional middle class parents of the title, who are the intensive "helicopter parents," spend more time with their children, even though both mothers and fathers are likely to work outside the home, and work long hours. Even the at-home moms in both classes, though, show the same kind of imbalance.

Here are the time ratios:

Professional to Working Class at-home moms: 1.55: 1

Professional to Working Class working moms: 1.72: 1

Professional to Working Class dads: 2.16:1

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Men's and Women's Positions in Society Will Never Be Equally Distributed

The New York Times has an article on women in France entitled "Where Having It All Doesn't Mean Having Equality."

I believe you could write an article with this title every year, in every country, in perpetuity. The idea that if women have equal opportunities with men that will result in equal outcomes is just false. Men and women, as a group, have different preferences. In a free society, they should be allowed, indeed, should be encouraged, to make the choices they want to. It is not merely wrong to expect that men and women will be equally represented in every position in society. It is oppressive to try to make the results come out equally.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Why Conspiracy Theories and Ignorance are Connected

It is easier to "connect the dots" if you don't have many dots.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Hermeneutics of Suspicion Creates the Disenchanted World

We have been studying dour old Max Weber. Unlike many early sociologists, he was not an atheist. But he was, as he famously wrote, "religiously unmusical."

The driving principle of modernity, he argued, was the relentless rationalization of all institutions and practices, including religion. He thought the world was "disenchanted," that moderns found it hard to hold on to a belief that there were personal, unrationalized forces lying behind this world, guiding it.

When I look at the survey research, more than a century later, I find that most people have no trouble believing in God and a whole array of quite personal and unrationalized forces. Yet it is a central myth of intellectuals that secularization is inevitable as people make the world more rationally ordered.

The gap between the intellectuals' personal disenchantment and their faith that everyone will eventually follow is filled, I think, by the doctrine of "the hermeneutics of suspicion." Paul Ricouer developed this approach on the model of Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud. He articulated what is, I believe, a common notion among intellectuals that what most people believe should not be believed. Instead, we should look for a reality underneath the surface reality. This, on the face of it, is exactly what religious people say.

The difference is that religious people believe God is under the surface appearance of this world, guiding it in a mysterious way on a positive and meaningful path. The suspicious intellectuals believe that material self-seeking is under the surface appearance of this world, twisting it in a not-so-mysterious way on a negative and possibly meaningless path. Both are doctrines, beliefs, leaps of faith.

The hermeneutics of suspicion is not an intellectual response to a falsely enchanted world. It is a doctrine that makes a disenchanted world, at least for intellectuals.