Martin Buber on fate and freedom

From I and Thou (Kaufmann translation):

Fate and freedom are promised to each other. . . . this free human being encounters fate as the counter-image of his freedom. It is not his limit but his completion; freedom and fate embrace each other to form meaning; and given meaning, fatewith its eyes, hitherto severe, suddenly full of lightlooks like grace itself. (p. 102)


Social scientist Tom Nichols on the extreme peril of The Death of Expertise

From Tom Nichols’s recent book The Death of Expertise:

A modern society cannot function without a social division of labor and a reliance on experts, professionals, and intellectuals. . . . We prosper because we specialize, and because we develop both formal and informal mechanisms and practices that allow us to trust each other in those specializations. (p. 14)

However, we face a growing insurrectionary sociocultural attitude:

the bigger problem is that we’re proud of not knowing things. Americans have reached a point where ignorance, especially of anything related to public policy, is an actual virtue. To reject the advice of experts is to assert autonomy, a way for Americans to insulate their increasingly fragile egos from ever being told they’re wrong about anything. . . . All things are knowable and every opinion on on any subject is as good as any other. (p. x)

The implications are grave:

It might even be too kind to call this merely ‘anti-rational’; it is almost reverse evolution, away from tested knowledge and wisdom, and backward toward folk wisdom and myths passed by word of mouth—except with all of it now sent along at the speed of electrons. . . . especially when the public appetite for escape is easily fed by any number of leisure industries. (p. 217)

The ultimate danger:

when democracy is understood as an unending demand for unearned respect for unfounded opinions, anything and everything become possible, including the end of democracy and republican government itself. (p. 238)


Psychologist Jean Twenge on the afflictions of iGen

Jean Twenge, co-author (with W. Keith Campbell) of The Narcissism Epidemic, reports the results of her most recent research on problematic cultural changes:

Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states. The gentle slopes of the line graphs became steep mountains and sheer cliffs, and many of the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial generation began to disappear. In all my analyses of generational data—some reaching back to the 1930s—I had never seen anything like it. . . . The experiences they have every day are radically different from those of the generation that came of age just a few years before them.

Different does not necessarily mean worse, so what is her concern?

Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.


The results could not be clearer: Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy. There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness.

Twenge’s forthcoming book is titled iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood—and What That Means for the Rest of Us.



The contemporary university: “Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia”

James Compton, President of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, on the entrenched administrative ethos of perennial budget cuts:

In each case the dry calculus of utilitarianism is offered to suggest nothing can be done, except encourage troubled academic units to reimagine themselves in ways that might make themselves more competitive. This is the language of Responsibility Centered Management, a popular form of managerialism, . . . that overlays a utilitarian cost-benefit framework over all problems and discussions.

This attitude, which presupposes and exacerbates forgetfulness, is both a reflection and a cause of cultural decline and self-destruction. What, after all, is the point of academies of higher learning?

Allowing arts and humanities programs to cannibalize themselves is not the answer. Without their wisdom we cease to be a university.


Of “Public Weal and Private Honor”

Rollo May in Freedom and Destiny (p. 6):

In this time of the disintegration of concern for public weal and private honor, in this time of the demise of values, our recovery — if we are to achieve it — must be based on our coming to terms with this source of all values: freedom.

The new cultural and moral dark age is, then, ameliorable only through a witting re-appropriation of our basic openness to things. Our heedless and crippling indulgence of satisfyingly narrow interpretations precludes the “higher harmonies” (p. 242) of metaphysical coalescence.


Kingwell: “A populist wake-up call for universities”

Philosopher Mark Kingwell in Academic Matters:

We are losing when it comes to reason and critical intelligence and civility. We are losing when it comes to the basic justification of what we [academics] do. We are losing on defending universities as forces for good.

The university is a public or collective good, not just a good for the (too often careerist) individual “users” of the system. At the extreme, an utterly corrosive consumerism takes hold.

I will say it again: it is despicable to enjoy the fruits of academic success and not feel a profound sense of obligation. People who exist outside our bubble feel this too: hence the anger, the contempt, the disdain—and, maybe worst of all, the indifference. Still, we are all citizens together, and the world of the university is as real as anything else that transpires here in the sublunary realm. There is a call to community audible underneath all the hostility.

As a specialized culture within the larger body politic, the university, whatever its shortcomings, supports the long-term welfare and betterment of the broader society that sustains it.

Fair Employment Week 2016

[boilerplate from WUFA]

Happy Fair Employment Week!

Students, I am writing to encourage you to become involved/engaged in CAUT’s 2016 Fair Employment Week (Oct. 24th-28th). 

WUFA will be holding a Fair Employment Booth 

Where: CAW Centre (In front of the bookstore kiosk).

When: Thursday Oct. 27th (10am-1pm)

Why: Advocate for good academic jobs on our campus

There will be: cake, coffee, buttons, and postcards to share. Hope to see you tomorrow

How can you contribute?

Sign these pledges:—sign-a-pledge-of-solidarity

1) Utilize social media (Facebook/twitter) to engage with the campaign, promote our event, and facilitate public conversation.

2) Visit our booth–bring friends, and invite your friends/fellow students to do the same.

Please Note: even if you can only visit the booth for a quick photo to post to your networks–this advocacy is incredibly important, so please do stop by. 

Here are some additional resources:

“Whatever Happened to High Culture?”

Author and academic Joseph Epstein writes: “The English philosopher Michael Oakeshott notes that one of the signs of being cultured is that one knows what one doesn’t have to know.” (We shall, naturally, exclude sports scores and the like from consideration here.) What, then, should a cultured person know? The better question, Epstein offers, is what cultured persons were once expected to know: “Contemporary visual art, perhaps for the first time in the history of painting and sculpture, is one of those things a cultured person no longer has to know.”

Epstein as professor remarks upon the understandable initial lack of cultural and intellectual knowledge on the part of his past students: “My sense is that these students were, as I hoped they would be, as I myself as an undergraduate was, properly cowed by their own ignorance.” What of our contemporary cultural condition? Are we willing to learn, remember, and recollect? If “the art of the past—visual, musical, above all literary—is the chief route to culture”, where do we stand culturally?

I’m not sure that this same exercise would be of much avail today. Now students need merely pick up their smartphones and Google the names on my list. I’m less than sure that culture, and the notion of being a cultured person, has anything like the high standing it once had. Might most people today rather be well informed than cultured? What was once a high human aspiration—the possession of culture—may no longer be so.

Though we are ambitious, we no longer aspire. We do not want to work, in the broadest and deepest sense:

Among those of us fortunate enough to have grasped its significance, high culture took us out of our small worlds into a larger universe where human possibilities were immensely enlarged. But now high culture, once thought to be not the shortest but the surest way to the good life, is no longer the main quest in artistic or intellectual life, having been not so much defeated as replaced by noise, nervous energy, sheer distraction.

The future, then?

No longer a continuing enterprise, high culture itself will become dead-ended, a curiosity, little more, and thus over time likely to die out. Life will go on. Machines will grow smarter, human beings gradually dumber.

A veridical presage, I would say.

The whole article.