Good Books for Civilizational Greatness

Coming from a family with a long history of loving books and valuing true education (not necessarily having anything to do with “school”), I found this essay by William Edmund Fahey interesting.  He writes about great and good books and the effect and importance they have on culture and education:

Our own disorders spring from so much neglect of the real soil of culture: the widely shared canon of good literature and the widely affirmed understanding that there must be goodness in literature, and that such literature should be read aloud within families and by each and every person who dares call himself civilized—before, during, and after their formal education.  Goodness is the soil of greatness.

I do not mean by goodness in literature and good literature that all characters should be plaster statues without depth or real complexity.  No, I mean literature which elicits a clear understanding of what is true, good, and beautiful, because what is light is seen nearby to what is dark.  Enchantment will not work in an imbalanced world of goody-goody mannequins.  The enchantment offered by good literature works because those reading or listening to a tale already know first-hand that life is complex.  We need go no further than Squirrel Nutkin to understand how this very real balance is achieved even in a children’s literature.  Nutkin is, at once, morally flawed and attractive.  No one who encounters Squirrel Nutkin—even one of five years—can fail to miss his conceit, fail to anticipate his demise, or fail to recognize his own fallenness in the impertinent will-to-power of Nutkin.

I will go so far as to say that a reader who has not had his experience nurtured and refined by the likes of Squirrel Nutkin is unlikely to comprehend Thucydides, St. Augustine, or Nietzsche.

Do the Great Books Sustain Wonder and Lead to Morality?

Over the last century, “great books” programs and colleges have fought a valiant battle to keep up the high standard of what it means to be human and civilized.  Sadly, most of the progenitors of these programs neglected or gave little time to thinking about the supporting culture—especially as it touched upon family life and social customs.  Worse still, some of the “great books” proponents thought that by rubbing up against Milton’s Areopagita, or joining in a seminar discussion of Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding, leaders would be born who would create, leaven, and sustain a good society.  Somehow the idea has held steady for decades that an almost sacred encounter with great literature between the ages of 17 and 22 could transcend a hollow and malnourished family life, where little song was heard and none sung.

Yet the great books demand a supporting culture—both before and after and throughout.

Would we place our trust in a man who was well-versed in Nichomachus’s Introduction to Arithmetic or Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, but who could not complete a line of nursery rhyme, who had never slept under the stars with Jim Hawkins, never wanted to rescue the likes of Princess Flavia, never shrunk in horror at the witches of Macbeth, never wept at the death of a bull dog named Jack or sorrowed over the sins of Kristen Lavransdatter?  The one thing a liberal arts or great books education will not do is create a moral imagination where there is none.  Yet somehow many educators believe that reading advanced works and chatting about them will lead to a good society.  It may lead to a well-read society, but that need not be a good one or a happy one.

Fahey goes on to quote John Senior’s article, “The Thousand Good Books:”

The “Great Books” movement of the last generation has not failed so much as fizzled, not because of any defect in the books—“the best that has been thought and said,” in Matthew Arnold’s phrase—but like good champagne in plastic bottles they went flat.  To change the figure, the seeds are good but the cultural soil has been depleted; the seminal ideas of Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, St. Thomas, only properly grow in an imaginative ground saturated with fables, fairy tales, stories, rhymes, adventures, which have developed into the thousand books of Grimm, Andersen, Stevenson, Dickens, Scott, Dumas and the rest. Western tradition, taking all that was best of the Greco-Roman world into herself has given us the thousand good books as a preparation for the great ones and for all the studies in the arts and sciences, without which such studies are inhumane.

Read the rest here, including a list of recommended good books for different ages to read.

(The list looks interesting and makes me feel not nearly well-read enough!)

Why Mother’s Matter… or do they?

 

After reading Vox’s Why Mother’s Matter and the ensuing comments, I’m left feeling not particularly hopeful about the state of affairs between the sexes.  It was the comments not Vox’s post that I found troubling.  A few women dared to post and were pretty much told to shut up, accused of “bitching” and trying to “shame” men (though there were some positive responses).  I thought the women’s responses, mostly agreeing with Vox but just adding their perspective, were reasonable.  In a nutshell: if you expect women to change, to return to more traditional ways and submit to men, you men had better change too.

Vox affirms the importance of mothers, especially full-time mothers, in raising the next generation and being instrumental in fighting the culture war,  but many of the responses were apparently from angry, bitter men who hate women.  Men claim to be the rational, unemotional ones, but often come across as big crybabies and respond quite irrationally (and even emotionally, though it looks different from women’s emotion — newsflash: anger is an emotion too). They claim women are the needy ones, but whine about their needs and how they can’t get what they want out of life.  They feel justified in outlining what women are doing wrong and should change, but get all bent of of shape if a (gasp!) woman notes some ways men should change.  If you want to offer constructive criticism to the opposite sex, fine, but you better be able to take it too.

Our current cultural state, feminism, etc. has ruined things for BOTH sexes.  If you want to restore Western Civilization, stop making the opposite sex your enemy — that’s just playing into the feminist tactic to divide and conquer. Stop crying victim and refusing to recognize that women too are victims in this.  And if you’re a man who says this isn’t true and that men have been the worse victims and that a woman can’t possibly understand what’s it like to be a man in this world today, well, maybe, but what makes you think you have a clue about what it’s like to be a woman now?  There’s a reason men are sterotypically seen as clueless about women.

I’ve recently been thinking about humility and how lack of it contributes to many of the problems in our society and specifically, how it affects women.  Lack of humility leads to women resisting being put in a “lower” position to men and the idea of submitting to or serving a man in any way.  Hierarchy is seen as evil.  Part of this is feminist indoctrination of course, that even the most conservatively raised woman has picked up from the surrounding culture to some extent.  But it also stems from the desire to be special or important (and who doesn’t want to feel this way at least sometimes?).  Everyone seems to want to be a leader, an achiever, to accomplish great things.  No one wants to serve or admit that they’re not as good as someone else.  No one just wants to wash the dishes and change diapers — things that on the surface accomplish nothing of lasting value and have to be done over and over again — and never hear a word of affirmation.

Being told that one is only fit for lowly things isn’t exactly a charming proposition.  Men who reject feminist women and want a meek, little wife, but complain about women as stupid bitches who must be put in their place are idiots.  Who would want to sign up for a life full of drudgery, be considered unimportant, and get to be, not a life-partner or equal companion, but little more than a dumb slave?  You want women to return to traditional ways?  You better make it sound more attractive than the fantasy of power and success held out by feminists.

There has to be a benefit for women to giving up their freedom and independence, and let’s be honest, a woman today is taking as big risk on today’s men as a man is taking on today’s women (statistics aside about women initiating more divorces – they might be the instigator but they’ve just ruined their own lives too).  Pretty much everyone is damaged goods in some way and no one wants to get hurt.  If today’s women have been trained to be over-critical of men and have too-high, unrealistic expectations of men and marriage, today’s men aren’t exactly the most attractive, paragons of virtue either, not exactly the kind of strong men who would inspire life-long devotion and submission.

If you men want to be served and submitted to, you have to offer something in return, and yes that includes fidelity, security, and at least a little affection.  Sensible women will settle for less than perfection (a lot less); they’ll give up ideas of romance or having a soul mate or even a good friend in their spouse — and considering the lies woman have been led to believe, think what a hard pill that is to swallow.  Even for women who aren’t so sensible, is it really all their fault that they’ve been fed a pack of lies all their lives?  There are plenty of women who “wake up” and realize this.  I’d say a little humility on all sides could help, starting with not demonizing the other.

Having the sexes at each other’s throats isn’t the way to ensure the survival of Western Civilization.  Vox is on the right track to recognize the importance of mothers and give them a little credit for the hard work they do.  Some of his commenters however have got it all wrong.  The relationship between the sexes is so messed up I don’t know how to fix it —  but I’m only woman after all, what would I know?

The Collapse of Parenting

If you start to think your own kids are terribly bratty and poorly behaved (which all kids are at times) and that you’re doing a terrible job as a parent (which all good parents sometimes think), just look at examples of how much of society at large is doing things and you’ll feel much better (unless, of course, this IS how you’re parenting and then, well, you’re in trouble).

An example from an interview with Dr. Leonard Sax :

The Associated Press: What exactly do you mean by a collapse of parenting?

Sax: I wrote about an office visit with a 10-year-old boy who is sitting and playing a game on his mobile phone, ignoring me and his mom as I’m talking with his mom about his stomachache. And his mom is describing his stomachache and the boy says, ‘Shut up, mom, you don’t know what you’re talking about.’ And he laughs.

That would have been very unusual in 1990 or 2000. It is now common: children, girls and boys, being disrespectful to parents, being disrespectful to one another, being disrespectful to themselves, verbally and otherwise. The mother did nothing, just looked a little embarrassed. The culture has changed in a profound way in a short period of time in ways that have really harmed kids.

It’s much worse today of course, but I’d say that this sort of thing was getting under way even in the 90s.  I certainly saw examples of this kind of disrespect even back then.

Dr. Sax isn’t the first to conclude that today’s parenting styles/techniques are really harming kids and not helping them grow up to be happy or successful (by any measure). Here’s some of what he thinks parent’s should be doing instead:

AP: What types of things can parents do to help a child or teen become a fulfilled adult?

Sax: The first thing is to teach humility, which is now the most un-American of virtues. When I meet with kids I ask them what they think it is and they literally have no idea. I’ve done that from third grade through 12th grade. The high school kids are more clueless than the third-graders.

They have been indoctrinated in their own awesomeness with no understanding of how this culture of bloated self-esteem leads to resentment. I see it. I see the girl who was told how amazing she was who is now resentful at age 25 because she’s working in a cubicle for a low wage and she’s written two novels and she can’t get an agent.

The second thing is to enjoy the time with your child. Don’t multitask. Get outdoors with your child.

The last thing: Teach the meaning of life. It cannot be just about getting a good job. It’s not just about achievement. It’s about who you are as a human being. You must have an answer.

That first line about humility is spot on.  And it really could be said to be true of virtue in general.  No one cares to teach virtues.  It’s all about me, me, me instead.  It’s not new knowledge that leading a fully self-centered life isn’t going to lead to true or lasting happiness or fulfillment.  How sad that everyone seems to have forgotten that.

Dr. Sax’s recent book looks interesting:

This book cover image released by Basic Books shows, "The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups," by Leonard Sax. Sax, a family physician and psychologist, argues that American families are facing a crisis of authority, where the kids are in charge, out of shape emotionally and physically and suffering because of it. He calls for a reordering of family life in response.

 

Study attacks calling breastfeeding “natural” as unethical

This woman (and of course the people responsible for this “study” – if you can use the term so loosely) may be some of the stupidest, un-educated, and un-scientific people I have encountered.  Right… breastfeeding isn’t natural; it’s natural for dads to feed babies formula; and people didn’t used to rely on breastfeeding they way they do today – it’s some new, phenomenon.  The lack of ability to think is astounding.  The lack of historical or biological knowledge is dumbfounding.  This woman has clearly never been around or even met a real breastfeeding mom.  She thinks “breastfeeding is not beautiful; it’s horrible.”  Tell that to all the happily breastfeeding moms and babies out there, lady.

A Few Spots of Hope

The GOP might be mostly worthless (and possibly traitorous), but we have had a few hopeful developments this week.

Trump Reins in Federal Role in Education, Common Core

President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order doing something unprecedented: establishing as the official policy of the federal government to “protect and preserve State and local control over” our nation’s education system.

You can watch the press conference and official signing of the document online.

President Trump’s executive order also directs U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to review every single regulation, guidance document, or other publication from the U.S. Department of Education to see whether any of them violate laws limiting the federal role in education. The order specifically directs the secretary of education to “rescind or revise” any such regulations or guidance documents “no later than 300 days’ from yesterday…

In recognizing the primacy of these laws [No Child Left Behind & Every Student Succeeds Act], President Trump’s executive order is unique. Past presidents—from both political parties—have often used such directives to increase federal control over various aspects of society, including education. Whenever the federal government increases its role in education, children suffer, as bureaucrats far removed from parents, teachers, and locally elected school boards exert their will over how our students are educated.

The order also singles out the “Common Core State Standards developed under the Common Core State Standards Initiative” as one specific area where state and local control over education has been attacked.

Executive Order Recognizes Religious Freedom

After an eight-year war on faith, President Trump finally called a ceasefire on the conflict started by Barack Obama with an executive order on religious freedom. The measure, which was celebrated in a signing ceremony at the White House, was the fulfillment of one of the most significant promises made by the longshot candidate: “to preserve and protect our religious liberty.” …

Among other things, the directive checks another big box on the White House’s to-do list — lifting the gag order on churches and other nonprofits under the Johnson Amendment. Since the first days of his candidacy, Donald Trump has railed against the 60-year-old piece of tax code that liberals have turned into a club to punish pastors with. For too long, the Left has used the IRS to threaten the charitable status of churches who dared to speak out on the moral issues of the day…

Medical professionals, charities, businesses, and even nuns who’ve suffered under the outrageous mandate of Obamacare will finally have the relief they need to say no to insurance coverage that violates their conscience. After years of court battles, they’ll be free from regulatory harassment of including contraception and abortifacients in their health care plans. But that’s not all the order does. It sets in place a multi-step process that will provide some long-overdue protections by directing the Attorney General Jeff Sessions to develop guidelines for every federal agency to ensure they protect and promote religious freedom. This includes members of our military, who, under the Obama administration, have been systematically silenced and even purged. Men and women like Chaplain Wes Modder (U.S. Navy-Ret.) and Monifa Sterling, who stared down the ends of their careers for their deeply-held beliefs, can finally come out of hiding and live out their faith openly.

Finally, for our friends like Barronelle Stutzman and Don Vander Boon, who’ve suffered for their biblical views on marriage, there’s hope. As President Trump said, “No American should be forced to choose between the dictates of the federal government and the tenets of their faith,” President Trump told those of us gathered in the Rose Garden for today’s ceremony. “We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore,” the president said. “We will never ever stand for religious discrimination.”

And finally one that might not pan out, but here’s hoping…

Republicans Back Pact to Gut Obamacare

By a 217-213 vote, the House advanced the mission the Americans elected them for — defunding the nation’s biggest abortion group and gutting an unsustainable and unconscionable law. Despite almost three months of drama, the GOP managed to pull together a coalition that put the American Health Care Act (AHCA) over the top, fulfilling a major pledge the president’s party has campaigned on since 2010… House leaders have struck a compromise that lowers premiums, boosts freedom, and protects taxpayers and the unborn.

Today’s win was a long time coming for pro-lifers, who watched with revulsion every David Daleiden video detailing the horrors of Cecile Richards’s group. For once, the moral injustice done to taxpayers has a voice: Congress’s. There was the usual phony panic from Planned Parenthood, which insisted that if Congress didn’t send them their usual half-billion taxpayer dollars, women’s health care would cease to exist. (What they didn’t mention is that the money would be redirected to thousands of local health clinics — which, incidentally, haven’t been referred for criminal prosecution.) Not surprisingly, they’ve called the effort to defund their organization a “national scandal.” But honestly, the only real scandal is that America has been funding the group as long as it has!

Let’s hope the Senate follows quickly in the House’s footsteps and sends the AHCA to the desk of the pro-life president we’ve been waiting for. It’s time for Donald Trump to make history and bring our nation closer to the day when all human life is protected under law.

 

Is old film the answer to forming our children’s imaginations?

Anthony Esolen thinks so.  Our children need not just our example or direct teaching to form their imagination and moral sense, but good art, including film.  If it isn’t explicitly religious or moralizing, all the better.

Why the Miley Cyrus generation needs the old movies…urgently:

For I find this black mark impinge the man,
   
That he believes in just the vile of life.
   
Low instinct, base pretension, are these truth?
                   
– Robert Browning, from The Ring and the Book

…we should welcome our allies wherever we may find them, particularly among the creators of films that celebrate marriage and innocent life, piety and faithfulness, before such things became controversial. The unconscious witness of people who are not party to our current confusion can be most powerful indeed. A film like Penny Serenade, about a marriage that hangs by a thread, between a good man who is a failure at work and a good woman who cannot bear children, has more to say to us about not tearing asunder what God has joined together, than any number of lectures in theology…

Here someone will object that the people who made those films were often not at all pious. Some of them did things that, if you knew about them, would make it almost impossible for you ever again to take any pleasure in their work. What then separates them from the people who make films now? Aren’t they all sinners like the rest of us? And cannot bad people make great art?

Yes and no. There are sinners who feel the pain of their sin because they acknowledge how far they fall short of the glory of God. That might have described the hard-drinking, fist-throwing Catholic director, John Ford; and the womanizing Gary Cooper, who became a Catholic shortly before he died, partly because of the example of Ford. But then there are sinners who are numb to their sin, because they no longer acknowledge the glory of God. They are like the wicked man whom Robert Browning’s pope describes in the quote above. They believe “in just the vile of life.” For them, all piety is sanctimony, all patriotism is bigotry, all chastity is prudishness, all innocence is naïveté, all tradition is hide-bound, all judgment is arbitrary, and all love is but selfishness with sugar.

Such people cannot make great art. They can be a part of great works of art only to the extent that they are borne up by the faith of better people around them. They cannot otherwise raise themselves out of the mud…

We wish not only to tell our children what the truth is, but to show it to them. This we can do by the example of our lives, but because children so often feel the need to place some distance between themselves and their parents, if only to win their separate identities, we must turn to others to confirm that truth. We can do much on our own to form their memories. We can do little on our own to form their imaginations. That is what good art and great art are for.

We cannot hand over their imaginative catechesis to people who, en masse, reject or despise our trust in God and in the coherence and beauty of the nature which God has created and sustains. That is not because they are bad people. As people they may be much better than their principles. It is because their principles are bad; the well is bad from the source…

And since, for most people, imagination leads and reason follows, we are fooling ourselves if we think we can ignore it. The forming of the imagination is not a part of a Christian education. It is a Christian education.

That does not mean that we turn to specifically religious art. Again, a religious vision of the world often strikes home more powerfully when it is like the fresh air, or like health…

But I hear an objection: “Our children cannot watch the old movies!” Their attention wanders if they are not regularly needled and sparked by noise, a visual and aural and neural overload, an induced Saint Vitus’ dance. If that is true, their imaginations need more than formation. They need healing.

AAP on Transgender Kids: Consenting to Sex Change Easier Than Crossing Street

The AAP’s (American Academy of Pediatrics) supportive stance on “trans” kids and all the “gender affirming” treatments for even very young children isn’t based in science and certainly doesn’t follow the medical motto of “first do no harm.”  The AAP is willing to promote the “correct” position (embracing trans “rights” even for 5 year olds) even if the science doesn’t support it (which it most definitely does not).  But who knew?  There’s another professional organization for pediatricians which isn’t completely converged. The American College of Pediatricians takes a decidedly different position.  They recently released this press release:

Consenting to Sex Change Easier than Crossing Street
Recently the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published an excerpt, in their AAP Daily Briefing, from a study in the April Journal of Experimental Psychology. The study reported that children under the age of 14 are not cognitively capable of crossing a busy street “because children lack the perceptual judgment and physical skills needed to consistently get across safely.” This same AAP, however, also frequently promotes the claim that children this age or younger are cognitively capable of deciding that they are the wrong sex. Moreover, the AAP also deems children cognitively competent to consent to puberty blockers, toxic sex hormones and mutilating sex reassignment surgery.

Cognitive immaturity and impaired risk assessment during adolescence has always been recognized. That’s why society has long had age restrictions not only for consenting to medical procedures, but also for driving, voting, joining the military, and purchasing alcohol and cigarettes. Dr. Cretella, President of the American College of Pediatricians states,
“Children are not miniature adults. Everyone knows this. Our position statement, The Teenage Brain: Under Construction, documents the cognitive limitations of adolescents that compromise their ability to provide informed consent.”

While the AAP does not dispute any of this research, it appears to heed it only selectively. Apparently, cognitive immaturity is an obstacle to crossing the street but not for giving consent to a sex change. Looks like “correctness” outranks science when science gets in the way of agenda.