Popular Culture versus worthwhile scholarship

matha_standun's picture

bollocks.

You posh git!

Holmes threw open the door and stormed around the room uttering oaths. The Stradivarius clutched in his agitated fist narrowly missed knocking over a rack of test tubes on the writing table.

"Bollocks, Watson, it's all bollocks!" he cried at last.

M.

John Hudson's picture

Coincidentally, this article was published today. Must be something in the air.

William Berkson's picture

Some more thoughts on anti-intellectualism in American youth culture.

I remembered a study (it is in the book by Chubb and Moe on Politics & Education) of how American high school students progress. They tracked how much students 2nd year students progressed over then new two years, by class academic quarter. The top quarter advanced more than two years. The lower quarters progressively less, with the bottom quarter knowing less than they did two years before!

This confirms my feeling that the hostility to learning doesn't affect top students that profoundly.

I have read that some black students are ostracised by their peers for 'acting white' if they excel in their studies, but this is a special (serious) problem for one group.

The hostility may well affect the middling and poor students, but in a way that is hard to tease out. Two of my children have been top students, and but one couldn't have cared less about her studies. Her view was that in high school most kids were just turned off by school in general, and found it boring and pointless. She feels that the youth mass media does have a big impact, but that a bias against academic excellence is hard to differentiate from the general malaise.

Another problem in understanding the impact and what to do to counteract it is that different schools are very different. For example, poor urban and rural areas have much more severe problems than suburban schools.

matha_standun's picture

Coincidentally, this article was published today.

Thanks for the Link, John.
You couldn't have written it better yourself. Ophelia wouldn't be your nom de plume by any chance?

It's well argued but the mention of nazis and negationists at the end bugs me. Traditional history has always been extremely well-equipped when it comes to hiding genocide. Who, after all, controls access to 'official' archives? Historians certainly don't need any help from radical philosophy in this respect.

M.

William Berkson's picture

John, interesting that there is a web site devoted to combating relativism; maybe the world isn't 'going to hell in a handbasket' after all.

hrant's picture

> the hostility to learning doesn't affect top students that profoundly.

Except when they're driven to shoot up their school.

The point isn't what grades the bright kids end up with, it's what American society does to them if they get good grades. And it's not restricted to high-school. The fear of appearing intelligent in the US is present through college, and all the way into working life. It's more important to have big breasts and run fast.

> some black students are ostracised by their peers for 'acting white'

There's a very good reason (not related to doing good in school) that many black people (or really most any minority member) mind when a fellow black person acts white (it's called being an Oreo: black on the outside but white on the inside*) - it's called assimilation in case you haven't heard. We Armenians call it White Genocide. Frankling for example was guilty of it.

* There's also "banana" for Asians (but I prefer using "twinkie"), and "coconut" for Armenians: white on the inside, hairy on the outside. :-) Derogatory terms? You betcha - assimilation is the worst thing in the world after massacre and deportation.

hhp

John Hudson's picture

Hrant, William's point was that among some black students excelling in studies is seen as 'acting white'. This observation does not require an analysis of ways and means of resisting assimilation, it is enough to understand that, for these people, academic success = acting white, acting white = bad, ergo academic success = bad. The reasons why acting white = bad are irrelevant in this observation, because the issue is why academic success = acting white.

John Hudson's picture

It's well argued but the mention of nazis and negationists at the end bugs me. Traditional history has always been extremely well-equipped when it comes to hiding genocide. Who, after all, controls access to 'official' archives? Historians certainly don't need any help from radical philosophy in this respect.

On what basis do you say that? ...on the basis of historiographical judgement: i.e. you can make a statement about the practice of history based on presumptions about the relationship of history to what actually happened. To be able to say that historians can hide genocide is to acknowledge a relationship between history and actual events, and to accept that this history can be more or less accurate. If a genocide occured, and is hidden by some historians, we can say that historians who do not hide the genocide are more accurate. All this is possible only if you accept that it is true that the genocide happened.

Yes, techniques of history can be used to falsify the record of what has happened -- although outright lying works just as well --, but Ophelia Benson's point is that such bad history can only be challenged if you accept basic standards of truth. If you abandon these standards, then you have no grounds from which to resist the people who say that the genocide never happened.

hrant's picture

> William's point was that ....

Yes, I know, but I think he's largely misreading it.

> the issue is why academic success = acting white.

I think that's tangential. The real issue is why "academic success = social outcast" in the US as a whole, and how that creates a nation of sheep that can be manipulated into blindly supporting imperialism. Forced public education is in fact nothing less than a means to amplify the economy of scale and cast people in molds conducive to making the rich richer. Deep down, US public schools are nothing more than a way to brainwash kids and "free" both their parents for the workforce.

hhp

matha_standun's picture

To be able to say that historians can hide genocide is to acknowledge a relationship between history and actual events

Not at all. It is simply to recognise that 'Genocide' is a word. In France that word is officially used in relation to the Armenian Genocide. In other countries, including the US, it isn't. Words don't change the past but they do reveal the political agenda of historians working in a particular country.

M.

John Hudson's picture

US public schools are nothing more than a way to brainwash kids and "free" both their parents for the workforce.

During the Cold War, the US, like all the western nations, compromised with social policy advocates in order to keep people happy. So what you have with public education is a social policy programme that capitalism tries to turn -- as it tries to turn everything -- to its own advantage.

hrant's picture

I think Capitalism wouldn't have allowed public schools to come about if it was bad for business. The conspiracy theorist in me might even say it was all Capitalism's idea in the first place, although that's admittedly iffy. But certainly, once something is in place, no matter where it came from, Capitalism usually ends up squashing it if it's bad for business. So the survival of forced public education (and its further evolution into a babysitting and brainwashing mechanism) is fraught with negative implications.

And why do you think college isn't mandatory? Because by then we're old enough to work at full efficiency.

The US is great for being a college kid (assuming you can afford it), and that's why I came here back when. Before college you'll be lucky to come out a balanced world citizen, and after college it's mindless slavery time.

hhp

John Hudson's picture

I think Capitalism wouldn't have allowed public schools to come about if it was bad for business.

So long as it felt a serious threat from communism, capitalism was willing to compromise on a lot of stuff: better to allow organised labour, public welfare, etc. than to face a revolution. Seeing the gloves come off over the past decade has been sobering.

johnbutler's picture

Some surfing (thanks to the excellent link from Mr. Hudson) turned up this book. Very germane intersection of topics. Has anyone here read it, and if so, what do you think? I haven't yet, and I suspect it's mostly bolliqz.

hrant's picture

I think it was discussed on Typo-L. I remember the consensus being that it was hoaky.

hhp

John Hudson's picture

Well beyond hoaky. Shlain's book was the target of a systematic and withering critique by William Bright (co-editor of The world's writing systems) in his keynote address to the 17th Unicode conference in September 2000.

The abstract for Bright's address is here, and the full text, as a Word document, is here.

John Hudson's picture

In France that word is officially used in relation to the Armenian Genocide. In other countries, including the US, it isn't.

Lots of people in the USA, including professional historians, refer to the Armenian genocide. Many also point out some differences between the Armenian genocide and the Jewish genocide, e.g. that the Armenian genocide was not racially based in the sense that race was understood by the Nazis (i.e. as genetic rather than ethno-linguistic), and that the Armenian genocide was territorial: the Turks massacred Armenians in a particular locale and did not express an interest in killing every single Armenian anywhere in the world. These distinctions are important -- good historians should always identify distinctions and nuances, since the particular is by nature more precise than the general and so more likely to be accurate and supported by specific evidence. People who claim that these distinctions are sufficient to deny the term genocide in relation to the Turkish massacre of Armenians are indeed pursuing an agenda. Then one must ask what their intent is. If they are concerned that using the term genocide for territorial, non-genetically* inspired mass murder might diminish the full horror of the term when applied to universal, genetically inspired mass murder, then we should seriously consider that concern. One way to address that concern is to remain clear about the distinctions, and to acknowledge that there are different types of genocide. In fact, the nature of genocide -- literally, people killing -- depends on how the perpetrators define the uniqueness of the people that is their victim (genetically, ethnically, linguistically, culturally, or a specific combination of these), including the definition that those whom they kill are not people at all.

* I dislike using the term 'racially', because this accepts a distortion of the traditional meaning of race, which is ethnicity, applied by the very 19th century proto-geneticists whose ideas informed Nazi 'race science'. Since I can't use the term race to mean ethnicity without risking confusion with genetic concepts of race, I try to avoid it altogether.

steve_p's picture

>>I remembered a study (it is in the book by Chubb and Moe on Politics & Education) of how American high school students progress

But would that be a worthless social science study, lacking in academic rigour and scientific method?
=======================

>>I think Capitalism wouldn't have allowed public schools to come about if it was bad for business. The conspiracy theorist in me might even say it was all Capitalism's idea in the first place, although that's admittedly iffy.

Hrant, its not iffy at all, at least in England.
The 1870 Education Act, which made schooling compulsory (but not free for a few years after that) was openly introduced for the benefit of the national economy.


W.E Forster, Head of the Dept. of Education in Gladston's first administration suggested (in his speeach introducing the bill that became the 1870 Act) that "upon the speedy provision of elementary education depends our industrial prosperity".


The 1870 act was largely shaped by the report of the Newcastle Commission, which concurred with the evidence of James Fraser (later the Bishop of Manchester) that "it is quite possible to teach a child all that it is necessary for him to possess in the shape of intellectual attainment by the time that he is ten years old".
(By this Fraser means that the child should be able to "spell common words, read and write, add up a bill, and know his duty to god and to man"). The Newcastle report recommended this type of education on the grounds that the labour market required a supply of "persons thus minimally qualified".
Meanwhile, the Public Schools Act and the Endowed Schools Act (both concerned with fee-paying schools*) were shaped by the Clarendon report, which suggested that "classical literature is the staple of English education".

*In England, both public schools and private schools are fee-paying. The equivalent what Americans call 'public schools' are known here as 'state schools'. (The fee-paying schools have recently started referring to themselves as 'independent schools'. This is of course ludicrous, and heavily wighted against a real understanding of their true status).

hrant's picture

Words have usefulness beyond their formal meanings. The Jews are lucky (or maybe it's not luck at all) to have exclusivity to "Holocaust". The word "genocide" on the other hand is indeed usually used for the Armenian Genocide, but it's not exclusive - and of course the Holocaust was also a genocide.

As for the Turkish ambitions (which have in many ways remained the same), there was Pan-Turkism, which was the desire to create a large empire that spanned all the Turkic peoples all the way to Mongolia (where they came from less than 1000 years ago), so the racial basis was in fact there. But it was an excuse. The real reason is the usual reason: money*. The visible Armenians (in Constantinople) were wealthier than the average Turk (although our rural majority was in fact getting increasingly poorer, due to harsh governmental repression) and that caused resentment. The resentment was amplified with religious differences, and exploited. The poor Kurds were even recruited to massacre us - little did they know about choosing sides... We had been living peacefully under the Turks for 600 years at that point, and the resistance efforts in the far East of the country were only a result of repression (just like in Gharapagh). Just look at the names of the towns in the eastern third of Turkey: they're Armenian - and they're where my grandparents were born.

* In fact the same could be said of the Holocaust: all the "racial purity" business wouldn't have appealed to the average German - they were in an economic frenzy, never having recovered from the brutality of the victorious Allies from WWI.

Not to engage in one-upmanship of tragedy, but we lost much more than the Jews: not only didn't we end up gaining a new country, but we lost much more than a big chunk of our population - we lost our land, which we had kept for almost 3000 years.

What's the real twister though is that Hitler used the example of the "eradicated" Armenians (they didn't know they couldn't get rid of us that easily) to justify the Holocaust! You don't hear that very often...

hhp

John Hudson's picture

What's the real twister though is that Hitler used the example of the "eradicated" Armenians (they didn't know they couldn't get rid of us that easily) to justify the Holocaust!

Not to justify the holocaust, per se: to reassure his supporters that the rest of the world would ignore the slaughter of the Jews, just as they had ignored the slaughter of the Armenians.

John Hudson's picture

As for the Turkish ambitions (which have in many ways remained the same), there was Pan-Turkism, which was the desire to create a large empire that spanned all the Turkic peoples all the way to Mongolia (where they came from less than 1000 years ago), so the racial basis was in fact there.

This is a good example of the problem with the term 'racial'. I would refer to what you describe as ethno-linguistic, not racial (although prior to the 19th century race was simply a synonym for ethnicity). There is a significant difference between ethno-linguistic genocide and genetic genicide. Intermarriage, assimilation and religious conversion -- all of which are recognised ways to destroy an ethnic group -- are insufficient 'solutions' for Nazi genetic ideology, because of their belief that race is genetic and survives intermarriage, assimilation and conversion. Hence the logic of the 'final solution', which was really the only solution that would satisfy.

gerald_giampa's picture

John,

"Not to justify the holocaust, per se: to reassure his supporters that the rest of the world would ignore the slaughter of the Jews, just as they had ignored the slaughter of the Armenians."

Are you saying this is not true. I believe Hitler was correct in that assumption. The war had nothing to do with the Jewish extermination efforts. Their plight only became useful for propaganda purposes. In fact the blind eye is pretty much the "rule" unless it is useful to achieving "national interests". Or "American interests".

Reminds me of when they found out there were no significant evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or for that matter, the terrorist connection. The

John Hudson's picture

Are you saying this is not true.

No. I didn't address the truth of Hitler's assumption one way or another. I was simply correcting Hrant's characterisation of the statement as 'justification'. Hitler had written his justification -- Mein Kampf -- long before he needed to reassure his followers that they were actually going to be able to do the things he intended.

John Hudson's picture

The Palestinians are subjected to accusations of participating in terrorist activities.

Last I checked, blowing up buses and restaurants full of civilians are terrorist activities.

There has long been an incredibly silly attempt to define terrorism and terrorists by the justifiableness of their cause. This has led to endless debates about whether such-and-such a group of murderers are terrorists or freedom fighters. Terrorism is a strategy. It should be defined by the action, not by the perceived status of the person commiting the act. Militant Palestinian organisations pursue a terrorist strategy in their war against Israel. Ironically, their greatest hope that this strategy might result in winning them a country must be the historical example of the creation of the state of Israel after a highly successful campaign of terrorism by Jewish militants against the British mandate.

Just because one is sympathetic to the plight of a particular group of people who employ a terrorist strategy, doesn't magically make them not terrorists. I have a huge amount of sympathy for Catholics in Northern Ireland; this doesn't mean that I don't consider the IRA to be a terrorist organisation. Terrorists are all people who perform acts of terrorism -- the deliberate targeting of civilian life --, not just people who do so for reasons we don't approve of. And yes, there is such a thing a state terrorism: the deliberate targeting of civilians during war is a terrorist tactic.

gerald_giampa's picture

Are saying that Iraq was a terrorist nation? That Bush and Blaire were morally justified in attacking Iraq because of that? As far as harbouring terrorists go, forget Syria, the most dangerous state in the world is Canada. Maybe they should bomb you guys.

Are you saying that daisy bombs are not terrifying?

Are you suggesting that it would not be terrifying to be a Palestinian? That Palestinians have not lost innocent people.

Would that not make Israel a terrorist state? Probably it would. Is Bush and Blaire going to bomb Israel? I think not. Does Israel have the bomb? No doubt they do. Is that not a weapon of mass destruction. You bet.

If they are making such a fuss over the possibility of Iran building the bomb why don

hrant's picture

> the deliberate targeting of civilian life

But there are no civilians in a Democracy. :-/
Well, except people who can't vote, or boycott elections.

> state terrorism: the deliberate targeting of civilians during war

I understand "state terrorism" as something else: the targeting of politicians. Basically what Israel does when it assassinates Palestinian leaders. But Israel also does "regular" terrorism, including across its borders: when a car bomb goes off in Lebanon, it's Israel about half the time.

--

Certainly, the greatest source of terrorism now is the US (and its satelite states, like the UK and Israel).

hhp

John Hudson's picture

Certainly, the greatest source of terrorism now is the US (and its satelite states, like the UK and Israel).

To accept that I'd have to see the extent of evidence of deliberate targeting of civilian, non-combatants by each of these states and/or specific support of such actions by their proxies. I'm not not questioning that such things have been done and continue to be done by these states -- particularly Israel --, but to label them certainly the greatest source of terrorism only seems possible if one has evidence that pretty much every civilian casualty is a deliberate target. Killing or injuring civilians as a byproduct of a campaign against militant groups, even if the perpetrators consider -- as I suspect Sharon does -- that such 'collateral damage' is no bad thing, does not constitute terrorism. Terrorism is an intentional strategy to produce terror among a civilian population by targeting them directly. [According to this definition, it should be pretty clear that there has probably never been a war in history that did not involve acts of terrorism as well as unintentional civilian casualties.]

John Hudson's picture

But there are no civilians in a Democracy.

Are you saying that it is justifiable in war to deliberately target the non-combatant inhabitants of a democracy, but not okay to target the non-combatant inhabitants of a dictatorship?

hrant's picture

People are responsible for their actions, whether they're holding a gun or not. You think Blair is not a legitimate military target?! And when somebody in the US for example votes for a president based on the hope that that president will "kill the bastards", he becomes an active part of the problem.

Why do you think terrorists focus on killing "non-combattants" in Democracies? Because the people (supposedly) get to decide matters of state. Another hidden disadvantage of Democracy. Take away voting, and you give people a better life.

hhp

johnbutler's picture

Mr. Godwin, is that a Law in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

Please stay on topic and move your discussions of terrorism, genocide, and other marginally tangent topics to this new thread.

Dan Weaver's picture

John, thank you, these turn into polical forums and have nothing to do with type or typography and my favorite Intellectual Properity Issues. Most of it is opinion with no basis on desernable facts, just predigise. Its so sad, Dan

ponofob's picture

to go back to the topic

John Hudson's picture

I don't think anyone suggested throwing out structuralism or any other set of ideas. I was indicating the (mis)influence of French thinkers on North American academia, and the fact that the same thinkers have not had the same influence elsewhere indicates that the problem is largely in the culture that receives their ideas rather than the ideas themselves.

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