Long Remembered?

In the last year that we lived in Spain, I came to the knowledge that many very supposedly-well educated people had the most surprising gaps in their general knowledge of things. This realization came sometime in 1991, I think – and since then, evidence of this has mounted into a heap the size of the Matterhorn. But this was the first time that I saw proof of this in someone that I had assumed to be somewhat well-educated. I took a neighbor and her children on an excursion downtown. (I had been assigned to the base there for more than five years, the neighbor and her family were recent arrivals – the father of the family was our newest Protestant chaplain.) I wanted to show them the fascinating and quaint old city heart of Zaragoza; the Cathedral of the Pilar, the ancient cathedral, La Seo, the central plaza with the old palace of the city hall at one end, a stretch of ancient Roman wall at the other, and the 19th century food market with its’ ranges of individual tiny stalls under the iron roof. The children were of an age to appreciate all this, enormously.

There was an art exhibit in the city hall – late medieval and Renaissance mostly, just about all of it was of a religious nature. I was telling kids about the interpreting symbols and motifs in the paintings of saints, scholars and heroes. The evangelists, Mathew, Mark, Luke and John were represented by an angel, a lion, an ox and an eagle, a dove in a golden halo meant the Holy Spirit, an iris symbolized the trinity, grapes and wheat sheaves the communion, a skull in the painting of a saint in meditation meant that the subject was St. Jerome, and a wheel for a female saint meant it was St. Catherine. I had grown up attending churches which had elaborate stained windows incorporating versions of this, looking at those windows during long boring sermons. I assumed this was basic cultural knowledge – but it appeared to all be news to the chaplain’s wife. She was listening to what I was telling the kids, with rapt attention; “I didn’t know that!” she exclaimed, and I was a bit boggled. I had assumed that, given her husband’s profession and that she was a college graduate too, that she might have picked up a working knowledge of religious iconography, by osmosis, if nothing else.

At that time it seemed to matter very little; odd bits of knowledge could be out there, like flowers in an endless meadow, and just not appeal to a person wandering along a path with their mind on other things. It is or was all out there – the wandering intellect can gather what they want. Or not. What is becoming frightening now in this awful decade, is the deliberate, wholesale replacement of that wild and random-flowering meadow of intellectual knowledge with a strictly-defined monoculture. Only the approved concepts and interpretations are allowed to grow; all the rest are clear-cut, mown down to the dirt, because… reasons.

Statues and monuments removed, books removed from library shelves and from school curricula, histories censored and the fake (like the 1619 Project) loudly promulgated, researchers, scholars and teachers removed from laboratories and classrooms if they presume to differ from the established new narrative. No more study of the classics of western thought – the ancient Greeks and Romans, the great medieval theologians, those artists and architects of the Renaissance, the great thinkers who worked out details of a revolutionary American experiment in self-government, the generals who fought the wars that defined the western world and the inventers and industrialists who shaped the modern world. Nope, all of them are horrible ‘ists’ of one despicable variety or another, unworthy of the attention of (assume Critical Drinker voice) *THE MODERN AUDIENCE*
What are we doing, what can you suggest, to preserve that intellectual meadow? Preserve hard copy books of cancelled authors and history? Protest public-funded wokery at state-supported universities? Walk away from those corporations like Disney, which are among the worst offenders. Discuss as you wish.

17 thoughts on “Long Remembered?”

  1. Old saying: You can take a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.

    The drive for learning about the world around us (and how it grew) has to come from an internal push in each individual separately. In a sense, it has never been easier for an individual to learn about almost anything. Libraries at our internet fingers, TEDtalks and the like thick on the airwaves, used books available from around the world for little more than the cost of postage. But the drive still has to come from within.

    Sadly, the Far Left/Woke modern “educational” system has left a sour taste in many mouths. That is a difficult barrier to overcome. As for the young, the constructive approach is to keep them out of the maw of the “educational” system.

  2. I spent my working life on a university campus as staff, grad student, and faculty, and what bothered me wasn’t the ignorance–everyone is born ignorant–but the pride.

    IMHO it’s too late to turn the system around, but doing what Sgt. Mom puts as questions would be positive actions.

    [I’ll be back.]

  3. I am reminded of the concept of a “blow-off top,” from the stock market. That is, a stock or the entire market for stocks can far outstrip any actual real-world value, because of any reason or no reason at all. The present omnipresence of wokery is like that, and it won’t last any more than the circa-2000 dot.com bubble lasted.

    But it’s worse, because it isn’t just Wall Street financial nonsense. Abraham Lincoln famously said that a house divided against itself will not stand- but Lincoln was describing a mere political conflict between states, not our present situation which pits men against women, children against their parents, and the ruling regime against sanity itself.

    When the stock market crashes, it’s bad. When society crashes, it’s much uglier. For a long time our society has been ruled by people who have been seeking to edit reality because it makes their preferred policies look bad. Lately, the subsequently ill-educated have simply decided to make things up.

    As someone famously said, reality is that which doesn’t go away when you stop believing in it.

    It also doesn’t go away because ignorant people claiming to be teachers don’t know about it, and attempt to prevent other people from learning about it.

  4. The “I didn’t know that” of the chaplain’s wife strikes me as an example of the Protestant/Catholic divide, with the “basic cultural knowledge” actually being “basic Catholic subculture knowledge.” However, disclosure: I’ve got my own ignorance, being an unchurched freethinker non-christian.

    On the broader subject, I think of myself as someone who doesn’t know much about history – and I find myself shocked by how many people know even less than I do.

  5. Sgt. Mom,

    I think we need to understand the task ahead of us. What we are dealing with isn’t so much a competing value system as an invasion by barbarians, really an alien culture. The items you mentioned are part of a discovered truth, resident in history and experience, while Wokism is a constructed truth from whole cloth. Wokeism’s goal is to destroy discovered truth and thus release people from the chains of not only human experience and tradition but also from their own biology. As such before they construct their new reality, they must first destroy the existing culture.

    Note while Wokeism really became a cultural phenomena in just the past 5-10 years its destructive traits have much deeper roots/. More immediate is the rise of the post-modern thinkers from the 1960-1970s, the Focaults and Derridas who have deconstruct societies and traditions as nothing more than power relations. Even earlier during the 1930s and 1940s. C.S. Lewis detected the emergence of constructed truths in the Green Book as depicted in his “The Abolition of Man.” All groups have also found willing allies in the Progressives, who while not explicitly post-modern, look to transform American culture and society. In other words, what we face is not a passing phenomena that we can wait out a political cycle or two for the Woke wave to crest.

    What can we do?

    At the immediate local level, we can have locally-organized protests against Woke curriculum and isolating children in schools, pornographic material in libraries, and destruction of cultural symbols. The model for this were the school protests in Loudoun County. The problem with such an approach is that they are disconnected and given the amount of energy involved are difficulty yo sustain; we can capture a school board here and there for a cycle or 2 but like termites in the wall, the Woke will be back. Still it’s always good to fight back if not for the sheer pleasure of action, but to send a message of resistance.

    Somewhat more sustainable is electing the right people to public office. The Loudoun County protests struck a nerve pf dissatisfaction with K12 in the northern Virginia suburbs and led to the upset victory of Youngkin. We have DeSantis in Florida fighting woke curriculum, and DEI. The problem with this approach, while it does institute change, is that it takes sustained change beyond 1 or 2 election cycles. Youngkin won in a major upset and is term-limited out; doubtless it will be difficult to keep a Democrat from succeeding him in 2025. DeSantis is a fighter but as he points out he is outside of the Republican norm for governors. When he leaves in 2024 and 2025 what are the odds of getting another squish?

    Let me recommend a third approach, something along the lines of the pee-Revolitionary Committees of Correspondence. Groups across the country, locally-based but connected, that not only can can coordinate action and share best practices, but work to preserve traditions and culture. Right now we are isolated from one another and we need to develop lasting grass-roots institutions to take the fight beyond a locale or political cycle. Somebody wants to rip down a statue of Washington or place CRT in to a school’s curriculum,> Then they should face more than local outrage.

    We on the Right are not good at political organization and consequently are isolated and ineffectual agains the Woke/Progressive alliance. We need to not only support one another but coordinate our actions. I know we have a lot of talk shops like CPAC and the like, what about getting together local grass-roots groups and form our own Committees of Correspondence? I am sure the FBI informants who attend will provide the catering, after all fair is fair.

    Another approach is along the line of the “Benedict Option” that Rod Dreher has proposed; to create the proverbial mustard seed from which a new American republic and associated values can grow. Not an either/or with the Committees but a thought.

    It’s going to be a long fight

  6. I sympathize, but a lot of that symbolism is more inculcated in traditional Catholicism than even in more trad Protestant denominations, though the latter will vary widely and, I suspect, perhaps even younger Catholics don’t get as much of it as they used to. A conservatively raised Protestant might know more Bible references and a Catholic more iconography.

    And now we have had a couple of generations of unchurched youth grow to adulthood, so they will just as likely have neither of those groundings. The first generation may have grown up still being inculcated in Western heritage from a secular POV, so may still have learned some of both in a more secular way. Now we have lost that too.

    I was born in 1970 in Canada, so I’m old enough. Though my parents were both raised fairly conservatively and went to Presbyterian churches, my upbringing from early on was pretty secular, and no primary or secondary education in the 70s and 80s was over much interested in Renaissance art history, though I did get a bit in high school. All in all, the only reference I knew was the wheel and Catherine, and that’s only because I knew what a Catherine Wheel was, and that only because I had read about ‘breaking on the wheel’, and that in turn only from personal enthusiasm for the middle ages and from having encountered the phrase about not being necessary to break a butterfly on a wheel.

    So in the end, I’m not really confident any of this has been common knowledge for generations, save perhaps among traditionally raised Catholics born before 1960.

  7. Well, I was raised Lutheran, and there was a lot of Protestant iconography built into the very ornate church stained-glass windows at Trinity Lutheran, Pasadena. I suppose that I picked up the rest of that peculiar knowledge through college art appreciation classes, reading Mom’s library of Horizon magazines, and when curiosity took me through a two-volume encyclopedia of Catholic saints. I don’t know why I picked up that last at the library – I had mad impulses now and again to read everything I could get my hands on about the strangest topics.

  8. “What are we doing?” Well I teach community ed classes. For the local school district and for the Learning in Retirement program in our area. In the upcoming cycle it will be 1. Obelisks and Empires 2. Life on an Archaeological Dig (living in a pub) and 3. Historic movie theaters in our town 1902-1995.

    Small lights but I enjoy holding them aloft.

    There’s also the robotics stuff but that’s less classical ed.


  9. I am absolutely convinced that amateur historians who are doing yeoman’s work at ground level are the local enthusiasts, who dig up the most interesting stories, from archives and interviews in their neighborhoods – and reenactors, who are fanatical about their research and reproduction of events. Just this year alone, I have two potential clients for the Teeny Publishing Bidness – both doing independent publishing or republishing with my help of local histories of two different small towns in South Texas. These are the enthusiasts who go and dig deep in the weeds, and provide the sources that more eminent historians reference. We all have our own small lights.

  10. From The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain:
    “But humble as we are, and unpretending, in the matter of art, our researches among the painted monks and martyrs have not been wholly in vain. We have striven hard to learn. We have had some success. We have mastered some things, possibly of trifling import in the eyes of the learned, but to us they give pleasure, and we take as much pride in our little acquirements as do others who have learned far more, and we love to display them full as well. When we see a monk going about with a lion and looking tranquilly up to heaven, we know that that is St. Mark. When we see a monk with a book and a pen, looking tranquilly up to heaven, trying to think of a word, we know that that is St. Matthew. When we see a monk sitting on a rock, looking tranquilly up to heaven, with a human skull beside him, and without other baggage, we know that that is St. Jerome. Because we know that he always went flying light in the matter of baggage. When we see a party looking tranquilly up to heaven, unconscious that his body is shot through and through with arrows, we know that that is St. Sebastian. When we see other monks looking tranquilly up to heaven, but having no trade-mark, we always ask who those parties are. We do this because we humbly wish to learn. We have seen thirteen thousand St. Jeromes, and twenty-two thousand St. Marks, and sixteen thousand St. Matthews, and sixty thousand St. Sebastians, and four millions of assorted monks, undesignated, and we feel encouraged to believe that when we have seen some more of these various pictures, and had a larger experience, we shall begin to take an absorbing interest in them like our cultivated countrymen from Amerique.”

  11. Sgt. Mom,

    Anytime you walk from something, whether a woke K12 system or Disney, you want to let them know why and you want to make your exit count. 200,000*people individually canceling their Disney+ because of woke programming might be opaque, but 200,000 cancellations as part of an organized campus against wokery gets attention. This is especially important with Disney as they are losing millions of subscribers already due to tight consumer budgets and reopening of schools. You don’t want your message to get lost in the shuffle, information and organization is,key

    A good example of an organized walkout conveying an unambiguous message of contempt can be found here https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=38ETQ1RYa_Q

    For K12 the new voucher program in Arizona and under consideration elsewhere allows parents to register their Ducati fixation with the existing iK12 system n an unambiguous way.without the cost of organizing. I have seen stories that various districts are “missing” 15% of their students their students and nobody “knows” they went – we should help them to understand

    However this all defense and you want to preserve the intellectual meadow and we will need reinforcement s to do that. Last Fall we looked at a business plan of using Arizona vouchers to fund private schools that would explicitly support classical education. We.couldn’t make the numbers work with the needed financing over the 5year period,but why not use the curriculum to support a homeschool model.We.all hear about the Woke.using K12 to create indoctrinated shock troops,.why not flip the script and create.educated missionaries? We could use the help. Ignatius of.Loyola would umderstand

  12. “The “I didn’t know that” of the chaplain’s wife strikes me as an example of the Protestant/Catholic divide, with the “basic cultural knowledge” actually being “basic Catholic subculture knowledge.””

    Very much agree. I come from a long Calvinist tradition. Like Sunni Muslims and Jews, human depictions of any sort in the sanctuary was forbidden. Asked a conservative Jewish friend about this recently, and our views there seemed to correspond exactly. Photos of previous ministers in the coffee room are fine, but that was it. It is partly a result of the ban on iconage in our version of the Ten Commandments. Yours seems to have been tweaked a bit from the original Jewish version. From our view, the Reformation very much was about going back to our Biblical roots, and discarding the non-Biblical overlay that had grown up in Christian churches in the intervening millennium and a half.

    I recently attended a Roman Catholic funeral of a long term (>55 years) friend, roommate, and neighbor growing up. We think that it may have been due to vaccine injury – he was still working, and his employer had a vaccine mandate. Never knew that his family was Catholic, but should have known, when his first wife was named Mary Jo, and had an Irish last name. Just never came out. Never was relevant. Maybe half this group of friends from high school was raised Catholic, and mostly it just wasn’t relevant. And my wife, whom I started to date 23 years ago, and the two previous girlfriends, are Catholic, as was my first girlfriend in college, whom I saw again last fall at our 50th college reunion. Maybe it was less relevant with my wife, because she fell away from her church during her divorce, after her (never married) priest kept telling her to forgive her soon to be ex husband. She replied that she could forgive him (she has), but could never forget his lapses (it didn’t help that she had an eidetic memory), which meant that she could never trust him again.

    In any case, the sanctuary had, I believe, 13 sets of iconage of sorts up front, and another maybe 5 around the perimeter. Either Jesus and/or Mary was in probably each of them. I found it disconcerting, after growing up and attending church services, throughout my life, where any of that was unthinkable. The other thing that was jarring was, after the casket had left the church, the priest prayed over it. And towards the end, he included the Pope and two archbishops in his prayer. Too close to polytheism for our taste. Praying for those ailing in the church, or for the grieving in a funeral service is fine. But for us, these were complete outsiders. But beyond that, the services were just fine, which shouldn’t have been surprising, as we share a common faith.

  13. On one level, we learn what we want to learn. I have to catch myself at times boring people with car trivia. On the other hand I have always been astounded at the lack of knowledge of Americans of history and geography.

    Jay Leno on his Tonight Show used to have a “Man on the Street” interview, and while I can acknowledge that they probably showed a lot of the most egregious examples of ignorance, it is still out there.

    And scary.

    However if you read deToqueville (as I did 50 years ago) these traits aren’t exactly new.

    Those of us who were in the military and if fortunate enough to be in a foreign country that wasn’t a combat zone, had the opportunity to travel, whether in the surrounding area or, as I did across Europe over some months (when the Sgt would let me go).

    I kept asking a good friend to accompany me (after all, who wants to pack an AWOL Bag and travel alone?) – but the friend refused to take any leave time, wanting to get that money at the end of enlistment and get a motorcycle.

    We were in Germany 40 minutes from the Rhine and Moselle rivers.

    I saw him 20 years later up in Washington and he said “You know, one of my regrets was not going with you when you asked”.

    I asked him if he ever got his motorcycle, and he replied in the negative.

    I met someone who served on the Carl Vinson years later as an armorer. He traveled around the world 8 times and never saw anything but bars at each stop.

    I had a good discussion in my little Facebook group yesterday with a woman charged with re-editing a dead author’s book.

    I made the point that if you change one word, it isn’t his book anymore. I believe most good authors specifically use words that they intend, and don’t throw them in haphazardly. Look what they are doing to Huckelberry Finn

    “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

    ― Mark Twain, The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain

    That caused her to have some thought but then she added that her company bought the rights to that book.

    I suggested that it might change things such as a movie studio buying the rights to a book, then rewriting much of the script.

    But I agree – these days what is disturbing is the effort to enforce “right think”.

    Even more surprising fostered at universities who are supposed to help students think independently.

    @Mike – good points you make, and I will have to reread your post.

  14. When I was a medical student, a dedicated pathologist would come in every time we changed to a different system (Lungs, Digestive, etc.) and talk about the history of that system in Medicine. That no longer is provided, at least at the medical school I attended and later taught at. I used to talk about medical history with my medical students and finally wrote a book for medical students. I included much of modern medicine to relate the stories of how it came to be. The chapters on ancient medical practices were more of a survey. One reviewer on Amazon criticized the book because I did not include enough about Galen. Galen was an interesting historical person but contributed nothing of use to modern physicians. Anyway, the book is still selling a few copies after 20 years. When it was first published, I gave a copy to my daughter who was at UCLA. She was rooming with some other girls, one of whom was a theater arts grad who had come back to study for admission to medical school. She borrowed the book and then wouldn’t return it. I took that as a compliment and gave my daughter another copy.

  15. I think you should cut the pastor’s wife a little slack. A significant portion of the Christian world, especially in America comes from the: “Didn’t the 30 Years War settle the point of needing to pick the right saint to communicate with God in much the way you’d pick a number on a telephone answering tree.” tradition. I can still remember my surprise and discomfort at being confronted with my first luridly painted Crucifix in all its homoerotic glory after being accustomed to sanctuaries presided over by a simple stark Cross. I still am as innocent of knowledge of this iconography as the Orthodox or Coptic traditions.

    Still, there’s th issue I see as teachers teaching what they find interesting and rewarding rather than the basics that their students will need to know to function. This seems to be a problem from the very first day of school, clear to the end. I notice it especially among graduate engineers. They may have a grasp of esoteric concepts and formulas far beyond what I have, yet no knowledge of literally the nuts and bolts aspect of putting it into practice. The sort of thing that hasn’t changed in years and years yet remains important in a life and death way. As an example; why you assemble a pressure vessel with bolts with the six little tick marks on the head that show it’s a hardened grade 8 fastener rather than a soft, grade 2, bolt from Home Depot.

    I think a lot of the problem of teaching reading comes down to the teacher’s simply finding the: “See Jane run.” thing boring. Imagine Tom Sawyer with the benefit of a modern 6th grade education. From reciting passages and reenacting acts of Shakespeare and Ivanhoe to barely being able to follow a “graphic novel” without the pictures for a hint. True progress in 150 years.

  16. A cousin of mine joined the Navy in about ’73 (after getting deferred while the shooting was going on) in hopes of going into submarine service. That didn’t work out (I could have predicted that, Jim was nobody’s elite) and he ended up making numerous trips from the
    West Coast to Guam, the Philippines, and other places in Oceania.

    By his own admission, he never left his ship to see or learn anything.

    I worked with a retired AF noncom, not a stupid guy, who had served 11 years at Ramstein and never left the base.

    Lots of people just don’t care, and don’t want to know.

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