Classics and the Public Sphere

From a WSJ op-ed: “As Tennessee expands possibilities for new charter schools, critics are assailing classical education. Some of these schools teach students about the sages and scoundrels of ancient Greece and Rome.” In The New Republic, a public school teacher from New York seems concerned that classics-focused schools promote “retreat from the public sphere” along with sundry bad things such as “nationalistic exaltation of Western civilization.”

Now, a little thought and historical reading will demonstrate that study of the classics is entirely consistent with participation in the public sphere, including participation at very high levels–in the US and in other countries as well. But the issue is more fundamental than this.  Is participation in the public sphere–which I read in this context to largely mean political activism–really the only thing that matters in life?

In his superb memoir, the Russian rocket developer Boris Chertok mentions a friend who was a Red Army officer and was also an excellent poet. It was understood that he would never be promoted. Why–did the Red Army have something against poetry? By no means.  Did this man write poems that criticized the regime?  No–he did not mention Stalin, did not mention political affairs at all.   And that was his offense.  Writing good poetry was not sufficient, every poet had to sing the praises of Stalin and of the regime.  Unfortunately, we have people in America today who believe that every subject, whether poetry, history, science, or music, must be viewed only through the lens of an endless group-against-group struggle for power.  And education in these–and all–subjects should focus on that power struggle and on what is perceived as the urgent need to put everything in a form that will be ‘relevant’ to the daily lives of students and to whatever are the hot topics and issues of the time.

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A Promise Or a Threat?

Put me down firmly on the side of those who see You’ll own nothing and you’ll be happy” as more of a threat; I see “You will be happy” with special emphasis on “will” and the unstated addendum to that statement as “You damn peasants better be happy, or else!”
The simple fact is that owning things – especially things which can be construed as tools – allow one a degree of independence, and even a mild degree of comfort over and above the norm. This was suggested to me in a college class four decades and more since. I think it must have been the required readings for medieval history course; dedicated medievalists had gone into various probate records and wills in England or France and studied the inventories of barely-above-survival peasant households. Nothing really notable in the main – just basic tools, household and farm implements like butter churns, cheese presses, cooking pots, some simple furniture. But at least one of the readings pointed out how possession of certain tools like a cheese-press, hinted that the owner of that item –was in fact, making cheese, possibly for their own use or for the market. The very fact that they owned something with which to turn a farm product like milk, into something to sell or barter for in the marketplace implied a slightly higher level of comfort and security for that household.

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Academic Malpractice

The post at Legal Insurrection (link) says in part, that the goal is to “…to equalize test scores among racial groups, OPRF will order its teachers to exclude from their grading assessments variables it says disproportionally hurt the grades of black students. They can no longer be docked for missing class, misbehaving in school or failing to turn in their assignments, according to the plan.”
So basically, this is an administrative rubber-stamping a passing grade on the report cards of black students who can’t be arsed to attend class, behave properly as students when they do, or turn in required assignments. Frankly, one wonders why such students even bother with school anyway, if they are so vehemently disinclined towards the life intellectual, but truant law and free daycare for such parental units as they have probably account for it, as well as money for butts in seats on the part of the school itself. At this rate of scholastic malpractice, urban schools might just as well hand out high school graduation certificates as if they were Pokemon cards, one to a customer and save themselves time and effort in the classroom. Any serious education of pupils appears as merely a happy afterthought to a means of employing large numbers of administrators, assistant principals and teachers whose union membership is vastly more important to the powers that be than imparting knowledge to that handful of rare-as-hen’s-teeth pupils who seriously want to learn.

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Of Agriculture and Ideology

In Arthur Koestler’s 1940 novel Darkness at Noon, the protagonist is an Old Bolshevik who has himself been arrested by the Stalinist regime for political deviations and is facing likely execution.  During his imprisonment, he muses about many things, including…

A short time ago, our leading agriculturist, B., was shot with thirty of his collaborators because he maintained the opinion that nitrate artificial manure was superior to potash. No. 1 is all for potash; therefore B. and the thirty had to be liquidated as saboteurs. In a nationally centralized agriculture, the alternative of nitrate or potash is of enormous importance: it can decide the issue of the next war. If No. I was in the right, history will absolve him, and the execution of the thirty-one men will be a mere bagatelle. If he was wrong…

(emphasis added)

And in real life, Soviet agriculture was greatly harmed by the officially-adopted crackpot theories of Trofim Lysenko, as well as by collectivization.  Nikita Khrushchev was very enthusiastic about what he learned of America methods in farming, especially with corn, and insisted that these methods be applied in the Soviet Union–the effort was not successful because it too often ignored local factors like climate as well as general factors such as working-level knowledge and incentives.

In Sri Lanka in 2019, newly-elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa embarked on a program to the transition his country’s farmers to organic agriculture. Importation and use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers were banned, and the country’s 2 million farmers were ordered to go organic.  The project has been a disaster.  Rice and tea production are both down, and half a million people have fallen back into poverty.

And in 2022, the world is facing serious fertilizer shortage, driven in part by the loss of exports from Russia and Ukraine, with prices also driven upward by natural gas prices…this in addition to the considerable reduction in wheat exports from both countries. A complete shutoff of Russian gas to Europe could make things worse, given that gas is a key feedstock for fertilizer manufacturing, that Europe has not built adequate LNG import facilities to replace the Russian gas, and that sufficient LNG from the US may not be available anyhow–a constraint not helped by the Biden administration’s anti-fossil-fuel ideology and policies.  There may be actual famine in some countries, with predictable results in political instability, and plenty of family budgets being squeezed in the USA.

The response from the Biden administration?…Perhaps a new ‘warp-speed’ type of project to accelerate fertilizer output and improve fertilizer logistics?


USAID administrator Samantha Power:

Fertilizer shortages are real now because Russia is a big exporter of fertilizer. And even though fertilizer is not sanctioned, less fertilizer is coming out of Russia..As a result, we’re working with countries to think about natural solutions like manure and compost. And this may hasten transitions that would have been in the interest of farmers to make eventually anyway.

Because farmers don’t know what is in their best interest, but of course you do, Samantha.  See this post at Watts Up With That? on the realities of agriculture and the nutrients that plants need.  (Do you think Samantha Power knows what the Haber-Bosch process is and why it has been historically important?  I’m betting the answer is No.)

Note especially the part of the excerpt from Koestler’s novel that I bolded: “In a nationally centralized agriculture”.  When major activities are centralized, every key decision becomes of dramatic, critical, life-and-death importance. Those making the decisions will be convinced that their decisions are right, and are very likely to use all tools at their disposal to enforce compliance and prevent criticism.

See my related post The Logic of Insatiable Centralization.

Erasing Women

Well, it’s really kind of sad – that erasing biological XX-chromosome no-kidding 100 percent female women seems the ultimate endpoint of early 21st century popular prog-thought, as mad and illogical as that might seem as an ambition, or rather an idée fixe. The ancient jape of a fox hunt described as ‘the unspeakable in hot pursuit of the inedible’ comes to mind, only this is the deranged in pursuit of the unachievable. As little as I think of the long-time and loud professional Feminists-with-a-capital-F (or LT&LPF(F) as I call them), and their tendency to view all men as potential rapist and abusers, I would have expected them to be assiduous in protesting for the actual physical safety of biological women in women-only spaces like restrooms, locker rooms, battered woman shelters, hospital wards and prisons. Alas, they would seem to have fixated on the availability of reproductive health or as the rest of us call it, abortion, as the great fight for the LT&LPF(F); the hill upon which they wish to see fetal humans die. I mean; what the hell, LT&LPF(F) – you look away from the physical safety of real, no-kidding vulnerable women … and focus on the rights, ways and means of killing fetal humans. Good job, sisters. (Not.)

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