Friday, 29 February 2008

Hostile Notice

On account of something I wrote a while ago, entitled “Something Called Education”, I have come to hostile notice. My criticisms have caused offence in the right circles and provoked a series of letters, published I know not where, but republished anonymously in the comments of the aforementioned post:
We read the shallow piece entitled ‘The Joy of Curmudgeonry,’ and we completely disagree with its limited and defensive stance. It’s always easier and more cowardly to blog without a real name and to quote scholars’ work out of its comprehensive and thoughtful context.
Dr. James Andrews
Dr. Mary Evans
Dr. James Nardy
We applaud Drs. Andrews, Evans, and Nardy for their thoughtful response to the shallow and cowardly ‘The Joy of Curmudgeonry: Something Called Education.’ We read the original 30-page essay, which the ‘Curmudgeonry’ writer critized, and we are convinced that the ‘Curmudgeonry’ writer did not read the entire essay. In fact, he/she quoted only from the first paragraph of the essay, suggesting that the rest of the article was not read. This is shabby journalism at its worse, and the writer of this journalistic garbage should be embarrassed. As high school teachers, we would give him/her a failing grade in both process of writing and substance of ideas. In retrospect, the 30-page essay is receiving major recognition from researchers and classroom practitioners in the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and New Zealand. We therefore were dismayed to read the emotionally toned ‘Curmudgeonry’ response to it. Obviously, this limited writer and thinker knows little about education, about classroom practice, and about related substantive research.

Joel Rittler, Ph.D.
Barbara McNulty, M.S.

We read ‘Something Called Education’ and were extremely disappointed by its overt bias and narrow perspective. This so-called critique pretended to have substance, when it really demonstrated quite the opposite. As educated parents, we expect more from writers who are supposed to control their prejudices as they express their points of view and document them thoroughly. The author of ‘Something Called Education’ did neither. He also did not read the two articles that he critiqued. His review of the English Leadership Quarterly article was predicated entirely on a secondary source. It also was obvious that his critique of the progressive education article was equally ineffective because he quoted from the first paragraph only, and this quote was blatantly out of context. This lack of ethics, accompanied by poor research skills, would clearly be identified by most young school-age children. As parents, we demand more.

George and Rachel Clifton
Four Ph.Ds, one Masters, and a brace of demanding parents. Not a bad catch for murky waters.
.....Now, if I were to take these my teachers in earnest, and take chicanery to heart, then I should learn at least two lessons to be applied in all future controversy:

(1) When a man quotes solely from the beginning of an article, one can take it to suggest that he has not read the whole, wherewith one comes to the understanding that even if he had quoted from the beginning, the middle, and the end, performed for no other sake than to forestall idiotic objections, for which he might feel life is too short and pertinence too precious, he would not thereby prove that he had read the whole. Nor indeed would a quotation of the whole suffice for the proof that he had read it, though at least the latter would forestall accusations that he had quoted out of the context of the whole of the article itself, though not out of the whole of extended context, given that context can be extended to whatever bounds one sees fit for one’s purpose, including a “comprehensive and thoughtful context” in which any article can be said to rest, to which adepts can claim privy access, and to which they can always refer vaguely in their defence; — all of which in effect is to say: should one be of a mendacious cast, all one’s clearest assertions can be retracted into infinite context, all criticisms of one’s views made inadmissible, and all one’s bollix made defensible.

(2) When a man has no access to the primary source — perhaps even on account of an insurmountable unwillingness to pay a subscription to a journal he suspects would be of little use to him except perhaps to end up as expensive lavatory-paper — then any quotes he takes from a secondary source quoting that primary source are inadmissible regardless of whether the secondary source is true as regards the primary one, wherewith no onus falls on the criticiser to show that the secondary source is false as regards the primary one.

It is not that I am ungrateful for these lessons; it is just that, in the textbook of political chicanery, they are not very sophisticated ones, and, in any case, outside such a textbook, they are dishonourable. But the authors of the letters have missed an opportunity: in taking me to task for quoting out of context, as in the case of the quote from the primary source, they could have endeavoured to teach me — indeed the whole world — what the quote actually means in context rather than merely what it apparently means both in and out of it, and also of what that secret something is in the context of the article that gives the quote a meaning different from that which is apparent; moreover, in taking me to task for quoting from a secondary source, all they need have done is provide evidence of the falsity of it. It seems not too much to ask of teachers — sorry, classroom-practitioners — that they do what appears to be quite simple.
.....But that is enough: I shall not bother to address the accusations of shallowness, cowardice, and so on, but as to the charge of overt bias, I plead guilty: I should not wish such mind-blighters on anyone’s children, including their own.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Myths and Misconceptions

There is no doubt that tabloid myths and popular misconceptions do a great deal of damage to this country. Gangs of them hang around not existing whilst smashing windows, daubing walls with graffiti, and doing violence to the innocent, who, after all, are guilty for imagining them. “Adults must think twice before assuming that every group of under-20s in a street or mall is likely to be a threat” [1] — right enough: and thrice before passing the time of day with them.
[1] Rowan Williams, “It’s adults, not young people, who are a public menace”, The Guardian, 26th February 2008. (I once broke a knuckle on an instance of popular misconception. It had a hard skull.)

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

A Little Advice

If being rich is ruining your life, [1] then why not try the obvious solution? To that end, please do not hesitate to contact me, whereupon I shall be only too happy to arrange for the alleviation of your suffering in the form of your sending me cheques, postal orders, or, preferably, cash. Any amount will be as gratefully received as it is given — the more, the merrier, for me as well as for you. Failing that, you could always give the money to charity. Either way, you could thereby dissipate your riches, avoid spending money on a nice house and a comfortable life, and thus blessedly find no need “to forgive [your] father and be grateful” [2] to him for giving you all that money in the first place — and perhaps then, by the graces of poverty and ingratitude, you would find happiness at last.
[1] “Francesca”, Letter to Lesley Garner: “Lifeclass: ‘Being rich is ruining my life’”, The Telegraph, 19th February 2008.
[2] Ibid.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Choose Democracy, or We'll Make You

“[T]he goal of spreading democracy should be a great progressive project; the means need to combine both soft and hard power.”

David Milliband, quoted by Patrick Wintour, “Miliband: UK has moral duty to intervene”, The Guardian, 12th February 2008.

The Emotional Appeal of Eliminative Materialism

If one were to mark upon a scale the emotional rather than the rational appeal of various philosophies of mind, one would be first inclined to place Cartesian dualism at the very appealing end, and eliminative materialism at the very unappealing end. Why? Because Cartesian dualism sees mind to be alongside or above mere matter, gives succor to the idea of an autonomous self, makes plausible the idea of immortality, and thus accords in large part with our commonsense beliefs, our hopes for human dignity, and our desires for self-preservation. Eliminative materialism, on the other hand, declares that we have no self or even mind. It would be wrong to assume, however, that this scale of appeal holds for all men. There may be some for whom the obvious appeal of dualism is itself that aspect that makes it very unappealing to them. Such men would not deny the common, emotional appeal of dualism; on the contrary, it would be important that they make much of it, all the way unto declaring it an appeal stemming from an embedded folk-psychology left over from the days of superstition that no properly modern, hard-headed, rational man should touch with a maypole. Therewith the embrace of eliminative materialism appears to put them at the greatest remove from being taken as the kind of men who would fall for ideas on account of their emotional appeal. That eliminative materialism does not appear to be emotionally appealing at all would be emotionally appealing to those in whom the need to appear utterly rational in disregard of the emotional appeal of ideas is the basis of their self-esteem and thereby their strongest emotional need of all.

Fewtril no.232

Democracy vulgarises to so great an extent that it leaves the vast majority of people impressed with its achievements.

Thursday, 31 January 2008

Public Aspiration

“More and more individuals, owing to their bloodless indolence, will aspire to be nothing at all—in order to become the public.”

Søren Kierkegaard, The Present Age, in The Present Age, and Of the Difference Between a Genius and an Apostle, tr. A. Dru (London: The Fontana Library, 1962), p.72.

The Use of Mozart

Helvetica is rightly deemed the typeface that best typifies modernism: it is bland and functional. Of its aesthetic qualities, others say otherwise:
The Helvetica Medium lower-case ‘a’ . . . is the most beautiful two-dimensional form ever designed. Its luxurious sensual curves are balanced by points of crisp tension. Its lovely counter makes me think of Mozart. [1]
The pretension is by-the-by, but what gets my goat is that the name of Mozart is doomed to suffer from its invocation by blighters wishing to impart the aura of aesthetic genius to ugliness and insipidity.

[1] Katherine McCoy, quoted by Ryan Bigge, “The Official Typeface of the 20th Century”, The Smart Set, 5th November 2007.

Fewtril no.231

History is no keen judge: the silliest affairs can become the profoundest events, and the weakest ideas the strongest currents.

Fewtril no.230

It is a cold head that counts upon opportunities to persuade itself and others that it is attached to a warm heart.

Fewtril no.229

Those who beheaded Louis XVI of France for the sake of a democratic republic probably did not consider that so clear a lesson and so direct a solution to the abuse of power could not thereafter be made so easily. To say the least: beheading the people and their representatives is a more difficult — not to say, more bloody — proposition.

Fewtril no.228

I’ll never fit in; I have trouble faking outrage.

Fewtril no.227

There is a terrible lot of straw men walking around — so why not attack them?

Fewtril no.226

Some might say we are blessed by political moralism, in that for every matter about which one might feel guilty, there are a thousand unconscionable ways in which one might feel absolved — so long as one remains an adherent. Yet even if one were to succumb to this graceless convenience, guilt would find its own way, attaching itself at last to one’s own existence and advantages.

Fewtril no.225

The madman’s flight from reality is dramatic compared to what is normal: a steady and sane retreat — most cunningly into a narrow study of some aspect of it by which the rest is blocked out.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

V for Victimhood

Audism is “the hearing way of dominating, restructuring, and exercising authority over the deaf community” [1] and is “the most dramatic form of historical enactment of the enforcement of phonocentrism”. [2] At the appearance of yet another oppressed minority, one subject to the terrible and entrenched prejudices of phonocentrism and audism, it is only appropriate that we all make the effort to express ourselves in the little bit of sign-language that we all know.
[1] Harlan Lane, The Mask of Benevolence: Disabling the Deaf Community (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1992), p.43; quoted by H-Dirksen Bauman, “Listening to Phonocentrism with Deaf Eyes: Derrida’s Mute Philosophy of (Sign) Language”, Essays in Philosophy, Vol. 9:1, January 2008.
[2] H-Dirksen Bauman, op. cit.