A campus controversy that never truly ended
Hara-kiri in the Forum
So Princeton’s classics department (was it last year or the year before), in a frenzy of atonement, committed intellectual disembowelment, while disclaiming its descendancy from the largesse of John Witherspoon, slave owning friend of George Washington, signer of the Declaration, and 6th president of the college, and jettisoned Greek and Latin, as an undergraduate requirement, as an unnecessary impediment to racial proportionalism. Mors voluntariam.
The Princeton classics department did not actually disembowel itself but opened a vein and, rather than in the Forum, did so in the warm bath of academic atonement, overcome, as it were, by a miasma of anxiety and fear of creeping irrelevancy. Management has moved aggressively to upend the guilty order, to bring in new blood regardless of qualification, to think outside the box of scholastic discipline, to surrender to the sweep of the most contemporary expressions of modernity, to confess the sin of institutional Eurocentricity, with its emphasis on the classic Greek and Roman cultures as the cradle of Western civilization, i.e., as the beginning of the conversation. This last the original sin of Whiteness—an embarrassment of Whiteness: to fall upon the sword of thwarted justice.
One might suppose discomfort in feeling comfort slip away, as down a drafty corridor. They’re rationing the sherry and Time is at the door. Academic specialization, at its worst, the last citadel of scholasticism, has crumbled before the assault of popular fiction by visionaries of the future. The department, with its artifacts of flesh and stone, might appear a reflection on a Grecian ruin. Like the bird that circled spiraling inward until flying up its ass. In the process of inner departmental de-colonization, it may be found that in the end there is nothing of history left but random names, random dates, and random places, unless remade to the narrative of our justifiable demise.
One may ask if the perspective of history is that of victims exploited from time immemorial, or that of successful models replicated in new environs, of an evolving scope of civilization, a manifestation of innovations of technology and social complexity flowing outward, through trade, colonization, and assimilation from centers of concentration. The Greeks believed their ways superior to all others, to a degree of certitude, sufficient to heroic continuity. Plowed stony fields, ventured over rolling main to distant shores to replicate their ways.
Why would the keepers of the flame think anyone would be attracted by lower standards. To save the enterprise, but at what cost. The oath was to the honor of the truth. Students from afar come for thirst of knowledge, and to learn the art of thinking. What would Socrates have thought, in what form might his questions have addressed those thoughts? Does one imagine that one attracted to the classics, such to make their study a keystone of one’s career, might not have attained some working familiarity with Greek or Latin by their junior year at Princeton? Perhaps they might take off a year to read a classic, cruise about the Adriatic, come back and try again.
One may perhaps be forgiven for suspecting that some coming to the department at the post graduate level, or those recruited as radical lights to lead the movement to redefine the department, may come with a deeper agenda, that of its dismantlement as part of the ongoing effort to dismantle Western civilization. How else assuage the guilt of Whiteness, decolonize the world to make it fresh, return it to its innocence. And where better start than with the classics, so blatant in their patriarchal, hero-izing, Eurocentric narrative, so unapologetic of their actions, so guiltless in their triumphs. And do the calls to dismantle elitism not carry a whiff of Bolshevistic fervor, the banners of social justice carried by a new elite, their status justified by intellectual purity in the service of the victim class—the image of that class enshrined in perpetuity. Academics find new vigor as death wish jihadists of the culture wars, embracing “an enduring white responsibility for deconstructing our own privilege and the systematic pervasiveness of white supremacy.”
European civilization arose in form such that form carried all before it. Remade the world beyond that world to suit that form. Ignoring borders is not nice but were oft not clearly marked or sufficiently defended to offset projecting demographics. Subjugating others is not nice. Dying in the gutter is much worse. The din of industry is that of exploitation, moving things and people from one place to another, trade a surplus for a need. How could the sin of cultural success become the same as being White while of a place where people generally were—the coincidence of race and fortune. And that relationship ingrained over millennia to make a culture first suited to the habits of that race, and a race selective of its traits according to the needs of that arrangement. How apologize for good fortune, any more than others might see their loss not to have been the fault of others, per se, but of history’s vagarities. Does anyone remember Darwin? Did they take his statue down? All things are not equal. As the late very great E. O. Wilson put it, “Nature is not fair.” Nature favors the strong, the clever, the fortunate.” More ‘advanced’ societies are better at ‘banking’ innovations, ratcheting up good fortune by more efficient systems of preservation and replication of fortuitous discoveries, including having strong literary traditions. We may honor borders best by acknowledging their current states; do unto others according to our current understanding. Be generous and of open hand. If one is to occupy a country for more than a short time, one should be prepared for absorption. “The Teucrians / Will mingle and be submerged, incorporated. / Rituals and observances of theirs / I’ll add, but make them Latin one in speech.” To acknowledge the miasma of our guilt is not to surrender the ground so dearly won. We too now have ancestors buried there. As someone said, “We stole it fair and square.” I think that’s what Aeneas might have said, and might have added “from those who stole it from those who came before.” History would suggest that people have a right to that which they can hold.
While cultural evolution has profoundly shaped the landscape of moral and political debate, and the physical sciences, including geography, have radically altered our view of the cosmos, the principles, and their dynamic balances, as identified by the ancients, seem relevant to the contemporary observer. We compare and contrast our own times to those of classical antiquity because certain principles of organization and behavior, of human nature, and the dynamics and conflictual relationships between those principles, were early identified by intellectual elites of those times and subsequently formed the basis for consideration of those dynamics even to the present.
An aside: The epigrammatic or parenthetic use of loanwords, especially of Latin phrases, may be seen as erudition signaling to other members of the club, as a putting on of airs; or as a recognition of the pith of words well chosen to make a finer point, said better in the original formulation, or to strengthen one’s argument by association with a long tradition of meaning associated with that special terminology, such that some familiarity with such terms may be necessary to the following of that continuum, lest one be confronted by one’s own pons asinorum. When language dies its culture follows. Soon the trail goes cold. Even now literary works of the first half of the twentieth century become increasingly less accessible due to the loss of common frames of reference. Artifacts of language are a window to the ethos of a fading world. But even threads are helpful. And their sharing bonding of the faith: an affirmation of a literary tradition, of continuation, even as the shadows lengthen, the age of the heroic subsumed by the era of apology. Sense of meaning becomes problematic absent sense of continuation.
History is about what was, rather than of what should have been, and the present of what is. We are free to speculate on what alternatively might have been and thereby inform decisions of the present. Less so to rearrangement of the past.
‘Identity’, in the current usage, has the effect of conceptually reducing all to description in terms of simplified generalities suggestive of broad policy initiatives, irrespective of the fact that no statistically generated model can accurately describe any individual. Indeed, human diversity is such that the model may be very limited in interpretive utility and, at great expense, an impediment to progress. The history of Western Civilization is that of a ratcheting up of the scope of identity, in contrast to its particularity, in the pursuit of inclusivity: the evolvement of political entities conducive of cooperative advantage. There’s a baby in the bathwater. Amplectere excellentia.
When I first saw that title, "The White Privilege of Cows" i thought the Grievance Studies (a.k.a. Sokal Squared) hoaxers were back at it. Then I realized, Nah, not nearly enough opaque, polysyllabic jargon.
Thank you, Glenn!
I've read most of the comments. I wish there had been a virtual anti-emetic available before reading.
I came of age in the 1960s in the Washington, DC, suburbs. I marched in protest, was pushed back with sticks, water and dogs. I attended sit-ins and suffered spitting and other indignities. Attended a rare integrated church. In college I studied music; the only measure was how well you performed. After college I entered the Army, the least racist institution in the nation. Afterwards I entered management consulting and found joy in helping people improve their lives, jobs and futures by establishing their own companies. About half of my clients were overseas, where skin color didn't matter.
I have few visual skills. I am an auditory thinker, represent information with sound. One day I visited my friend and dentist; he had a bowl set up with a sign for donations to the Society of Black Engineers. I looked at him quizzically, and he began to laugh. "You never knew I was black!.
No, I didn't. It was never relevant.
My wife of 51 years grew up in a racist household. After we wed, we moved to West Berlin, where our best friends were two black couples and one white couple. My wife was cured.
I've concluded something horrible. There is no way we will ever be able to have a society black politics will accept. The current anti-white, nonstop denigration of the West is beyond anything I'm required to tolerate as an American. I grew up a child of the 'civil rights movement' (read as the Marxist coopting of black folks) and believed fervently in being 'color blind' and also recognized my generation had to eat it on affirmative action, as a temporary step to redress past wrongs.
It all failed. None of what the racial hucksters and activists promoted or promised did anything other than aggrandize the activists and give them political power. And I'm done now. I unfortunately find myself more and more sympathetic with racial separatists who just want to live with 'their own'. I'm tired of the endless burden of black folks suffering. My good will and patience and compassion have been worn out.
There is no practical use for the branch of research dealing with cognitive ability by racial groups except to justify discrimination against a particular group. No one embarks on such research without a preconceived outcome. This particular student dispensed with the useless research and went straight to bare assertions of caucasian superiority as a result of their collective proximity to farm animals. That in itself is pretty damn racist but then for good measure this student then proceeds to justify the strong trampling the weak as "human".
Harvard students protested stinky butter in 1766. Harvard students rioted in 1818 because of dining conditions.
The university professors of the time were outraged.
I would also like to point out that Dr. Loury is fighting for academic freedom. A free exchange of ideas is the starting point for progress, and also for fighting vicious ideologies like racism.
Thank you so much for republishing this. I am a '76 Brown grad, a previously regular donor who has ceased donations pending input that Brown is not acting stupidly vis a vis free speech issues like this. I am not encouraged. I am behind you 100%.
I live in a low-crime area in an 8,000-square-foot home. Lol!
Well said, Dr. Loury!
I could not find "Columbian Exchange Day" with a google search. If a link to this article still exists please list a link. Troubling to me that Brown's censorship could be so effective and complete.
Amen Glenn you've said all there is to say!
While Glenn is patting himself on the back, we have nazis running around in Georgia this weekend intimidating Jewish communities. Hate crimes are on the rise.
so... now I want to read the article that they removed to see how racist it was... Anyone have a link?
I read the article about the cow. Thank you Professor Loury for challenging the concept of “Systemic Racism”. Institutions need to distinguish between two categories of history-telling; (A): Information stories, (B): Propaganda stories.
In A, one tries to place all relevant information in a bucket and then reports about what is in the bucket. While not perfect and subject to human bias, the intent is to account for all information.
In B, one cherry-picks in each sentence while also hiding some truth from the same sentence. The intent is dishonest and manipulative, with a politicized objective.
Truth in advertising ethic requires that organizations and institutions accurately present themselves to actual and potential participants as telling “information stories” vs. “propaganda stories”. Propaganda stories do not meet requirements for use in municipal, state or federal government.