In C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952), the troublesome Eustace Scrubb, shirking his work, wanders off, only to find himself in the presence of a dragon. And not knowing the ways of dragons, Eustace himself becomes one. The narrator identifies the principal source of Eustace’s trouble:
A couple of years ago, Sprint rolled out a new advertising campaign touting the company’s unlimited data plan for the iPhone 5. The campaign, no doubt, reflected a well-researched judgment about what would resonate with Apple’s technology-savvy consumers. And what would resonate, apparently, was the desire (or temptation) to live one’s entire life online.
One particularly striking television commercial from that campaign begins with flashes of beauty—a leaf, a neuron, a cityscape, a boy greeting his mother in a scenic mountain setting—as the narrator explains that “the miraculous is everywhere: in our homes, our minds.” Yet simply appreciating and living with this pervading beauty is not enough: “We can share every second in data dressed in pixels.” Private life and private pursuits are things of the past.
When I first heard the Zac Brown Band’s popular single “Chicken Fried,” my wife had to endure another one of my rants about how ridiculous contemporary country music has become. Short of including a rap cameo, the song hits about every cliché coming out of Nashville today. “You know I like my chicken fried,” Zac Brown intones in his Georgia drawl. “Cold beer on a Friday night/ A pair of jeans that fit just right/ And the radio up.”
In the year of my birth, which now seems to me a very long time ago, C. S. Lewis wrote a short and incisive essay entitled The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment (link is no longer available). In this essay, Lewis drew attention to the potential for tyranny of this seemingly humane theory, according to which people were to be treated not according to their deserts, but according to what would make them ‘better’ on whatever scale of goodness was adopted by the therapists, who of course would also decide whether or not the wrongdoers were ‘cured.’
The horrors that Lewis foresaw as following from the humanitarian theory of punishment were those of cruelty and oppression disguised as benevolence.
The current Liberty Law Talk is with Sam Gregg on his newest book, Becoming Europe. Mac Owens reviews this week for Law and Liberty the 2013 Bancroft Prize book Lincoln's Code by John Fabian Witt. Here's the link to my earlier podcast with Witt on the book. So is slower economic growth the result of widening inequality? That's the question David Henderson @ Econ Log asks in his survey of Scott Winship's excellent work on economic inequality. Featured on the front page of Liberty Fund's online mothership is the great economist Paul Heyne with a link to his timely essay "Economics is a…
Robert C. Koons, a philosophy professor at the University of Texas at Austin, has written a piece titled “Dark Satanic Mills of Mis-Education: Some Proposals for Reform” in Humanitas. The problems at Behemoth State University (here Koons self-consciously borrows from Russell Kirk) did not begin, Koons writes, “with Sputnik or the G. I. Bill.”
Instead, Koons—with help from Irving Babbitt and C. S. Lewis—identifies two principal foes, neither one a twentieth century progressive: Francis Bacon and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He writes,
We can best understand the modern university by seeing it as built on the synthesis of these two tendencies, Baconian and Rousseauan. We now justify the hard sciences almost entirely in pragmatic and utilitarian terms, as the incubators of technology, not as observatories from which to behold and contemplate the music of the spheres. In contrast, many in the humanities, as well as most in the new fields of “communications” and “education,” have abandoned the hard road of fact to become the playgrounds of “values.” Since all value is the arbitrary projection and construction of liberated egos, there is no true hierarchy of value to be learned and internalized and to structure the course of learning into a true curriculum.
This work is a continuing development of Koons’s earlier reflections on what he calls the uncurriculum that dominates the landscape of research—and many would-be research—universities. Basically, an uncurriculum is the system of distributive requirements that universities demand from students, for the benefit of the professors, under the guise of giving students choices. The result: Professors get to teach whatever they want to teach that furthers their research interests, and students are required to take those classes, independent from their interests or how such classes could help or develop them.