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It’s Always the Fault of Postmodernism

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There’s a certain class of conservatives that love to blame postmodernism for everything. One of them is David Brooks, who blames it for the decline in the humanities:

The humanist’s job was to cultivate this ground — imposing intellectual order upon it, educating the emotions with art in order to refine it, offering inspiring exemplars to get it properly oriented.

Somewhere along the way, many people in the humanities lost faith in this uplifting mission. The humanities turned from an inward to an outward focus. They were less about the old notions of truth, beauty and goodness and more about political and social categories like race, class and gender. Liberal arts professors grew more moralistic when talking about politics but more tentative about private morality because they didn’t want to offend anybody.

To the earnest 19-year-old with lofty dreams of self-understanding and moral greatness, the humanities in this guise were bound to seem less consequential and more boring.

Studying race, class, and gender=boring and not about Truth.

Ah. I see.

It’s hardly surprising that David Brooks would find these topics boring, he doesn’t care about them as a fifty-something year old man. You’d like to think that he’d have enough self-awareness to not extrapolate that all 19-year olds find them boring. But of course he doesn’t. For David Brooks, studying the humanities only has value in so far as we can limit those studies to long dead white males. That he closes by talking about his favorite teacher, who taught ancient Greece, is quite telling. Personally, I find European history before 1500 or so pretty boring. But I also see the value in teaching it. Which is part of what the humanities is–studying human history and values and art from a multiplicity of perspectives, even the ones you don’t care about.

That Brooks waxes about “private morality” and then yearns for us to teach more about a society whose elite men routinely had sex with children says plenty as well.

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