Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Old Ancestor, He Just Keep Rollin' Along

Dr. Franklin flying a kite with his friend Amos observing from the genius's knee, by Robert Lawson, via. It was hard to find a good one, too, amid the truly crappy stills and storyboards from the Disney cartoon.

Screenshot from today's Brooks, "A Generation Emerging from the Wreckage", just in case some editor in the retreating rear guard stumbles across this lost detail and puts it out of its misery:

Brooks reports, speaking of the young people he encountered on his Voyage into the Heart of Millenniality,
They looked at me like I was from Mars. 
And no wonder. They've probably never met anybody from one of those cultures where the ancestors are invisible actors living among us, working their mysterious will. Propitiate them, with offerings of burnt animal fat and alcohol! They'll build that promised land yet!

No, of course it's just bad writing. But it's the most amusing thing we're getting on this outing.

Brooks gives us a little more detail on the voyage itself, and how it's working; it's all campuses so far, and very ritzy ones (or "super-competitive" as Brooks calls it), Yale and Harvard and Chicago and Davidson College in North Carolina, which I am less than familiar with, and all grad students and undergrads—
so this is a tiny slice of the rising generation. Still, their comments are striking.
Privilege has its memberships.

By "striking" he means, of course, "more or less in agreement with me", and that's the whole point of this exercise, to trick the students into articulating his thesis for him; thus the opening question of his interview is, "What do you have faith in?" and the answer is
I found little faith in large organizations. “I don’t believe in politicians; they have been corrupted. I don’t believe in intellectuals; they have been corrupted,” said one young woman at Yale.
I guess that's why she decided not to go to Stony Brook or Ohio State. Too many intellectuals in those places.
I asked a group of students from about 30 countries which of them believed that the people running their country were basically competent. Only one young man, from Germany, raised a hand. “The utopia of our parents is the dystopia of our age,” a Harvard student said, summarizing the general distemper.
Extra points for that dystopia-to-distemper phonetic slide, but that kid's sentence was literally meaningless, I think.

The bit I quoted at the top is a great example of this coercive questioning, where he begins with a little lecture about how it used to be when he was in high school, and the syllabus was based on gratitude education and then asks them whether they got that. I'd say the students from 29 of those countries must have been baffled about how they should have learned back home to be grateful to the Founding Fathers for struggling though the wilderness, even if he didn't really claim they hung around after they died.

I may add I have no idea what he's talking about; I'm a few years old than he is and went to a pretty good public high school where I learned quite a bit, though nothing about American history—that's where the worst teachers were parked and you memorized buzzwords all year, from the Era of Good Feeling and the Tariff of Abominations to the Roosevelt Corollary and the Truman Doctrine.
“In my high school education the American Revolution was a rounding error,” one young woman said.
The Revolution has always gotten short shrift because almost nobody, somehow, was ever able to make a good story out of the Revolution until Gore Vidal figured out the secret of putting a little cynicism in it, which doesn't go in more high schools. Seriously, have you ever seen a decent work of fiction not by Vidal, print or movie, about the American Revolution? (Robert Lawson's great book Ben and Me about the mouse Amos Dr. Franklin kept in his fur hat, which taught me more on the subject than anything else I read in my youth, is the exception; as Franklin, along with somewhat conservative but all-cuddly John Adams, is my favorite Founder.)

The era of great storytelling about the American Revolution is now, thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda, who's not even that cynical, though I naturally wish he'd thought twice before making a hero out of that fucking banker. But that's me, no gratitude at all, really, not even for Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Others made it clear that the American story is mostly a story of oppression and guilt. “You come to realize the U.S. is this incredibly imperfect place.” “I don’t have a sense of being proud to be an American.” Others didn’t recognize an American identity at all: “The U.S. doesn’t have a unified culture the way other places do,” one said.
The problem with being so shocked all the time about how awful everybody is that it gets really hard to care.

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