Impressed by the lucrative allure of STEM and the popularity of business degrees, universities have ditched their liberal arts programs and turned into vocational training centers with five-star gyms. Foreign language and history departments will be abolished in state universities. philosophy and English literature majors are all over the chopping block.
The hue and weeping over this opaque movement in which colleges are turning away from their basic mission will probably not be enough to stop the forces operating under the guise of fiscal necessity. How can a nation compete intellectually and morally in the twenty-first century global world with a higher education system that cares more about magazine rankings than the transmission of wisdom?
The first Republican primary debate of 2024, held Wednesday night in Milwaukee, revealed the moral bankruptcy of an America that no longer values the kind of enlightenment fostered by liberal arts education. The eight candidates battling to play second fiddle to Donald Trump, who skipped the event to pack for his trip to the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta on Thursday and celebrate his status as the front runner, were themselves unaware of the irony surrounding them.
They were allergic to complexity and catered to the partisan appetites of the Republican primary electorate. Unable to see themselves — let alone the world — literally burning around them, these fearful Republican hopefuls took ideological positions they could not always sufficiently believe in and played roles for audiences they feared, but feared they did still wanted to master.
When asked to raise their hands if they believed human behavior was causing climate change, they shrank on stage as if they had been told to strip in front of the Fox News public. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis resisted presenter Martha MacCallum’s clear request, saying they were “not school kids.” He claimed to want to discuss the issue, but then began attacking President Biden’s handling of the deadly Maui wildfire.
The best defense is insult to a politician unwilling to share his knowledge of life and death. As the head of a state battered by hurricanes and threatened by rising sea levels, the governor knows insurance companies are leaving his state hopeless. But knowledge has become the real enemy of the people for a wannabe demagogue who clings to Trump’s playbook.
Vivek Ramaswamy, the debate’s liveliest contender, used the climate issue to set himself apart from the crowd. The boos that erupted when he declared, “As the only person on the scene who isn’t being bought and paid for… the climate change agenda is a hoax.” Quite the contrary. He went to even more shameless extremes, proclaiming that “more people die from bad climate change policies than from actual climate change.”
Perhaps Ramaswamy contradicted the audience, privately recognizing that failure to recognize the urgency of the crisis is at the root of the inadequate policies that are hastening our demise. But ambiguities can easily go unnoticed in a country that doesn’t give a damn whether Shakespeare is still on the curriculum. And Ramaswamy was certainly careful to back up his far-right beliefs lest anyone mistake him for an establishment politician still barely connected to reality, like former UN ambassador Nikki Haley and South Carolina senator, Tim Scott, neither of which is living up to poll expectations.
Discussion surrounding Trump’s string of indictments was carefully contained, but the chilling spectacle highlighted what happens when leaders no longer have to worry about their place in history because history itself has been demoted as an issue. Former Vice President Mike Pence justified the way he opposed Trump’s pressure campaign to get him to put the President above the Constitution, but his fear of stoking MAGA’s anger was what prompted him to make the statement that God made him do it.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been outspoken on the question of Trump’s suitability for the office. “Somebody has to stop normalizing this behavior, okay?” he claimed. But his appeal to reason fell on closed ears. Few in his party wanted anything to do with accountability for a cult hero who has made obstruction of justice a centerpiece of his 2024 platform. (Host Bret Baier had to scold the cheering audience for preventing Christie from even getting his point across.)
Ramaswamy vowed to pardon Trump before he was even convicted and lunged at Christie’s vulnerable right flank. He claimed that Christie’s “claim that Donald Trump was motivated by revenge and resentment would be far more credible” if his own campaign “were not based on revenge and resentment against a man.” How can anything other than dogma survive in such a forum? Whether it was climate change, abortion, aid to Ukraine, or Trump’s determination to destroy American democracy, the point was not to shed light on a complicated public issue, but to exercise darkness for the sake of political expediency .
Hypocrisy in a primary debate is nothing new, but its openness has reached catastrophic proportions. How come character has so little meaning in American society? What has gone wrong with our collective education that liars, who do not even make good faith efforts to cover their deceptions, can hold the populace in such an enduring hold?
Greek tragedy reminds us that justice requires a broad perspective. The political actors on the Milwaukee stage openly displayed their tragic mistakes. The blind spots in their vision made Oedipus look like a seer, but it was a willful, manipulative blindness that they engaged in.
in one Essay on the New York Review of Books In CP Taylor’s play Good, Jacqueline Rose – co-director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities in London – talks about “the power of fascism to play the strings of the unconscious”. I remembered her sentence as I watched Ramaswamy try to captivate the Republican primary audience.
Christie scored one of his best points of the night when he compared Ramaswamy to “a guy who sounds like ChatGPT.” But how will we see the dangers of artificial intelligence, or the attendant dangers of fascism, if we dismiss the humanities as inconvenient for power?
The first Republican debate of the season took place in a world where literature, history and philosophy were dismissed as irrelevant. Critical thinking was banned and the pursuit of truth gave way to the affirmation of prejudice and the dissemination of doctrine.
Universities deciding which departments to eliminate should think long-term before accelerating this dismantling of our country’s ability to self-examine, let alone govern.