Thursday, April 24, 2008

Crossing the T

In the 19th century an expansionary West encountered several types of civilizations. In the mad scramble for Africa, Europeans subjugated a whole continent. Elsewhere, in their desire to despoil the riches of Cathay, Europe divided the southern Chinese seaboard among themselves. In the first decades of the 20th century Europe appeared to reign supreme over a world of subjugated peoples. Indian, African, Malay, Middle Eastern and North Asian. But that superficial picture concealed a world of differences.

One type of reaction to Europe was embodied in the British cartoon which showed a cannibal king dressed in a top hat and a morning coat in a sedan chair to meet a British envoy. It was obvious from the cartoon that the tribal King's efforts at dignity were ironically transformed, in British eyes, to a kind of comical pathos. But on the other side of the world the Japanese, similarly humiliated by the appearance of technologically advanced iron ships on their coast, took a different approach. During the Meiji Era, Japan embarked on the arduous task of stealing the fire from Europe. They sent bright young men in large numbers overseas to learn the best and most advanced technologies of Europe. By 1905 the Japanese had not only evened the score but were in a position to give Imperial Russia a drubbing a Tsushima she would never forget.

Peter Hunt describes what it is like to visit the museum ship Mikasa today. The Japanese equivalent of HMS Victory. Although a ship it is also a memorial to the Admiral who fought it to victory and changed the conception of his country to the world. It was on the Mikasa that Admiral Heihachiro Togo made the turn ("Togo's turn") which "capped the T" and allowed him to annihilate the Russian fleet. In that manuever, about one in seven of Mikasa's men were killed or wounded. But if the Japanese Admiral alone deserved the victory, it is undeniable that Horatio Nelson was with him in spirit on the bridge. Togo had consciously made Nelson his hero. And as he closed the Russian squadron he hoisted a signal taken nearly word-for-word from Nelson's signal at Trafalgar. "The fate of the Empire depends upon this event. Let every man do his utmost." You wouldn't expect Nelson hero-worship of a man who had watched his country humiliated by the British. As Hunt writes:

As a lad Togo had served in the shore batteries at Kagoshima in 1862 when the British Royal Navy had shelled the town and shown up the dying Shogunate as the weak and antiquated power it was. Learning from this humiliation, under the Meji Restoration and the modernization of Japan, Togo had become a prime example of the new paradigm: “imitate and overtake.” Whilst the Japanese Army was modelled first on the French army, then on the Prussian, the Japanese Navy held a true course in the wake of the Royal Navy

But for Togo success was the best revenge. Perhaps in his mind he believed the day would come when Nelson's own navy would raise a salute in honor to his own. And he would attain to it, not by pleading, but the power of his own deeds. This is the fundamental message of Bill Cosby's speaking tours, as described by Ta-Nehisi Coates in the Atlantic. "This is how we lost to the white man", he says, by forgetting how to win.

He began with the story of a black girl who’d risen to become valedictorian of his old high school, despite having been abandoned by her father. “She spoke to the graduating class and her speech started like this,” Cosby said. “‘I was 5 years old. It was Saturday and I stood looking out the window, waiting for him.’ She never said what helped turn her around. She never mentioned her mother, grandmother, or great-grandmother.”

“Understand me,” Cosby said, his face contorted and clenched like a fist. “Men? Men? Men! Where are you, men?”

Over and over again Cosby hammers on the point that the only way out of historical injustice -- which surely does exist -- is to learn the lessons of defeat. It's not enough to adopt the trappings of success; to wear the morning coat and finery of the cannibal king. The trick is to steal the fire; to imbibe the formula for victory. Not to rely on goodwill of the "enlightened" as a ticket out of misery but to seize success with both hands.

As Cosby sees it, the antidote to racism is not rallies, protests, or pleas, but strong families and communities. Instead of focusing on some abstract notion of equality, he argues, blacks need to cleanse their culture, embrace personal responsibility, and reclaim the traditions that fortified them in the past. ...

Last summer, I watched Cosby give a moving commencement speech to a group of Connecticut inmates who’d just received their GEDs. Before the speech, at eight in the morning, Cosby quizzed correctional officials on the conditions and characteristics of their inmate population. I wished, then, that my 7-year-old son could have seen Cosby there, to take in the same basic message that I endeavor to serve him every day—that manhood means more than virility and strut, that it calls for discipline and dutiful stewardship. That the ultimate fate of black people lies in their own hands, not in the hands of their antagonists. That as an African American, he has a duty to his family, his community, and his ancestors.

This line of argument is of course an oversimplification. Coates writes:

If Cosby’s call-outs simply ended at that—a personal and communal creed—there’d be little to oppose. But Cosby often pits the rhetoric of personal responsibility against the legitimate claims of American citizens for their rights. He chides activists for pushing to reform the criminal-justice system, despite solid evidence that the criminal-justice system needs reform. His historical amnesia—his assertion that many of the problems that pervade black America are of a recent vintage—is simply wrong, as is his contention that today’s young African Americans are somehow weaker, that they’ve dropped the ball. And for all its positive energy, his language of uplift has its limitations. After the Million Man March, black men embraced a sense of hope and promise. We were supposed to return to our communities and families inspired by a new feeling of responsibility. Yet here we are again, almost 15 years later, with seemingly little tangible change. I’d take my son to see Bill Cosby, to hear his message, to revel in its promise and optimism. But afterward, he and I would have a very long talk.

But it would also have been an oversimplification to expect that Japan's embrace of technology should have won Japanese instant equality with Europeans. Until the 1960s, the image of Japanese would be of the buck-toothed, bespectacled subhuman who was bowing and scraping when he wasn't slipping a knife into your back. It remained for Sony, Toyota and Nikon to prove that Made in Japan could mean better than anything anywhere. Yet the issue remains: what is the best starting point in the quest to undo historical inequality. Is it in talking the talk or in walking the walk? And while Cosby's approach may be an oversimplification, I think he is fundamentally right. Today both India and China are proving, for the second time in history that it is better to attain equality than to demand it. It make take a while before the Left wing intelligensia so common in the Third World picks up this fundamental lesson. But the lesson was there even in Togo's day.

"In 1906, Tōgō was made a Member of the British Order of Merit by King Edward VII. On his death in 1934 at the age of 86, he was accorded a state funeral. The navies of Great Britain, United States, Netherlands, France, Italy and China all sent ships to a naval parade in his honor in Tokyo Bay."

All Japan mourned.

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Blogger wretchardthecat said...

Nowhere is the idea that equality means the rejection of "colonial values" more prevalent than in the Philippines, which is the grip of a left wing academics, many of whom are nurtured by their opposite numbers in the American academia.

Recently, they've tried to ban the teaching of English. The market demand for skill in this language has meant that ordinary people have to shell out extra to be taught by schools largely run by Koreans. The arguments for discouraging English are extraordinary sophistic. Witness this example:

In the Philippines, the language most feared is English. I see this in my students who joke that their noses bleed after they talk in English; in my friends who claim that they speak English only when they’re drunk; and in my doctor who suddenly switches to Tagalog after I tell him that I teach English. We see this fear of English in classes where students feel stupid because they mispronounced a word; in contact centers where applicants take accent neutralization sessions; and in English review centers that continue to mushroom throughout Metro Manila. Fear of English is also manifested in predictions that the country is approaching an English-deprived future; in House bills that seek to make English the sole medium of instruction in schools; and in courses or training programs that focus only on developing grammatical accuracy.

Many research studies prove that learning a language becomes more effective when emotional barriers are eliminated. Linguist and educational researcher Stephen Krashen refers to these emotional barriers as “affective filters.” The formula for success in learning a language is painfully simple: the lower the feelings of fear (low affective filter), the higher the chances of learning.

This is the same BS type of argument that undergirds the idea that English should not be taught to immigrants. And despite the fact that this learned savant's students go out to be instructed by Koreans it remains an article of faith that No English Need Be Spoken Here.

Today in this world there are two models for catching up. One is Robert Mugabe's and Fidel Castro's. The other is typified by Japan, China, India, Taiwan and Singapore. Guess what the Left will endorse? Robert Mugabe where are you ...?

4/24/2008 10:56:00 PM  
Blogger James Kielland said...

The most interesting thing about the "rejection of colonial values" is that it's almost always the marxists, people running under an imported ideology from Europe.

I ran into more than a few gringo marxists in Latin America enthusiastically running around with a missionary zeal unmatched by any of those crazy Bush-supporting Christians, attempting to pressure the locals into rejecting gringo cultural values and other forms of "interference." The irony seemed utterly missed.

Of course, many people against foreign intervention are also enthusiastic fans of El Che, who in every escapade for which he was known was a foreigner attempting to interfere in another society.

I once listened to someone get quite angry about the CIA's "intervention" in the internal affairs of Allende's Chile, and in the same breath express outrage over the fate of several hundred French marxists activists who reportedly disappeared in Chile.

4/24/2008 11:22:00 PM  
Blogger dla said...

Bill Cosby says the obvious, but who is listening? A bunch of conservative white people? There's a big business in being victimized, and Bill's thinking would ruin all of that.

LBJ caused the problem in 1965, although I know he didn't view it that way at all. Today the out-of-wedlock birth rate for Blacks tops 70%. 350 years later and some folks still feel victimized because my ancestors owned their ancestors.

4/25/2008 12:27:00 AM  
Blogger Whiskey said...

Cosby is essentially shouting into the wind. It's worth noting that Dalrymple in Life at the Bottom noted the same attitudes in the White Lower classes.

I don't think intellectuals can be blamed for the illegitimacy rate, or preference for thuggery by young men, and so on in the Black community.

Rather, freed from the needs of awful unity and constraints under Segregation, Blacks in the US did what they wanted. For women, that was choosing the most bad-boy violent thug. Perhaps three different kids by three different fathers. Giving their kids to Granny to raise. No one put a gun to their heads. As free people they are free to choose their own course. And they have.

Just as the white underclass in Britain has. Just as the rest of America is slowly choosing the same thing.

The Pill and the Condom contain freedom for women, freedom from being constrained by the old needs to choose wisely, aided by better economic opportunities. Given this freedom, women in general choose who they want.

Cosby asks where are the men? Why they are the men the women have been waiting for.

I would argue that it would take an event akin to the Black Fleet showing up in Tokyo Bay to change the Black Community's stance on what it wants to be. That's extremely unlikely so non-Blacks should simply accept the Black community as it is, and move on.

Change only comes from within, and requires willingness to change.

4/25/2008 12:47:00 AM  
Blogger Cannoneer No. 4 said...

Live Free or Die, as they say in New Hampshire. They also serve, who provide illustrative example of what not to be.

It takes a village. Self-reliance and personal responsibility amongst the villagers won't put money in Jesse Jackson's, Al Sharpton's or Jeremiah Wright's collection plates, or buy any melanin offsets for guilty white liberals, or provide the clients the Nanny State must have to justify its claim on other people's money.

Breakin' a brother's rice bowl is acting white. And being the only child to testify against Daddy is often unappreciated by siblings.

4/25/2008 01:45:00 AM  
Blogger Cannoneer No. 4 said...

Captain Chester W. Nimitz, USN, Commanding Officer, USS Augusta, attended Admiral Togo's funeral in 1934.

4/25/2008 02:09:00 AM  
Blogger Deuce ☂ said...

..and you forgot to add James, they tore the Che down.

4/25/2008 04:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wretchard: Nowhere is the idea that equality means the rejection of "colonial values" more prevalent than in the Philippines...

The Philippines was 400 years in a convent (under Spain), 50 years in Hollywood (under America) and 3 years on a death march (under Japan) . So why is it when they "reject colonial values" they pick the language of the middle and most benign ruler? A few years ago there was evan a movement for Statehood in the Islands, but I guess the academics prevailed.

4/25/2008 04:24:00 AM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

As Dean Bocobo has successfully argued, English is a language that has become larger than its origins. Originally it was the language of England. And all those "Filipino nationalists" who argue against using a "borrowed" language should first of all remembered that America borrowed it too.

Spanish too has undergone a similar transformation. The same "Filipino nationalists" who argue that Spanish is a colonial language should explain it to Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez who speaks nothing but Spanish.

Just as the future of English is no longer tied to England neither is Spanish tethered to Spain. It is and probably will forever be a South American language.

This goes to the heart of question this post tries to address. Who "owns" the scientific method? Which country "owns" Christianity or the ideas of the Enlightenment? They are the heritage of any man who is willing to take them up. Freedom and belief are never second-hand.

I have met people who claim that to be Muslim is to choose a Third World religion. Really? Is it more Third World than Latin American Christianity? The idea that ideas have passports and visas and colonial or revolutionary aspects is yet one more piece of obscurantist nonsense purveyed by the Left.

The reason the "Filipino nationalists" don't want people to learn English is because they want to maintain their privileged, self-appointed elitist position over the ordinary people. God forbid that the average Joe learn enough English to log on to the Internet, because then their cheesy, meager ideas may be discredited. And this is true of any minority who is told by their "leaders" not to put on airs and try to do better. Not to act too much like the Man, whatever that means, to be authentic to your roots. They are handing you the keys to your prison and asking you to lock yourself up. Unfortunately, many do.

4/25/2008 04:38:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Cosby, among others at this forum, including prominently its host, makes the implicit assumption that "all men are created equal" in their Gaussian distributions along every notable characteristic, including criminality, intelligence, and the "smart fraction" upon whom an advanced technological economy depends. All observed differences in outcome must therefore be the result of "culture" or "racism," etc.

But what if all men are not created equal, even in the large, even in their Gaussian distributions? As a devout Catholic, knowing that all men are created equal, because their Creator created each and every man out of love "in a plan of sheer goodness" [CCC 1], however "useless" or "unimportant" or "unproductive" or "inconvenient" (or small and tiny) he may look to us, I can face the possibility unflinchingly. How many others can, I do not know.

4/25/2008 04:58:00 AM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

When any given attribute is considered, it is obvious that all men are not created equal. For example, Caucasians and Blacks are notably taller than Japanese. Some races have more bodily hair than others. There may be differences in attributes such as abstract reasoning, etc.

But consider the convolution Sigma of all human attributes, including the ones we haven't invented measures for. What does that function look like?

My own guess is that it will show that humanity is biologically level enough -- when you look at all attributes together -- playing field to make culture the decisive attribute over large numbers of people.

Thus, if you take a person from a loser culture and he grows up Japanese or American, the odds are that he will perform in line with the culture he grew up in, rather than resemble the behavior of people in the other sample.

But suppose we believed the predominance of culture to be false. That culture didn't matter. That genetics determined all or most. Then it wouldn't make any difference whether you listened to Bill Cosby or Jeremiah Wright, because since culture doesn't matter, what difference could it make. Yet in reality values make all the difference in the world. The question then becomes which cultural values to select.

Where pure survival is at stake this effect is obvious. Enemies learn from each other. The Blitzkrieg becomes copied by the Russians, the Brits and the Americans. Nobody makes the argument that warfighting should be treated in the way English is treated by Filipino Leftists, unusable because not invented here. Survival is possible because culture is so important. Unlike our racial characteristics, which are more or less fixed, culture means that learning is possible.

It is precisely because culture which is th object of learning, is more important than height, weight or skin color that man is so adaptable. We have survived because we have learned that because of culture all men are equal. And that is the sense in which I believe the Declaration absolutely gets it right. Of course, there are those who want to forget the Declaration; want to forget culture; want to extinguish learning. But we would be fools to listen to them.

4/25/2008 05:31:00 AM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

I think we also see a rejection of free market capitalism and meritocracy in favor of a credentialed, aristocratic elite and priestly bureaucratic caste -- both in the third world and the "West."

The other night I watched "Secrets of the Dead" on PBS. I like the program for what it reveals about Western Intellectuals. One show all but concluded that it really was the Christians who burned down Rome (Christians who were at the same time Jews!).

This episode dealt with the encounter of "Cortes and the
Conquistadors" with the Aztec Empire. The program centered on some Spaniards (including women) who were captured -- along with some of the more unruly subjects of the Aztecs -- and sacrificed.

The ritual involved skillfully ripping the heart out of a living human; lifting said heart up to the sky while it is still beating; tossing the heartless (and maybe headless, I forgot to take notes) body down a steep flight of steps; butchering said heartless/headless/disgarded body.

Well, I thought we could all come together on this behavior and say "that is just wrong." Liberal and Conservative could finally agree. Marxist intellectual and capitalist Robber Baron, finally, in agreement.

OK, maybe we all know that one person -- or two or three -- where such treatment may be understandable (but not condoned!). But to do this by the thousands? Can't we say that you've gone from being a Civilization with a problem to being a Problem with a Civilization? I mean, talk about the church militant.

Gee, do I ever lack nuance. First, it was done to keep the sun in the sky and the sun is still up there so they must have done pretty good job. Plus the Aztecs lacked beasts of burden and their subject people kindda filled that role. And what do you do with an ornery beast of burden? Well, you turn him into a much needed protein supplement. And in a way to encourage the others. So. Sun in the sky. Work gettin' done. Times were good.

Then Cortes shows up -- a combination entrepreneur and labor organizing thug who's gonna steal your retirement. If only he weren't an entrepreneur but, alas!

At this point the Aztec Priestly caste became the "resistance." The same hat trick performed by the Baathist Party (caste) in Iraq. An idea promoted by pretty much the same people. How do we know the Aztec Priests turned into minutemen? There were Spanish heads on those skull racks. Along with the heads of them new fangled horses. I mean, they want to take our jobs!

Well, I concluded that one priestly caste (tenured academia) identifies strongly with another priestly caste -- who no doubt bathed more frequently than the on-the-make Spaniards and were more respecting of books and knew the value of a good protein supplement.

I, on the other hand, saw them as bitter men clinging to their religion and their razor sharp obsidian ceremonial blades and blaming foreigners while fearing change.

Meanwhile the Spaniards slip into the role of the Aztecs. And those who rule now can have a certain regard for the problems the Aztecs faced then. I mean, keeping the sun in the sky is thirsty work. And as the sun gets closer, the globe gets hotter.

Sorry, I think I've gone a little long.

4/25/2008 06:19:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Norris said...

Culture is like a tool: a hammer, a telescope, a wheel, a religion, a method of working with and reworking the world around us.

Nobody owns the scientific method, it is like the wheel, or the triangle: to think that somebody, some culture owns the patent on these things is patently ridiculous—a failure of imagination. The wheel belongs to anybody who can make one. So do vaccines, cellphones, greenhouses, teahouses, coffeehouses, battleships, and bullets. Or a language, say, like calculus. Or English

I am not sure that culture is the object of learning per se, as much as it is a method of surviving in a hostile world, applied knowledge. We live with the consequences of our decisions as individuals and as societies. The Japanese in the 19th century looked at India, China, Europe and America and decided they would prefer to control their own destinies. And they did.

India and China are enjoying their Meiji period of industrialization. In a sense, the modernization of Japan, more so than the American revolution, showed the world that all men are indeed created equal. But all cultures are not. And those that cannot adapt, provide safety, health, security, and perhaps a sense of purpose for their people, ultimately die.

It’s hard to say what the Future holds for the West, or the East, or the place in between where never the twain shall meet. But Malcolm Muggeridge once joked that the last Englishman would be an Indian.

I can't say I would be all that disappointed if he were right....

4/25/2008 06:54:00 AM  
Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...

The cargo cult mentality.

The Middle East has this problem big time. They are able to put on all the airs of a modern developed society because of their oil and the wealth it brings. They can hire ex-pats to run things without having to adjust their culture.

A former colleague told me a student of his was not impressed by the USN's aircraft carriers. He said "Teacher, our nation is wealthy enough, we can buy a few of them". My colleague reminded him it is not enough to buy one, you then have to run and maintain it and the only way they would be able to do that is to hire more ex-pats.

As I have said in other forums the UAE if it really wants to is able to shuck concepts of wasta when it really really wants to. The institute I taught in was told at its inception it had a number of years where it would be completely in charge of its own affairs, this meant making failing grades stick and expelling students who did not make sufficient progress, but that bubble eventually burst.

Its trite to say it, but only the dead do not change and even that really is not true.

4/25/2008 07:05:00 AM  
Blogger mercutio said...

hdgreene wrote:

"one priestly caste (tenured academia) identifies strongly with another priestly caste . . . ."

The professoriat depends on a static culture of preservation of tenure. Evolution everywhere . . . except when it might threaten the status of the intelligentia in the Laputa of the tenured.

In free economies, learning English is a sign of hope.

("How wrong Emily Dickinson was! Hope is not 'the thing with feathers.' The thing with feathers has turned to be my nephew. I must take him to a specialist in Zurich.")
--Woody Allen

4/25/2008 07:53:00 AM  
Blogger davis,br said...

It's an old, old story than isn't it, Wretchard:

1Sam8:4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah, 5 And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations ...10 And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king. 11 And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots ...14 And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants ...18 And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day. 19 Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us; 20 That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.

Sigh. An old, old story, oft' told ...and the action oft' repeated.

And the lesson never, ever learned.

4/25/2008 08:04:00 AM  
Blogger RattlerGator said...

Great post, Wretchard.

James Kielland: people running under an imported ideology from Europe. This is the singularly most frustrating thing about the black intelligentsia today and has been for decades.

hdgreene: I saw that program, too. At the conclusion I was left thinking, this is what you wanted to communicate? This is what you thought was so noteworthy? That the Aztec elites ordered the Aztec masses to fight back!?! And they slaughtered some Europeans, and ate them!?! And we should celebrate the discovery this new knowledge!?! Due to the gallant work of some oh-so-wonderful white academics from Mexico and beyond!?! Damn!!!


To me, what Bill Cosby is doing is valuable, noteworthy work. There will be no immediate turnaround in our community. But it has clearly begun. The young kids have completely turned away from Sharpton and Jesse, et al. I doubt very much if the theatricality of Revered Wright passes muster. Eventually, the good and proper connection between Malcolm X's self-reliance message and MLK's stand up for your civil rights message will win out over the bastardization of that message which is black liberation theology -- a concept which has been unofficially and unknowingly practiced by far too many in the black community (most of us had never heard of the concept) and therefore didn't understand this stuff was being fed to them (us), spiritually and politically. I don't have that lack of knowledge excuse but not until 9/11 did I come to understand just how warped it had all become. And where that path necessarily led.

4/25/2008 08:10:00 AM  
Blogger Benj said...

Wretchard - FYI - The voice I came to trust the most on these issues of education/class/hegemony was a British writer named Richard Hoggart. He was a scholarship boy - working class kid (orphaned young) who made it to Cambridge. Wrote a classic account of that experience called "The Uses of Literacy."
Always on the left - always committed to connection/solidarity! Invented
what's now known as "cultural studies" at the U of Birmingham in the early 60s. But. Didn't have any use for the million ways academic leftists (and others) have made excuses for refusing to make judgments or maintain standards. He's a double-truther. Understands that a failure to recognize the connection between class and SOP versions of intellectualism is a heavy prob that ends up undercutting the life of the mind for everybody everybody. As is a hincty refusal to recognize what's all-the-way-live in subaltern cultures. Yet he never trucked with dumb-downers..."the point is to get across without selling out" - Only thing worse from his pov would have been, well, Bukleyites. Actually - that's a cheap shot. Tories were never his cup of tea (though see his angle on Churchill in the thing I'll paste below), yet he was always more worried about ad-men and fake left academics who were actively doing DAMAGE to working class people.

I'll cut and paste a lecture he gave about the history of Adult Ed in the UK a few years back...BTW - if you're going to keep invoking Cosby - why don't you check into Bob Moses' Algebra Project. Moses is a much more SERIOUS person than Cosby. He's working/transforming schools - not doing one-off visits..Hope you won't resist Moses' example simply because he comes out of the Movement...Fact is there's probably always been a real left and a Cover Version...Doesn't make sense to keep looking for dullards unless you're just looking to prove your moral/intellectual superiority. Why not argue with the best on the other side?

Richard Hoggart

Hoggart gave the following talk at the 50th Anniversary celebration of the University of Glasgow’s Department of Adult and Continuing Education in 2001.

It is an honour for me to be asked to speak at your 50th celebrations, especially since I know that Glasgow’s Department is one of those which are keeping the flag flying in adult education, of the sort I first knew. I feel a little superior today because it is 55 years this month since I had my first appointment in adult education so I can beat you on that.

I want to recall, first, what it was like to start in adult education just after the war. Remember that famous line of Wordsworth, that bliss was it in that dawn to be alive. It wasn’t quite like that, but it was a very good period for those of us who came out of military service at that time. Quite a number of us decided to go for this kind of work; I need mention only two famous figures—Edward Thompson and Raymond Williams. It’s interesting that the fine early books they each wrote both came out of adult education teaching: The Making of the English Working Class and Culture and Society.
It was a curious period, there was the Attlee government, which was encouraging to us. There was the start of the National Health Service. From the Butler Act we had great hopes. More: the country was recognising adult education in a way it hadn’t done before, especially university adult education. There was a spat between Churchill and Florence Horseburgh, who was Minister of Education in the next Conservative government and tried to cut adult education. Churchill was approached, and produced a wonderful sentence on the lines: “never in the history of this island has there been a more worthwhile cause.” In short, he said “Stop it Horseburgh, give them the money.” So, that was a great moment for us.

We remember then what we call the “Great Tradition” in adult education and the dominant figures in that were Archbishop Temple, and the famous conference at Oxford, Tawney, ( I may be the only person in this room to have seen Tawney in the flesh). He was a wonderful man. He headed the WEA for many years. Then Albert Mansbridge who founded the WEA. There are others, naturally; and the baton went later to Titmuss, the great writer on the Social Services.

We admired those people, almost this side idolatry. We felt we were part of a sort of crusade, centred on the correct conviction that many people, far too many people in this country, in Britain, lacked the kind of education they could benefit from, and wanted it for the best reasons. They would be the focus and centre of our work. We were fond of phrases such as “the intelligent lay man” and one invented by Arthur Koestler, who spoke of “the anxious corporals,” who could be recognised because their battle dress always bulged at the back of their trousers, because they had a Pelican paperback stuffed in it.

What we did not think about—in fact we tended to think ill of it—was adult education for vocational purposes; almost anathema to us was the idea of certification within liberal adult education. You did it for the love of God or the relief of man’s estate. We went into the work with very great hopes but often found that what people thought we were going to do was give them socialist literature—George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists—but though we might be of the Left politically, we did not intend to introduce books labelled of the Left. In so far as we were Literature tutors we thought that nothing but the best was good enough for our students, we gave them Shakespeare and great authors. One test of the way we were, I discovered, was that if they became interested in Shakespeare—not talked down to about but personally interested in Shakespeare at its height—then the classes went shorter distances each week so that it gradually took about one term to reach Act 3 of King Lear. That was a sort of success because you were introducing them to Literature and what it could mean. I remember a little phrase which was that “the point of adult education is to get across without selling out,” I would still stand by that….

Very briefly, the above was the sort of world we lived in. We went out 4 or 5 nights a week and then, if we were well thought of, did many Weekend Schools. In fact, after about 10 years of doing this our wives might say: “The children don’t see enough of you. Why not try a job which doesn’t take you away so much?”
How does our society look today, 50 years on? Obviously, we are much more prosperous, and in many other ways things have improved: housing is better; food can be better if we make it so. Education and the National Health Service have had a lot more spent on them. Those gains have to be qualified even though the facts and figures are remarkable. How do we qualify then? We must recognise more than we are doing at present that there is an underclass of about 10-15 percent who really are in a poorer way than we were in the Leeds working class before the war.
The body of working class people were not then a uniform group, they were mixed—they hadn’t been filtered out. There were some very bright ones, some that should have gone out and upwards socially but didn’t, some not so bright, some in work, some out of work, there were some talented in other ways. Those districts could rightly be called communities or cultures of their own.
Nowadays the underclass have been filtered out, partly by education but also by other opportunities as industry and commerce have changed. Good? Yes, to some extent. But those left in the poorest areas—it is not adequate to call them working-class now—they should be called, even though people hate the word, the “underclass.” My own district in Leeds had about 30,000 inhabitants. One grammar school took about thirty aspirants a year, that was filtering if you like, of the race horses. That place, when I last saw it a few years ago, has 15,000 living there. Forty percent are on relief, forty percent are one-parent families, mainly women. Some people there or in other areas are doing their best to improve matters. But it is not too harsh to call them “sinks.” Most of those who have, as we used to say, “something about them” have got out; the others for various reasons couldn’t get out. This is a deeply depressing because it is then easy to move into a cycle of deprivation, with drugs and the rest of it. Perhaps I have rather overstressed that but we should feel more strongly about it; more directly about the underclass than we do.
What about the National Health Service? It is in many ways a disgrace; and in many ways it is magnificent. I have greatly benefited from it as have millions of others. But the disgrace about it—which nobody in this government has firmly addressed—is that it is two-tier, that you get what you pay for. When people tell you that they “went private” and did this with a good conscience because it took the pressure off the waiting list, that is an illogicality. It doesn’t take the pressure off the waiting list—it delays opportunities for those who can’t pay. The two-tier National Health Service is something we must address.
Education is at least two-tier also and becoming more so in certain respects, certainly in England, so much so that now in a district such as Richmond-on-Thames there’s a new breed of freelance tutors teaching middle-class children so that they may get into those selective grammar schools which still survive or those state schools which use some of the grammar schools’ methods. So, in-fact, we are by-passing the problems of Comprehensives, making it harder for them to succeed because the system is once again becoming (or remaining) two-tier. What we are ensuring is a more divided society. To be divided does not mean to be varied, or diverse; those may be interesting conditions. To be divided, split, means that some have many opportunities and others few.
Behind all this is a major shift; to do with the sense of social place. We are told constantly—George Orwell was told almost 70 years ago that he complained too much about class in Britain—that we’re becoming classless. That was apropos The Road to Wigan Pier. I was told it with The Uses of Literacy 40 years ago. People of that type will tell you that they are the best of friends with their char women, except that they call them “cleaning” ladies these days. The best way I can think of approaching today’s changes is to suggest that we are losing some of our old sense of class but its place is being taken by a sense of status, stratification and division chiefly by occupation. The meritocracy is at the top, the underclass at the bottom and the great body of people in between. So that, again, we are divisive. If you think of status in this sense, as a matter of profession and other forms of stratification you would have about 10-15 percent percent who are the meritocrats, the successful lucky ones, about 10-15 percent in the underclass and the great body in the middle who make up “the mass audiences,” the ones at whom the advertisers primarily direct themselves and the PR people and ITV.
What this of course is predicated on is the knowledge that this is now a secular society, but one of consumers, dedicated to commodities; whether we are consuming goods or ideas—well, not ideas so much as opinions; ideas are more intractable than opinions; opinions are easier and cheaper. What comes about then, in a society like this which is also prosperous—there are many more people worth the wooing—is a populist society; and that becomes a relativist society, in that it will not accept judgements between things or opinions, because that divides the customers—the consumers. You have a levelling society; you have a head-counting society. I wrote to the DG of the BBC, saying: “Your advertising men made a disgraceful set of adverts about Lady Chatterley’s Lover. They made it appear to be nudge-nudge, joke-joke book with lots of bonking. But the book is better than that and you shouldn’t distort it.” He replied: “I do understand, but ‘x’ million people watched it.” So where are we? This is just a non-argument. Numbers justify against all other considerations.
It is a society in which we are all assumed to be equal before the cash registers, in which there is no need to worry about individual or personal convictions. So, it is a society which has profound implications for adult education. Look if you will at just two items which I have already mentioned but now in a little more detail—Education and Broadcasting. About 15 percent of this country are functionally illiterate—that is about 1 in 7. What does functionally illiterate mean? It means, in fact, that they cannot really decipher a bus timetable. Bus timetables can be sometimes rather difficult to read, but we should be able to expect that capacity in virtually everyone. The point is though that that 15 percent and some of the others who just get by are not literate enough for a democracy’s needs. They are only literate enough to be conned by people who want to sell them everything from cereals to notions. They’re the victims of what we might call the “stay as sweet as you are society” where you are implicitly asked: “Don’t for heaven’s sake have aspirations and don’t break out of the gang because we’ve got to sell you things.”
We are seeing some extraordinary effects. Two years ago, in a GCSE board of people considering what to put in the English Literature paper, it was heavily argued that there was no place for Shakespeare on the curriculum because—you know what the fashionable word is, don’t you?—Shakespeare was not relevant. If ever there was a misuse of the word, that is one. It was argued that no books earlier than 1900 should be on the lists. One remembers Othello, and the base Indian throwing a pearl away.
The BBC again. If you tell them they are “dumbing down,” they react with horror. They never meant to do that. And they say: “We have Attenborough after all, swimming away there. Or Simon Schama or … and we do many such good things.” Of course they do all that, and feel we will thereby be diverted from criticising such programmes as The Weakest Link. A friend of mine who was a refugee from Nazi Germany ended his career as one of the top executives in the BBC. He rang me in shock after watching The Weakest Link and said: “This is the first truly fascist programme I have seen on the BBC. So much for Public Service broadcasting.”
This is the division again: put in any sort of nonsense you like for the bulk of people and buy off the meritocrats by putting on one of those “quality” programmes I mentioned above. Whatever happens don’t, for heaven’s sake, criticise. One then remembers Maupassant’s story Boule de Suif, with the elegant ladies in the coach which was stopped by the German troops during the 1870 war—worried about whether they would be robbed and raped. Luckily there was a prostitute in the carriage whom they had scorned. But now they said to her: “You go and give them your favours, and that will let us off.” She does, and they revert to ignoring her.
Now, what should be the response of “adult education” to these current pressures towards populist relativism? We should remember first the old historical sense: that it is for the love of God and the relief of man’s estate. And no certificates. Vocational education has a different role. I do not think that we will have much help from the government. Mr. Blair talks about the rise of the meritocrats as though this is a new insight. Has he realised that Michael Young’s book The Rise of the Meritocracy is a satire against meritocracy?
The concentration on vocational, certificated education is now dominant not only in extramural thinking but in the universities as a whole. I know of weighty critics of this in Britain. The best such critic I know—he died not long ago—was Irving Howe in America; he wrote a very fine study of the state of American universities and said that the universities will stand for nothing if they do not “bear witness” about conditions of all kinds outside their walls. What he meant was that universities are more than technological or scientific institutions; they are places in which in almost Matthew Arnoldian sense they consider the true, the good, and the beautiful and try to make judgements about the nature of our lives, our relationships and society in general, especially in a democracy.
When there was a body called the Advisory Council for Adult and Continuing Education —which the last Tory Government let die as quickly as it could—it made, at what proved to be the end of its life, a large survey of the demand for adult education in Britain and, in particular, for the reasons why it was wanted. The results were astonishing. Very many people wanted adult education; even more surprising was the fact that the majority, when they were asked why, said they wanted that kind of education for all sorts of lovely old-fashioned reasons such as: “I would like to understand life better” and “I would like to understand society better” and “I would like to understand myself better.” They had no certification or vocational impulse. They had something of the old Tawney, Mansbridge, Temple, Titmuss, Thompson, Williams aims.
So what we need, even the 75 percent of us who are officially literate but within whom the majority are only just literate—literate at a level at which they can be deceived—we have to go a stage further—is to demand critical literacy. Because in some ways it is harder to live in a democracy than in a totalitarian state because although apparently there is nothing demanded of you, much is all the time pushed towards you by the ubiquitous persuaders. So, if you do not learn how to say “come off it” or “stuff that for a lark.” Or “bugger off” or something like that you will be conned, deceived. There is plenty of evidence of this. Have you any idea—most of you—how loansharks operate to get money out of people who are poor anyway? It is a dreadful story and is increasing. But then in some ways we are a glib society and cheating society in many respects. That is one of the results of insufficiently corralled capitalism; feeding on almost universal instincts.
What we all need more than anything else is not simple literacy but critical literacy and that should start in schools. How to blow the gaff. Then there is an even further aim, which is much more difficult. We need to encourage imaginative literacy. Which is a society in which we know that King Lear matters more than the works of Jeffrey Archer. That is easy to say but hard to arrive at; remember the sales of Mr. Archer? So, greater Critical and greater Imaginative Literacy; those are the models before us and these the main targets of adult education—non-certificated, non-vocational, love of God education. Critical literacy, improved on by imaginative literacy. Great literature figures largely here, but you can introduce almost anything imaginatively, except perhaps Accountancy. Though, come to think of it … even that would be worth trying. I had a problem with a surveyor when we moved house; there was an extraordinary exchange of letters because we did not speak the same language. He was used to a world of protective, big-bow, semi-technical jargon. At first, that was a dialogue of the deaf but we broke through into daylight after about five exchanges.
For whom and to whom, then, should we try to speak? There is, of course, a special case for directly trying to help the worse-off, that needs many more special teams. Yet the most important truth about adult education in the 21st century is that now, if it means anything at all, it should apply to all parts of society, not only to the “anxious Corporals,” and “intelligent lay people.” We must do everything we can to serve them when they come to us. But virtually the whole of society is being incessantly offered trivial values, or the rejection of any value-judgements. The job of adult education is now both wider and deeper even than it was in the 1950s because we do not know now what we are missing and how comprehensively we are being deceived. What can you say of a democratic society which, in the last decade in the 19th century was able to declare that it was the first nation on earth to be fully literate, what can you say when that society, at the turn into the 21st century, has as its best selling newspapers such as the Sun and the News of the World. They will tell you that that’s what people want. But how can they know what they could want if they are only given such limited perspectives?
Last night it was reported that the Heads of ITV are going to put some very firm conditions into ITV now: “We are not going to have all this heavy stuff, we are going to have it lighter—it’s what people want.” It is, again, more the duty of broadcasters in the public service to give people what they don’t know they want and what they need for society to mature itself, not to be mired in low-level tastes. That means that you should not start the news by saying that a famous football manager has had a heart attack. We may be very sorry to hear that, but not as the first item of national, even international, news. The BBC has by now much the same bad habit. The ITV executives above were implying that what is “the news” should be largely decided by what people already think and believe and know; whereas the essence of a civil education is that it shows that you do not know what you can like and what you can enjoy and judge well, until you have been introduced to it. As E. M. Forster reminded us: “How do I know what I like until I see what it is possible to have?”
The beauty of British Broadcasting when it has followed its Public Service remit is that it has tempted people beyond the boundaries they knew, until they discovered that they liked what they saw. That is not high-brow-ism; you can have high quality in popular work as much as in “high-brow” work. You can have second rate but pretentious low-level work, as you can have pretentious high-level work. This is not to say they are all equal. It is not to say that Monty Python is as imaginatively impressive as A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Or the Beatles are as good as Mozart. Both in each pair have their proper place and worth. But that should not lead to a value-free levelling, where some say “We’re Catholic and hospitable; we make no distinctions.” There is a point where that attitude becomes porous, since you are simply saying that everything is equally worthwhile. The best of broadcasting in Britain—which has been a great success, but is now declining—has given its audiences new levels of wit and perception, as in Monty Python and many another, which you do not find anywhere else. An interesting point about these is that a class survey of the audiences showed that they were by social class pretty evenly distributed; as many “working men” as dukes were watching and enjoying the show.
So, in all this, I’m saying that adult education’s job today in and from the universities is not only bigger but deeper. That is required by the kind of society towards which we are rapidly moving.
There are two mottos which I often quote because they are still immensely worthwhile. One of them is from the German Philosopher, Lessing; he said: “We must not accept the wantlessness of the poor.” What he meant, I think, was that we must not accept that people in poverty should remain there, hopelessly. But the statement can be broadened to mean that we must not accept the imaginative wantlessness, the intellectual wantlessness, which can beset the poor; and so can apply to those in the underclass today.
The other sentence is at least as important as Lessing’s. Bishop Wilson uttered it in the early 19th century. It seems to me to apply exactly to our society: “The number of those who need to be awakened is far greater than that of those who need comfort.” In the ’50s, when my generation started in adult education, the people who came to us were often those who, in Bishop Wilson’s words, needed comfort; they knew something was wrong, they wanted to improve things. But they were a small body. As Bishop Wilson pointed out, the number of those who needed to be awakened was much greater than that of those who knew their condition. It still is. I would like to offer the Adult Education Department those two mottos, but especially the second one, for our move into the 21st century.

4/25/2008 08:30:00 AM  
Blogger Whiskey said...

I simply don't see any desire to change in either the Black Community (illegitimacy rate at 70% nationally, 90% Urban Core) or the British (illegitimacy rate of 50%).

Read Dalrymple. He describes the White British underclass which is indistinguishable from that of the people of South Central in behavior and attitudes.

It's pretty doubtful that people there read Marcuse or Gramsci or cared about what intellectuals said. People, within a few generations, went from behaviors designed to advance progress, material and spiritual, into the state we see today.

Specifically, Blacks and Britons chose to have children with many different fathers, none of whom predictably spent any time or money on the kids. Paternity uncertain? So is the commitment. Thuggery and violence defined manhood, and were the attributes chosen to the exclusion of all others by women choosing men. Education was seen as "homosexual" or effete, as was hard work, steady employment, delayed gratification, family solidarity, belief in a morals system, patriotism, and so on.

People chose this for themselves. They chose it because absent a strong religious and cultural component, it seems the default setting of humanity.

Japan was poor and miserable, because the Samurai controlled all the resources, and the average people had no chance to better themselves within the system. The reformers did not just "steal fire" but suppressed the Samurai, and allowed the ordinary people, under monogamy and yeomanry and the rule of law to better themselves within a system that encouraged cooperation, fair play, lots of trust, and discouraged thuggery and the other default attributes of humanity.

Japan's rise is akin to that of Europe, which was basically nothing before the Romans, afterwards, until monogamy and yeomanry took off around 1000 AD and we see magnificent cathedrals, push-back of Muslims and Vikings alike, from a people who had accomplished basically nothing otherwise.

People look at Europe as though it just started circa 1500. When in fact it was nothing for most of it's existence.

4/25/2008 11:32:00 AM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

RattlerGator, it's good to have some validation on "Secrets of the Dead." They were perhaps conveying more information than they intended.

In 1963 I was in ninth grade in an Urban High School. It was about 30 percent African American. I came from a Catholic elementary school. Sonny, who had the next locker, had moved up from the Mississippi Delta a few weeks before. His dialect was so thick it took me a few weeks before I could fully understand him (and he talked a lot). If he resented the Jim Crow south he showed no sign. That fall Bill Cosby hit the scene with his "how long can you tread water, Noah," routine. The Clay /Fraser fight was about to occur. I think there was "a road not taken" back then.

If there is one grudge I hold against the left it is not so much that their solutions don't work, but that they constantly blame others for their failures. And then demand that their failure be "reinforced" at the expense of success.

I went to an integrated high school until "racial balance" came to town, then it was segregated. Poor families were mostly intact until those families got "Help" from the Great Society. Education reforms and a union movement came along that favored mediocre teachers rather than struggling students.

And affirmative action helped upper class whites rather than working class blacks.

This list, unfortunately, is endless. So are the calls for reinforcements. A Great Society Surge, anyone?

4/25/2008 01:14:00 PM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

Actually, it was Sonny Liston who fought Cassius Clay, later Muhammad Ali, in February of '64, I believe. Fortunately, my memory was faulty when I was young so I've no need to worry now.

4/25/2008 01:31:00 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Davis said...

Make all inheritances to legitimate descendants tax free. Make all others taxable at a 50% rate.

4/25/2008 02:25:00 PM  
Blogger Insight said...

Wrethard, I sent in a comment thus morning about economists but it has not shown up.

4/25/2008 03:15:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

If you read the whole Atlantic article, it's a denunciation of Cosby. The writer is firmly in the Obama camp of victimhood and is a champion of blacks standing up for their "rights", which I assume means demands for ongoing affirmative action, reparations, and (like Michelle Obama) not having to ever feel pride in America.

It's not that blacks in America have forgotten how to win, it's that they never knew how to begin with, and are *still* determined to see racism where none exists because some of them see that as the easiest and quickest way to the jackpot at the head of the line ... without ever having to work for it.

Cosby, I think, is and has been right in stressing the value of a work ethic as well as education. I remember listening to his albums when he first started, and howling at his riffs on the difference in parenting between his mother and his father. The Atlantic author also (rather snidely, in my opinion) comments on how Cosby's father deserted the family to join the military so that he grew up fatherless ... which makes me wonder who the man was that Cosby is remembering fondly in his comedy sketches.

4/25/2008 04:30:00 PM  
Blogger bogie wheel said...


I too saw that episode on the Aztecs.

My reaction was that just about all of the English-speaking academics they interviewed to explain context looked like they thought they were in some kind of Morally Neutral Professor contest. ie you couldn't have pried a moral opinion out of them even with a whole can of WD-40 and an extra-large crowbar.

It really doesn't matter to me whether the Aztecs' reasons for the human sacrifice and cannibalism were entirely religious, entirely political, or a mixture of the two. The result was a death-cult that terrorized neighboring tribes for 300 years and indulged in some of the most disgusting and depraved human behavior on record.

For some reason I suspect these same academics who bent over backwards to avoid "judging" the Aztecs, and who were so extremely careful to parse every potentially value-laden word (like "horrible") in terms of a qualifying point of view (what was "horrible" to the Spaniard being decapitated and mutilated was "a sacred ritual" to the Aztec priest doing the killing and mutilating), would not be so effetely polite and accommodating when it might come to, say, the Nazi rationale for Buchenwald.

Yah. I would love to see some Ph.D. just try to sit there and dispassionately instruct the rest of us on how the Jews' horror at being exterminated was, well, their own POV, but you know the SS, they came from a very proud and sophisticated culture that had produced thousands and thousands of pages of sincerely-believed text on why Jews were the vermin of the earth and had to be wiped out.

I came away from that program with two predominant thoughts: (1) Humanity is better off without the Aztecs (there, I've said it!), and (2) Is there any bloody act at all by an ancient indigenous person, committed in the name of his/her religion, that could get a Stanford history professor to blush?

4/26/2008 12:51:00 PM  
Blogger Ken Mitchell said...

Wretchard said..." When any given attribute is considered, it is obvious that all men are not created equal. For example, Caucasians and Blacks are notably taller than Japanese. "

Not necessarily so! Japanese IN JAPAN were short. Their children in America were a little taller, and the Japanese-American grandchildren who were raised on American foods and cared for any American doctors aren't noticeably shorter than mongrel European-Americans like myself. Please notice that modern Japanese, raised in Japan on largely traditional Japanese diets, remain at sub-NBA heights.

Blacks in America have lower IQs than most whites or Asians, said Herrnstein & Murray. How much of that, do you think, is due to lead-based paints and poor pre-natal nutrition?

4/26/2008 03:10:00 PM  

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