Saturday, December 17, 2005

I am Charlotte Bitching

Okay, here's something from the Ethics and Public Policy Center about Tom Wolfe's book I am Charlotte Simmons, something I've been looking forward to having time to read. Anyway, the editorial is halfway annoying; but since it deals with University students and the role of the professoriat, I figured I would take part in that venerable blogging tradition known as "bitching about something that nobody else cares about".

So, the editorial starts off telling us that none of the critics really got the book, man, which is highly likely. Then it tells us that one brave soul understood its chilling message- John Derbyshire.

As John Derbyshire wrote in National Review, I Am Charlotte Simmons is a reminder of the “darker side” of recent discoveries in the human sciences, especially in neuroscience and genetics. At stake is the “metaphysic” which provides sense and direction to our lives, including the complicated encounter between men and women. The novel invites us to ask: Is love possible in the age of neuroscience? Or have we unmasked human beings only to discover that love is an illusion?

So far, so good. But, then the authors reach for that laziest canard in the conservative canon...

The university, like American and Western society as a whole, was transformed by the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Grounded in an uncompromising individualism of personal choice, the sexual revolution established the legitimacy of casual, pleasure-seeking sex, independent of procreation, family, and even affection. The story of Charlotte Simmons explores the consequences of this momentous change in human behavior and association. Wolfe helps us see that there is no free lunch: In giving full rein to our biological impulses, there is a toll to pay in human longing and human happiness.

It's all the fault of THE SIXTIES!!! Again. We're only a paragraph in and they're pulling the "I don't really want to think about the roots of the social problem I'm writing about, so I'll just blame it on the sixties" garbage. You know where this is going, of course.

Charlotte’s experiences at the fictional Dupont University shed light on these questions, as the ambitious girl from backwater North Carolina is transformed by her sophisticated and salacious surroundings. Far from being the path to higher civilization and refinement of character, Dupont is a toxic impediment to the yearning for higher things, built on a dogmatic denial that higher civilization and refinement of character are even possible.

Except for in my classes. And actually, the classes of at least half the profs I know. But, sure, yeah, dogmatic denial. Duuude...

The individual still seeks status and recognition. But the marks of distinction are all too often inebriation, “hooking up,” expertise at sarcasm (“sarc one,” “sarc two,” and “sarc three”), and insouciance toward matters intellectual and moral.

Sounds about right. We get a lot of kids who are fiercely anti-intellectual, seemingly free of human emotions and derisive towards anything and everything decent or raising in life. So, we agree there. And then, there's this...

As students learn about and fall into this new ethic, the university not only fails to stand in opposition, it accelerates the process. Dupont, that composite of Duke, Stanford, Yale, and the University of Michigan, corrupts the promising young Charlotte. For revealing this disturbing truth, the author has been reviled by those who are thereby revealed.

Yep, it's our fault. Yet again. We're trying to make kids immoral. Forget about a pop culture that valorizes sociopaths, parents that just don't have the time to parent and middle management that wants to turn the university into another warehouse for anti-intellectuals; it's our fault because we "accelerate the process". And how do we do that?

The modern university, as Wolfe portrays it, denies that there are truthful distinctions between higher and lower; it teaches that the soul is not real, and that perfection of the soul is thus a thing of the past.

In other words, it's exactly like the university of the conservative imagination. How lucky.

The setting of I Am Charlotte Simmons is truly “postmodern”—a world dominated by Nietzsche and neuroscience, a world which has jettisoned the moral imagination of the past. Not only is God dead, but so is reason, once understood as the characteristic that distinguishes man from the rest of nature.

"Dominated by Nietzsche and neuroscience"? Excuse me? We are dogmatically enslaved to Nietzsche? Couldn't these people have tried harder? Maybe pinned it on "French philosophy"? And do they have any idea how opposed to neuroscience many humanities profs are, or how uninterested in Nietzsche just about everyone is these days?

This dogma of soullessness is the sub-text for the entire novel. The administration, faculty, students, athletes, and fans are so immersed in this postmodern world that they cannot imagine anything else.

Please, find me one athlete who is reading Nietzsche right now! Find me more than a handful of undergrads who don't just think that Nietzsche was one of the Seven Dwarves. A "dogma of sollessness"? Who are these people and where do they teach?

Look, I know that there are plenty of profs who scoff in the face of God. But, who are these people to argue that kids come into the university morally confused after a steady diet of parental neglect, economic isolation and hip-hop songs that have two major storylines: a) "Shoot tha' fuckin' nigga in the head!" and b) "Girls, let's cocktease 'em for money!" and then get morally corrupted by professors? We're supposed to heal the wounds of a toxic culture, which incidentally speaks only in the language of capital? But instead, we're all reading Nietzsche?


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great blog. Changed the way I was thinking about that article "Love in the Age of Neuroscience," which I'd read prior.