More, obliquely, on The Common Core

I was assembling over several days some clippings for another set of Tasty Tidbits when I saw a common theme emerging from two of them. Truth has many facets.

1

Brave New World is a work of genius, a phrase almost in common coinage, and probably the only work for which Aldous Huxley will be remembered. He died the same day JFK was assassinated, a rather depressing anticipation of Timothy Leary, dropping acid on his death bed, his last 31 years never having come close to his magnificent 1932.

John Naughton thinks Huxley was a greater visionary than C.S. Lewis or George Orwell. As an admirer of Harrison Bergeron, I’d have to agree.

Revolutions have overthrown the grimmest real-world versions of 1984 and Animal Farm, and I don’t think that Lewis was aspiring to “visionary” so much as “reteller of sacramental myth” in his great That Hideous Strength (and it’s two prequels, Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra).

For the sickness of Brave New World and Harrison Bergeron, there may be no cure.

Here endeth my book endorsements disguised as literary criticism.

2

[I]f you follow the fevered lamentations over the Common Core, look hard at some of the complaints from parents and teachers, and factor in the modern cult of self-esteem, you can guess what set Duncan off: a concern, wholly justified, that tougher instruction not be rejected simply because it makes children feel inadequate, and that the impulse to coddle kids not eclipse the imperative to challenge them.

The Common Core, a laudable set of guidelines that emphasize analytical thinking over rote memorization, has been adopted in more than 40 states. In instances its implementation has been flawed, and its accompanying emphasis on testing certainly warrants debate.

What’s not warranted is the welling hysteria: from right-wing alarmists, who hallucinate a federal takeover of education and the indoctrination of a next generation of government-loving liberals; from left-wing paranoiacs, who imagine some conspiracy to ultimately privatize education and create a new frontier of profits for money-mad plutocrats.

(Frank Bruni in the New York Times, with metered paywall)

There’s a lot to like about Bruni’s column. But he hasn’t engaged the sober, nonpartisan, humanistic concerns that militate against The Common Core – concerns I alluded to the other day and above, which Aldous Huxley understood imaginatively, C.S. Lewis understood both analytically and imaginatively, and Ross Douthat recalls in his separate metered paywall column.

3

Douthat links a Huxley page with the excerpt from Brave New World where the Savage and the Controller spar:

There isn’t any need for a civilized man to bear anything that’s seriously unpleasant. And as for doing things–Ford forbid that he should get the idea into his head. It would upset the whole social order if men started doing things on their own.”

“What about self-denial, then? If you had a God, you’d have a reason for self-denial.”

“But industrial civilization is only possible when there’s no self-denial. Self-indulgence up to the very limits imposed by hygiene and economics. Otherwise the wheels stop turning.”

“You’d have a reason for chastity!” said the Savage, blushing a little as he spoke the words.

“But chastity means passion, chastity means neurasthenia. And passion and neurasthenia mean instability. And instability means the end of civilization. You can’t have a lasting civilization without plenty of pleasant vices.”

“But God’s the reason for everything noble and fine and heroic. If you had a God …”

“My dear young friend,” said Mustapha Mond, “civilization has absolutely no need of nobility or heroism. These things are symptoms of political inefficiency. In a properly organized society like ours, nobody has any opportunities for being noble or heroic. Conditions have got to be thoroughly unstable before the occasion can arise. Where there are wars, where there are divided allegiances, where there are temptations to be resisted, objects of love to be fought for or defended–there, obviously, nobility and heroism have some sense. But there aren’t any wars nowadays. The greatest care is taken to prevent you from loving any one too much. There’s no such thing as a divided allegiance; you’re so conditioned that you can’t help doing what you ought to do. And what you ought to do is on the whole so pleasant, so many of the natural impulses are allowed free play, that there really aren’t any temptations to resist. And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there’s always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there’s always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears–that’s what soma is.”

* * * * *

“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.