Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Liberal Arts at War

Inside Higher Ed
May 5, 2016
By Robert Weisbuch

“There is a tone of ugliness creeping across the world, as democracies retreat, as tribalism mounts, as suspiciousness and authoritarianism take center stage.” -- David Brooks, The New York Times

Excuse me for interrupting the third year of superheated committee meetings on a minor change in requirements, but has anyone noticed we are at war? Not with terrorists, not with this or that nation, but with something larger and deeper and still more consequential. And has anyone further noticed that we are losing?

The greatest advantage in battle occurs when the target is unaware of being under attack.

The oblivious “we” here are liberal arts educators, but beyond us, all advocates of reason. And the attacking forces consist in the fundamentalist dogmas that have arisen to an alarming degree over the last several years in the world and as populist dogma in the United States.

A rejection of science, reason, understanding and even facticity itself threatens not merely the university but the crumbling of civil liberties into the primitive life that Hobbes described as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

As a leading example, if extremist Muslims now selectively and reductively read the Koran to justify massacres, sexism, intolerance and slavery, our own extremist Christians now selectively and reductively scan the Hebrew and Christian Bibles in just the same way to promulgate just the same rationalizations of evil. Holy books present a full spectrum of attitudes, and international and national conflict today is fueled by choosing the most illiberal passages as the sole word of Allah/God. Millions of people now follow tyrants, justified, they believe, by their “anger” -- the new euphemism for irrational hatred.

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