When even The New York Times is questioning the value of a Master of Fine Arts, you know something has happened:
It depends on where you’re coming from. If you are one of the truly privileged, you will probably do well with an M.F.A., locking into a publishing system fine-tuned to reward those already rewarded, those without debt, with cultural cachet, with the rent paid for. If you happen to be below that level, with just enough privilege to fool yourself to take on debt, you will probably use your M.F.A. to carry out the “shadow-work” of the creative economy, giving the successful their veneer of success. You will talk about their books, attend their readings, blog and tweet about their work, hoping to ascend to their level one day. And you might.
Yikes. That stung just a little bit and I avoided graduate school like the plague. I'm not sure at what point the MFA transformed itself from academic stepping stone into a pseudo-credential for non-academic jobs. From something you needed to teach to something you needed to work. Hovering over this shift is a very obvious question: What are they teaching you in an MFA that you couldn't learn yourself?
That an MFA is indispensable to learning the writing craft is absurd. The vast majority of successful writers have never been anywhere near an MFA program. These programs have a reputation, rightly from where I sit, of training the young writer to produce little more than uneconomical literary pedantry. The unpalatable nonsense that emerges is subsequently doused in whatever variety of political correctness then in season.
The oldest of writing cliches is to write what you know. This begs the obvious question of most MFA candidates: If all you've known is school, then what do you really know? Imagine taking all the money sunk into an MFA and doing something interesting: Start a business. You want to know how ordinary people live? Understand the gritty reality of the common folk of America? Work with them and for them. There's a better view of the American working class from a lunch truck than any seminar room.
The persistence of this strange degree - which is neither a professional designation nor a proper academic field like literature or history - can't be chalked up simply to stupidity. Those attempting graduate work, even at less prestigious schools, are not lacking in raw intelligence. Nor is it quite a failure of common sense. The MFAs I've known have understood, at least at some primal level, that what they're doing is crazy.
The appeal of the MFA is ultimately emotional. One half it's the romance of the thing. Hanging out with other aspiring writers, able to say that you knew them when. Playing Hemingway or F. Scott in your mind, hoping that the fantasy somehow becomes real. The other half is less charming: Fear. That piece of paper you get at the end is like a magic shield. Out you go into the terrifying void of real existence not alone - with nothing but whatever talent the good Lord gave you- but with your magic paper shield!
I'm a writer. It says so right here!
We can laugh at this only so much. The magic paper shield is everywhere in the modern world. It just seems more absurd when talking about a craft like writing, as opposed to hairdressing or light engine repair. Government regulation played a huge role in creating our over credentialized society. The fear of going into the world with nothing but your wits plays its part too. When we mock masters degrees in puppetry or government issued licenses for manicurists, what we mock is a deep human desire to be saved from the trials and tribulations of life. The magic paper shield is an expression of a very old yearning.
Just remember to come inside when it rains. Those degrees aren't waterproof.
Rachmaninoff was buried here, in a town with a distinctly Wagnerian name, about 25 miles outside New York City, after his death 72 years ago. The plot is on a hillside in a cemetery with other notable graves, including those of the peerless Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig, the actress Anne Bancroft, the bandleader Tommy Dorsey and the author Ayn Rand. A three-bar Russian Orthodox cross stands behind Rachmaninoff’s tomb.
The dispute over his burial place started last month, when Russia’s culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, said that Rachmaninoff’s remains should be exhumed and sent to Russia. “The composer dreamed of being buried in Russia, that’s why returning his remains to his motherland would be a great deed,” he said, according to a report on the ministry’s website.
Nearly twenty years ago the Australian historian Keith Windschuttle wrote a scathing indictment of contemporary historiography. He attacked the prevailing post-modern analysis as little more than "Parisian labels and designer concepts." The book, Killing History, established the basic argument against history written in a way that was divorced from empirical evidence and a sense of universal standards.
This is how we've come to understand the history wars: The destruction of the past through the use of distorted evidence. The rendering of Western history as the bigoted story of small pox blankets and war-time internments. While framed as a fight against the biases of traditional history writing, the post-modern approach commits its own sins while attack those of its enemies. The world of the po-mo historian is a world in which only white Europeans have agency, while the remainder of mankind are little more than child-like victims of European greed and lust.
That's one way to fight a culture war: Subversion. Here's another way, arguably more effective over the long run: Ignorance. Shortly after Keith Windschuttle published Killing History, the eminent Canadian historian J.L. Granatstein wrote Who Killed Canadian History? Whereas the former work raised the hue and cry about political correctness, the latter pointed to another more insidious danger:
“Who, in particular, is responsible for this decimation of our history? - The provincial ministries of education for preaching and practising parochial regionalism and for gutting their curricula of content. - The ministry of bureaucrats who have pressed the "whole child" approach and anti-élitist education. - The ethnic communities that have been conned by Canada's multiculturalism policy into demanding an offence-free education for all Canadian children, so that the idea that Canada has a past and a culture has been all but lost. - The boards of education that have responded to pressures for political correctness by denuding their curricula of serious knowledge and offering only trendy pap. - The media that has looked only for scandal and for a new approach to the past, so that fact becomes half truth and feeds only cynicism. - The university professors who have waged internecine wars to such an extent that they have virtually destroyed history, and especially Canadian history, as a serious discipline. - The university presses and the agencies that subsidize professors for publishing unreadable books on miniscule subjects. - The federal governments that have been afraid to reach over provincial governments and the school boards to give Canadians what they want and need: a sense that they live in a nation with a glorious past and a great future.”
What was said about Canadian history nearly a generation ago will soon be said about American history. Don't believe me? Here's a story from the Heartland:
North Dakota students may or may not learn about the first 100 years of America’s history.
Important topics like the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War and the framing of the U.S. Constitution may simply be ignored by teachers under new history standards approved by the state’s board of education last Monday, the Argus Leader reports.
Current standards do not allow history teachers to delve into topics before the Civil War, so the new standards open up the door but don’t require teachers to cover early American history, as many would have preferred. The recently adopted history standards are set to take effect in 2016-17 school year and whittle the current standards from 117 pages to 44.
If a math teacher was to suggest teaching calculus before algebra he'd be considered incompetent. Teaching the Civil War without explaining the Founding Era is every bit as absurd. Even if such a history was taught without overt bias, it would still be serve to completely undermine the student's understanding of the past.
Teaching history as a series of disconnected facts serves two purposes: 1) It kills the child's interest in the subject by turning it into a very boring version of Trivial Pursuit 2) It insures that the child will remember the facts but not the context. It's that last element that's vital in the culture wars.
Take the granddaddy of all dark moments in American history: Slavery. Let's say you teach the history of slavery but only with reference to American history, ignoring what happened in other times and places. You spend a great deal of time on the experiences of individual slaves, the conditions on southern plantations and the economic importance of slavery to the overall economy. The work of the abolitionists, the Lincoln-Douglas debates and the Civil War are glossed over.
The impression left is of a terrible evil that is at the heart and soul of American history. There must be something genuinely dreadful about a country that would tolerate such evil for so long. How hollow and cynical do the words of the Declaration of Independence ring then? No outright lies have been told with this approach to teaching, yet the context has been repeatedly dropped.
Now imagine teaching the history of slavery in its full context. That slavery and other forms of coerced labor have been an accepted part of countless human societies down the ages. That until the time of the Founding - a few theologians and philosophers notwithstanding - no one much cared about the moral questions raised by slavery. That the Founding Fathers struggled greatly with the moral and political consequences of the "peculiar institution." That no other nation on earth had the moral courage to fight and win a great war on the issue of slavery.
Both approaches are "correct" in the sense that the facts are historically validated. The first approach, however, leads the student to conclude that America is evil. The second approach that America is basically good though with a sometimes checkered moral history. If you're goal is to raise a generation eager to blast away at the foundations of the American Republic, the choice of approaches is very obvious.
The eccentric aunt of Canadian politics points the way back:
Elizabeth May is calling for a return to door-to-door mail delivery by Canada Post, saying the agency can pay for the service by diversifying into services such as banking in rural areas.
The Green leader spoke to reporters Tuesday in front of a recently installed community mailbox in Halifax which she says should be removed.
"Picture this location in the winter Halifax just went through with ice everywhere. Picture people trying to get from their homes to this postal box on foot. This is an idiocy," said May, as cars and trucks sped by on the busy St. Margaret's Bay Road artery.
"We need door-to-door mail delivery."
Having to walk through snow and ice in the middle of winter. You'd almost think you were living in Canada or something. Don't worry too much Lizzy. If global warming is real then people won't have to worry about "ice everywhere" for much longer. They'll just stroll through the balmy February mornings to pick up their junk mail.
What Ms May is missing is that in much of the country community mail boxes have been common place for more than twenty years. More than two-thirds of Canadians don't get home delivery. I guess there isn't "ice everywhere" in two-thirds of the country. Since this is Lizzy May the silliness doesn't come in dribs and drabs but all at once.
In order to subsidize the increasingly uneconomical home delivery of mail, the Green Party leader is suggesting Canada Post get into the insurance and banking business. You read that right. She wants a Crown corporation to put money into the already oversaturated financial services sector. Of course Ms May doesn't explain how Canada Post will make money selling GICs and variable annuities, products it's executives know nothing about. Will the Posties be able to sell these products cheaper and more efficiently than the private sector? Does anyone still believe that?
Having failed at developing a coherent marketing plan for Canada Post Bank, Lizzy then skips over common sense and calls for home delivery as a make work scheme. Apparently the more letter carriers we hire the better the economy will do. Alright. Let's follow Lizzynomics to its logical conclusion.
Delivering physical pieces of paper across Canada is nearly obsolete. There is very little today that cannot be done online. As a nation we're in a period of transition. The idea of a traditional post office is going to look incredibly quaint in about ten years. But let's say that you don't care about. To hell with progress we want jobs! Three cheers for Elizabeth Maynard May!
Fine. The fastest way to create jobs is to destroy technology. Imagine how well Canada Post would be doing if the government ordered the internet to shut down. No more e-mails! No more Facebook! Our political masters would force all of us to go back to writing out letters, putting them in envelopes, sticking on a stamp and then walking over to a mail box. For nostalgia purposes we could even replace all those bland Canada Post boxes and bring back those nifty pre-Trudeau Royal Mail boxes!
This would certainly create thousands of jobs for letter carriers, mail sorters and the necessary back office work force this would entail. Thing is that at the same time it would destroy many thousands of more jobs in the rest of the economy. We adopt more advanced technology because it makes things faster and more convenient. This is another way of saying it makes us more productive.
The Canadian worker is among the most productive in the world. This isn't because we work harder than other nations, it's because of the technology we use. Being more productive is what allowed us to become one of the richest nations on earth. The short-term downside of adopting the latest and greatest is that thousands of jobs are destroyed. In time, of course, thousands of more job are created in their stead. That period of transition can be brutally harsh, yet without this kind of change we'd still be using actual buggy whips.
If Lizzy May really wants to keep Canada out of recession, she needs to learn how economies actually work. She needs to understand that make work isn't real work.
For many years I've kept up a personal blog. Nothing too big or grand. There I discuss mostly politics and history. From time to time I get e-mails from parents asking for reading lists. What books will best impart an understanding of freedom. Like many parents they're unsatisfied with the low-thinking busy work their children get assigned. They're even less satisfied with the flagrantly statist and collectivist slant of their course material.
What these parents are looking for is something that will inoculate their children from the pernicious ideas that circulate in the public school system. While most of the people I've dealt with are devout Christians, a very large number are entirely secular. All of them are thoughtful parents who are terrified of raising unskilled, unemployable children who will whittle away their lives playing revolutionary.
It is the irony of the modern world that the most successful socio-economic system in history, Anglosphere style capitalism, is the least well defended. The times have been worst. Scroll back to the 1930s and with the exception of men like Friedrich von Hayek and Ludwig von Mises there were very few serious voices raised in the defense of economic liberty. Today much of the English speaking world boasts a network for think-tanks, endowed chairs and prominent commentators. Without them we would be in a far worse position than we are at the moment.
Still it doesn't seem like enough. The statists of all parties control the schools, universities and media establishments. The thoughtful parent needs to develop "counter-programming" for their children. Yet for many parents there is almost too much choice. There is no shortage of websites, books, pamphlets, video presentations and online lectures that refute every aspect of the statist project from every angle imaginable. So where to start?
What I usually recommend is to start with the child. What type of child are they? Do they show signs of being a budding intellectual? Football hero? Business tycoon in the making? Not really sure? Giving the wrong type of information to the wrong child usually winds up being a frustrating experience for everyone. Keep in mind the first rule of public speaking: Know your audience.
The biggest mistake I see parents making is dumping great big lumps of book onto unsuspecting students. It must be a terrifying experience. So here is a young person of sixteen or seventeen being confronted with Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises. While these authors were capable of brevity and wit their preferred method was long and thorough. A hardcover copy of Atlas Shrugged is thick enough to subdue most woodland creatures. It may not be quite as successful with teenagers.
The intellectual types will, sooner or later, wade their way through all this stuff. It might take one or two or three passes but they'll figure out what these thinkers were trying to saying. The future entrepreneur, the natural extrovert always looking for an opportunity, is likely to be bored out of his mind reading the Great Books of Freedom. There are exceptions. Don't count on exceptions.
In communicating the ideas of free markets and free minds you have to know your audience. For most people keep it simple. This isn't because they lack the intelligence to grasp more sophisticated ideas, it's that they lack the patience to do so. Everyone has their own particular aptitudes and insights. Work with those aptitudes, not against them. When the kid is bright but not keen I always recommend the great French writer Fredric Bastiat.
Among libertarians Bastiat is an honoured hero, a defender of free markets from a country with a deep streak of anti-capitalism. The French may have given us the term laissez-faire, that doesn't mean they agree with it. Among conservatives Bastiat is a name occasionally mentioned but little discussed. His writings focused mostly on economic questions and he lacked the intellectual heft of Adam Smith, David Ricardo or John Stuart Mill. Yet what he lacked in technical depth he more than made up for in fluency and clarity of thought. Frederic Bastiat was the Great Communicator of economic liberty.
His best work, the work that comes up immediately whenever your search for his name, is a slim volume published in that last year of his life: The Law. I had spent years reading the great intellectual defenders of freedom, working through their complex and often arcane ideas. Yet it all made sense after I read The Law. Bastiat had taught me nothing new. Instead Bastiat taught me to think plainly and directly from first principles.
The great value of The Lawis that it can be used both as a primer for more sophisticated studies, as well as a teaching tool for those largely uninterested in ideas or political discussions. The Law can be read in an afternoon and hold the attention of the jock, the nerd and the Type A personality. The only thing that I've seen that comes close in both clarity and concision are those excellent videos put out by Prager University.
Here is a sampling of Bastiat's prose. On the subject of "Property and Plunder" he writes:
Man can live and satisfy his wants only by ceaseless labor; by the ceaseless application of his faculties to natural resources. This process is the origin of property.
But it is also true that a man may live and satisfy his wants by seizing and consuming the products of the labor of others. This process is the origin of plunder.
Now since man is naturally inclined to avoid pain — and since labor is pain in itself — it follows that men will resort to plunder whenever plunder is easier than work. History shows this quite clearly. And under these conditions, neither religion nor morality can stop it.
When, then, does plunder stop? It stops when it becomes more painful and more dangerous than labor.
It is evident, then, that the proper purpose of law is to use the power of its collective force to stop this fatal tendency to plunder instead of to work. All the measures of the law should protect property and punish plunder.
But, generally, the law is made by one man or one class of men. And since law cannot operate without the sanction and support of a dominating force, this force must be entrusted to those who make the laws.
This fact, combined with the fatal tendency that exists in the heart of man to satisfy his wants with the least possible effort, explains the almost universal perversion of the law. Thus it is easy to understand how law, instead of checking injustice, becomes the invincible weapon of injustice. It is easy to understand why the law is used by the legislator to destroy in varying degrees among the rest of the people, their personal independence by slavery, their liberty by oppression, and their property by plunder. This is done for the benefit of the person who makes the law, and in proportion to the power that he holds.
I remember sitting in a university library and reading the above. The word that hit me was "plunder." That's what Big Government is really all about. When you get past the slogans, the rationalizations and the rhetorical legerdemain that's the essence of virtually all modern governments. Bastiat was not an anarchist, he was a classical liberal. He recognized a need for government, expressed here by using the term "law." He describes the abuse of government power as the "perversion of the law."
Bastiat's refusal to mince words is his great strength as a writer. He is not a wide eyed fanatic. In calm and logical prose he calls a thing by it's correct term. Not subsidy, or grant or benefice but plunder. It's this insight that leads us to Bastiat's most famous and important dictum:
Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.
Now reexamine all the great political issues of today and apply that simple principle: The rhetoric melts away and a cold and unpleasant reality remains. The final chapter of The Lawis entitled simply Let Us Now Try Liberty and finishes thusly:
God has given to men all that is necessary for them to accomplish their destinies. He has provided a social form as well as a human form. And these social organs of persons are so constituted that they will develop themselves harmoniously in the clean air of liberty. Away, then, with quacks and organizers! A way with their rings, chains, hooks, and pincers! Away with their artificial systems! Away with the whims of governmental administrators, their socialized projects, their centralization, their tariffs, their government schools, their state religions, their free credit, their bank monopolies, their regulations, their restrictions, their equalization by taxation, and their pious moralizations!
And now that the legislators and do-gooders have so futilely inflicted so many systems upon society, may they finally end where they should have begun: May they reject all systems, and try liberty; for liberty is an acknowledgment of faith in God and His works.
That was written more than 165 years ago. It's relevance has only grown.
The union-led effort to raise wages and organize workers at fast-food chains in the United States is expanding its focus beyond organized protests at home — its key point of leverage for almost three years — to highlighting McDonald’s actions abroad in hopes that foreign regulators will bring further pressure to bear on the company.
The efforts are intended to build on the success of the anti-McDonald’s campaign in raising wages for fast-food workers in the United States, particularly in New York State.
Prof. Erik O. Wright is a leading Marxist on the campus of the University of Wisconsin Madison. A professor of sociology, Wright has dedicated himself and his work – including the four classes he teaches – to his version of the Wisconsin Idea: promoting Marxism and the eradication of capitalism.
According to his biographical entry on the American Sociological Association website, Wright is the intellectual force behind the radically left-wing Havens Center at the University of Wisconsin. “For 28 years he has headed the Havens Center at the University of Wisconsin,” the entry reads. The MacIver Institute has previouslydocumented the Havens Center’s efforts to promote political action and facilitate the political organization of labor unions and far-left groups in Wisconsin.
In their anti-Trump frenzy the Times has reached for the H-word:
But it’s The Donald who is on the airwaves the most these days. His unapologetic xenophobia has helped to push his presidential campaign to the top of the fractured Republican field. Like certain politicians in the Weimar Republic, he’s found a largely defenseless group to pick on — who also happen to be reviled by a bankable minority of the electorate.
See what the author - a certain Hector Tobar - did there? Clever. He didn't outright call Donald Trump the second coming of Hitler. That would be - you know - tasteless and absurd. Being the classy intellectual that he is Tobar merely implied it in so leaden manner you'd be left reaching for the Aspirin.
Of course by writing "certain politicians in the Weimar Republic" it's entirely possibly that Tobar could have been comparing Donald Trump to Gustav Streseman, Hans Luther or Wilhem Marx. Names that quickly leap from memory when talking about the Weimar Republic.
Then there's the terminology. Notice how Tobar uses Weimar Repubic rather than "Germany in the 1920s and 1930s." That's so those stupid Republicans won't figure out that he's calling them racists for supporting Trump. Whatever the Times is paying Tobar - and given freelance rates these days I doubt it's much - it simply isn't enough. It'll be years before members of the "stupid party" figure out that they're being insulted and condescend toward.
Now implying that America's most badly coiffed billionaire is Hitler sounds like a show stopper. This is the moment when Tobar should just drop the mic and walk off stage, the roar of the crowd filling his ears as his editors slaps him on the back and tells him how brilliant a column it was. But that's not how Hector Tobar rolls. Nope. Like Alice Cooper in his prime, he's going to do something even more outrageous.
Any monsters and ghosts haunt the dreams of Latino children. There is “La Llorona,” who is said to moan for her dead children. And more recently, the Chupacabra, which sucks the blood from farm animals and maybe a boy or a girl if he or she doesn’t behave.
Now we can add a new boogeyman to the repertoire of scary Latino bedtime stories.
His name is The Donald.
Yes ladies and gentlemen, The New York Times has just called Donald Trump the bogeyman. Adolf eat your heart out. The newspaper of record has resorted to childish name calling. The piece even features an interview with a 7 year old Latino boy. Apparently he's not a Trump supporter. So there goes the Hispanic vote in 2028.
But that's not all. Why would it be really?
Sheriff Arpaio, who joined Mr. Trump at an Arizona rally in July, is famous for his aggressive pursuit of undocumented immigrants. I like to think of him as our Cucuy (a kidnapping boogeyman also known as El Cuco). The Fox News host Bill O’Reilly is El Cadejo (an angry being with sharp canines), and the conservative pundit Ann Coulter is a Llorona screaming “¡Adiós, América!” — the title of her recent anti-Mexico polemic, which refers to the country as “a third world hellhole.”
We can debate the merits of calling Mexico a "hellhole," however you'd be hard pressed to confuse it with Switzerland or even New Jersey. There's a reason the foot traffic is mostly one way. The recurring theme of the article is that Trump is a bigot. He's not a bigot. Not even a tiny little bit of a racist. There are many terrible things you can saying about Donald Trump, harbouring racial animus ain't one of them.
The issue that Trump is raising is illegal immigration, not legal immigration from any particular country. Nor is it inherently racist to argue that reducing low skilled immigration at a time of mass unemployment is a bad idea. Trump has made his arguments in a tactless and offensive manner, what do you expect from a man who builds things like this?
I'm hardly a fan of the Donald, who's comebacks aren't much more sophisticated than those of Hector Tobar. I draw your attention to his recurring spats with Jonah Goldberg, in particular his accusation that Mr Goldberg is incapable of buying his own pants. It's not quite your mother wears combat boots but it's close. The absurdity of the man shouldn't distract from the importance of the issue.
The problem with the Donald isn't the Donald, it's some of his detractors. The Left has turned Trump into such a bogeyman - literally - that many on the Right now feel obliged to defend him. A certain partisan logic is taking hold, this is creating a reflexive pro-Trump stand among people who might otherwise think twice about backing a pro-choice, pro-socialized health care conservative of convenience.
What made Trump a viable candidate is hitting upon - almost by accident - the issue of illegal immigration. What has kept him as a viable candidate is the Trump Derangement Syndrome of the Left.
Despite a deeply rooted national aversion to waste, discarded homes are spreading across Japan like a blight in a garden. Long-term vacancy rates have climbed significantly higher than in the United States or Europe, and some eight million dwellings are now unoccupied, according to a government count. Nearly half of them have been forsaken completely — neither for sale nor for rent, they simply sit there, in varying states of disrepair.