A Counterculture with Content (Or: One Cheer for the Sixties)
Peter Lawler is Dana Professor of Government and former chair of the department of Government and International Studies at Berry College. He serves as executive editor of the journal Perspectives on Political Science, and has been chair of the politics and literature section of the American Political Science Association. He also served on the editorial board of the new bilingual critical edition of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and serves on the editorial boards of several journals. He has written or edited fifteen books and over 200 articles and chapters in a wide variety of venues. He was the 2007 winner of the Weaver Prize in Scholarly Letters.\r\n\r\nLawler served on President Bush's Council on Bioethics from 2004 – 09. His most recent book, Modern and American Dignity, is available from ISI Books.\r\n\r\nFollow him on Twitter @peteralawler.
Mark Bauerlein, author of The Dumbest Generation, responded quite positively to the final point of my appreciative comments on his book. I said liberal education is always countercultural. Mark wisely understood that many conservative readers wouldn't get what I meant, thinking I was endorsing the self-proclaimed countercultural revolt of the 1960s.
Mark explains that we conservatives or we defenders of traditional educational excellence have become countercultural because the Sixties' counterculturalists have become dominant in our educational institutions. Anyone who defends "real culture" today opposes what has become the mainstream educational culture shaped by the tenured radicals who have used their power to deconstruct liberal education.
There's a lot of truth in what Mark says. Still, I'm not completely against the spirit of the Sixties. The distinguished public intellectual Irving Kristol once gave "two cheers" to capitalism, meaning, of course, that capitalism isn't completely good. He also meant that taking capitalism—or the logic of the market—too seriously as an explanation for everything threatens what makes life worth living. Kristol distinguished himself from radical libertarians and (Ayn) Randians by withholding a cheer from capitalism.
Things have changed some, especially when it comes to education, in recent years. That's why I distribute my three cheers as follows: One for capitalism, one for liberal education (or treating the soul as an "independent variable"), and one for the Sixties.
In my original post (below), I explained that to be countercultural today is to be rather anti-technological. So I actually share the concern of some leftists that American education is being too influenced by corporate techno-giants from Koch to Gates to Walton, as well as by the general spirit of Silicon Valley. I could add here the "disrupting" influences of Harvard Business School, McKinsey and other consulting conglomerates, and so forth. This kind of influence is neither Democratic nor Republican, but exhibits a kind of techno-obsession with productivity (an inconsistent kind of libertarianism that too readily partners with government to achieve its despotic goals) that increasingly permeates both parties. You see it, for example, in the Obama administration's nationalization of the Common Core and its attempt to "play favorites" in higher education. But you also see it in the various public policy foundations in Republican states. Who can deny that those "public policy" guys have "disrupted" the educational agendas of leading Republican governors? Those governors may be on firm ground when they say taxpayers shouldn't fund women studies, but they don't hesitate to add: And philosophy too. I won't repeat what I've said before on their ridiculous obsession with MOOCs.
Here's what's good about the Sixties: There was a rebellion against the technocratic multiversity of behalf of "the art of living." Theorists such as Herbert Marcuse (who was, admittedly, a self-indulgent jerk in many ways) were right that such techno-education had the objective of flattening out the human imagination and human eros. After all, the Tory Bohemian conservative Russell Kirk made the same point on behalf of bohemianism, by which he meant enjoying the unbought gift of life. And the allegedly conservative Allan Bloom said something quite similar a couple of decades later in his The Closing of the American Mind. Leftists with brains acknowledged, after all, that there was something to Bloom's critique, if not in his analyses of causes or his proposals for reform.
So from the point of view of liberal education, there's something good about the Sixties' hostility to careerism, the Organization Man, and the dismissal of life's big questions on behalf of the trivial, high specialized pursuits that scholarship had increasingly become. There was even something to the claim that the university was too readily subordinating its mission to "the military-industrial complex" (which today might be the cyber-informational complex).
Here's what's bad about the Sixties: The failure to find any "real content" that corresponded to the legitimate countercultural impulse. That's because, on behalf of the undirected freedom of "Do you own thing," the Sixties' impulse mistook all discipline for repression, from the discipline of becoming "a cog in a machine" to the disciplined devotion to truth required for any form of higher education. So the thinkers of the Sixties ended up empowering further the technocrats they opposed, by contributing to the emptying out and so the discrediting of liberal education. Our public policy guys say, after all, that it's the Sixties-inspired "suicide of the humanities" that justifies their efforts to purge them from the list of competencies required to certify a college graduate.
So here's my effort at branding: My college, like many others, is trying to recover "the liberal arts advantage." Here it is: A counterculture with content!
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.