Thursday, June 24, 2010

Second Opinion

An acquaintance of mine, Dr. Nick Pandelitis, has a blog he calls Dr. Right on which he has posted a series of very thoughtful and well-informed pieces analyzing health care in America and the legislative "reform" signed into law last spring. Dr. Pandelitis is doubtful, to put it mildly, that the legislation is going to accomplish anything by way of solving the most pressing problems, and will instead exacerbate many of those problems.

Anyone interested in this issue is encouraged to visit his site and read his posts. His most recent is #11 in the series. The others can be accessed by scrolling down from that one.


Charlotte Simmons Redux

Joseph Bottum writes a winsome essay at First Things about a young woman of his acquaintance, a rural girl raised around horses in the American west, who went away to college and lost her innocence. It's a sad story. Here's part of what Bottum has to say:

Even out at a minor western state university, there's no supervision, no moral code, no help. Just the one-hour freshman orientation session that hands out condoms and vaginal dams, with a warning about AIDS. The cowgirl from the ranch-her parents wouldn't have sent her to UC Berkeley or NYU, mostly because old reputations die hard. But they didn't realize they were doing the rough equivalent.

The cost of a small state school's embarrassment, of its hunger to be just like everywhere else, is paid by abortions and the knocked-up, messed-up young women who were thrown to the wolfish boys, unconstrained by either manners or morals.

The bacchanalia of the contemporary American college experience can be resisted, by young people who are strong enough and determined enough to oppose a personal code to the riot all around them. But lots of the young are not that tough. They're weak and silly and susceptible-they're young and uneducated, in other words-and they just want to do what everyone else is doing. In its way, that makes them just like the administrators of those colleges: weak and silly and susceptible.

Sending a child, especially a daughter, to an American college has become a source of deep anxiety for many parents. Colleges have completely abandoned any pretense of supervision of the children we entrust to them. It's frightening for parents to think that Bottum's description of college administrators is pretty much true.

The experience of the young woman in his essay reminds me in so many ways of Tom Wolfe's story of the young woman in I Am Charlotte Simmons, a novel I recommend to any parent who'd like to see what his or her daughter is in for when she heads off to college.


In Defense of Elitism

(Note: Some of the following was taken from a post which appeared on Viewpoint in April of 2008 titled Three Cheers for Elitism.)

In his book To Change the World James Davison Hunter cautions Christians against developing an attitude of elitism that often accompanies a higher socio-economic status.

He never really defines what he means by "elitism," but throughout the concluding chapters of the 3rd essay he seems to assume that the reader shares his disdain for it. I don't think that the assumption, or the disdain, is necessarily warranted.

Like prejudice and discrimination, whether elitism is an undesirable character trait depends a lot on the kind of elitism we're talking about. For many the word "elitism" is a euphemism for racism or a haughty sense of moral superiority and entitlement attaching to one's own socio-economic class. Of course it can be this, but it need not be. Elitism, as I understand the word, is the conviction that some values are better than others, some people are smarter, harder working, more virtuous than others, and some traditions and ways of life are better than others. This, it seems to me, is hard to deny.

Nevertheless, critics will object that in our politically correct post-modern world "everyone knows" that no one's values are any better than anyone else's and that to think otherwise is to be guilty of being a racist, classist, elitist reactionary - to which the appropriate response is: So what.

As William Henry, a liberal Democrat in the Clinton administration once wrote, it's an absurdity to think that all cultures and ways of life are equally admirable. It's scarcely the same thing to put a man on the moon as to put a bone through one's nose.

In The Moviegoer, novelist Walker Percy puts it somewhat differently, if no less bluntly, when he has a Louisiana matriarch named Aunt Edna address herself to this matter. Edna declaims:

"I'll make a little confession. I am not ashamed to use the word class. I will also plead guilty to another charge. The charge is that people in my class think they're better than other people. You're damn right we're better. We're better because we do not shirk our obligations to ourselves or to others. We do not whine. We do not organize a group and blackmail the government. We do not prize mediocrity for mediocrity's sake....Ours is the only civilization in history which has enshrined mediocrity as its national ideal....They say out there that we think we're better. You're damn right we're better and don't think they don't know it."

This proud woman wasn't about to apologize for the obvious political incorrectness of her "elitist" sentiments. Neither should anyone else. Elitism based upon moral principle, so far from being some awful sin, is in fact a virtue, a salutary antidote to the infection of moral relativism currently metastasizing throughout our culture. This may scandalize those who feel that nobody should be so chauvinistic as to think his principles to be actually better than the next person's, but the irony needs to be noted that those who feel this way evidently believe their own moral egalitarianism is better than my moral elitism.

Aside from those enumerated by Aunt Edna, though, what exactly are the virtues which distinguish her "better" class of people? Without attempting an exhaustive list, it's probably correct to say for starters that, no matter what their race or socio-economic status, men and women of this elite class take a great deal of pride in their work, their property, and their character. They assume responsibility for their actions. They strive to be cordial, courteous, and considerate of others. They're dependable, trustworthy, and temperate, willing to defer short-term gratification for long-term benefit. They're frugal, faithful to their spouses, and committed to the well-being of their families. They're mindful of the fact that children do not raise themselves very well and that properly ushering a child into adulthood requires an enormous investment of time, energy, and self-sacrifice. They enjoy and appreciate excellence, especially in the arts and other forms of entertainment. They esteem education, especially for their children, and possess at least a modest appreciation for the life of the mind.

Why should anyone shrink from affirming the pre-eminence of these qualities and from regarding those who share them to be of superior moral timber to those who don't? And why should the social levelers among us be allowed to succeed in making people feel there's something wrong with choosing to avoid the society of those whose lives and habits are the antithesis of the values one cherishes?

It must be emphasized that this is not a matter of race or economics. People of all colors and incomes esteem these virtues and feel uncomfortable around those who don't. Indeed, it's perhaps true to say that many people who share them feel more comfortable in each other's company, regardless of their ethnicity or wealth, than they do in the company of those of similar race and economic class who don't share them.

Moreover, when people are made to feel guilty for believing their convictions to be more noble than their contraries, or when substantial numbers of people are persuaded that the precepts one lives by are merely arbitrary preferences, none of which is any better than any other, then, as with money, the worse will inevitably drive out the better. The lowest moral classes will eventually succeed in establishing the behavioral norms of the culture, and the principles, or lack of them, which govern their own lives and which are in large measure responsible for their being lower class in the first place, will eventually percolate upward, like a toxic gas, and permeate the rest of society. The denouement will be a social unraveling, corruption and disintegration that'll substantially diminish the quality of life of everyone.

Three cheers, therefore, for Aunt Edna and for elitism so construed.