Amazing how much lightning running in on one server can kill your time and desire to blog. 😐 (Not this server…our production Web server at my work.)
Anyway, another interesting Spiked book review, for two reasons: What the author is trying to tell us, and what the article says about the publication.
First, as you can read in the article, the book being reviewed argues that the modern concept of inclusion is reducing the value in our institutions. To become accessible to the masses, they simply require less of us, which has the effect of removing our desire to aspire to the heights those institutions once exemplified.
While I don’t really disagree with the argument — I’ve spent a lot of time in exactly the kind of institutions that produced the kind of pragmatic education the author says is taking over — I would say that I believe pragmatism about expectations doesn’t necessarily have as much to do with high concepts of “inclusion” so much as it has to do with producing as economically efficient a public as possible.
Instead, I wonder if the lowered institutional expectations are a result of continuing cultural partitioning. At one point, if you lived in middle-class suburban consumer world, you might aspire to the role of intellectual, or artist, or successful entrepreneur. That’s still true today, but less so. You may just aspire to being a better middle-class suburban consumer. And why wouldn’t you? Do today’s intellectuals speak to the masses any more than today’s Hollywood stars, in any way except simple exposure? They both work in their own worlds, in their own circles, with their own expectations.
It’s not surprising that other academics review this book and discuss it, because it has been cast as academic. (What else would a book about intellectuals be?) If the author is lucky, it’ll get noticed by the book-buying public at Barnes & Noble, who will briefly propel it into the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list. But in the end, what effect does that have? Some teens decide to cross over, that the academic world is where they belong, so they go to college, major in a soft science, go to graduate school, and reinforce the academic world by writing books and reviewing the books of other people they see at conferences three times a year.
We don’t expect the book to be promoted by Warren Beatty, we don’t expect Willie Nelson to write a song about anti-intellectualism in the United States, and we don’t expect our pastor to have copies sitting in the pews when we walk in. Those are not the worlds where we expect to see this book or its thesis, and we are comfortable with that separation.
And that’s the rub. Perhaps institutions have dumbed down their expectations for the sake of inclusion, but another part of our general dumbing down is our lack of concern about our separations. While we’ve always had those separations, the more freedom we get to cross those lines, the less we actually care about doing so. Culture as mall…you can pick and choose anything, but you’ll primarily go to the stores that have stuff you already know you like. (On the other hand, just try to tell us we can’t go in a store because of who we are. That brings back the caring fast, because that denial is no longer part of our expectations.) We aren’t aspiring to overcome obstacles and gain new worlds, because we simply think of them as being open.
Of course, the greatest danger in taking that freedom for granted, since institutions are so interested in giving it to us, is that we don’t react much if you start taking it away slowly with plausible-sounding reasons…particularly if you work around the less-travelled, less-cared-for edges first. Always a danger.
For the second reason, there is a brief history of the Spiked founders near the end of the article, and it turns out they were, and perhaps still are, Marxists. Wow, I had been reading the publication thinking it was primarily libertarian. I forgot how “conservative” a Marxist can be. 😉