Greg Nowell GN842 at CNSVAX.Albany.Edu
Wed Feb 10 19:26:22 PST 1999

I share the sense of frustration with the general ennui. I hate to be elitist, but if you read Hofstater's 1960 (or thereabouts) classic, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, you will experience a wonderful kind of therapeutic feeling. Still relevant. Like 15 or 25% of New York students being unable to identify the Atlantic Ocean on a map.

I could give so many examples. Some students in our department (3) upset with the general atmosphere of apathy, organized a meeting between students and faculty to discuss the major and ways of making it more appealing. Leaflets, announcements in classes. 14 faculty showed up (out of 20). Four students showed up (out of 400).

Now, I don't think we are stupider than we once were. But I am an elitist in many ways. I think it takes two or three generations to produce intellectuals. One generation struggles to get exposed to the ideas. The next generation is raised with access to those ideas from birth and then might be able to do something with them.

But there is this question of produtive capability (in terms of granting degrees) versus the yield of the ore that's being processed. Back in 1900, college education itself was so elite that the ratio of well heeled well schooled students with an interest to those that were bored stiff was very high. As education gets broadened, we bring in large classes of people that really are at sea with the whole notion of sitting and concentrating in front of a text. I think the "budding intellectual" component has been diluted to an expansion of the throughput capability. Maybe they're stupider. But thhere was a lot of stupidity in earlier times. Now they just watch TV instead of fuck cows in between revivalist tent meetings.

Part of the problem is despair on the order of all I'm gong to be is a shoe clerk. Self-fulfilling.

I've only been in the biz ten years and have a long way to go before I retire. I adapt in various ways. One of them is that I teach what interests me so that I myself am not bored sitting in front of a classroom. Thus I have taught Keynes' GT to students without economics, making them read (or pretend to read) the book; and I am teaching Weber's Agrarian Sociology. It's a solipsistic pleasure.

Now, what I will say: a few smart ones "get it." And the ones that only kinda get it at least are being exposed to real ideas rather than textbooks. None of them reads, so at least they're not reading Keynes rather than not reading some bland textbook.

Leftie in a right-wing society Reader in a non-reading society Thinker in a non-thinking society Educated in a TV society

These are all forms of marginalism. I personally recommend not thinking about it. That way I am always pleasantly surprised at the occasional coherent summary of an argument.

More distressing than the boorish uneducable beer swilling louts are the colleagues who are technicians in their field without being intellectually curious about literature, history, and such. "Intellectual lumber in the brain," is a phrase I remember vaguely, from Alexander Pope (The Dunciad), which is highly relevant.

-- Gregory P. Nowell Associate Professor Department of Political Science, Milne 100 State University of New York 135 Western Ave. Albany, New York 12222

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