Wednesday, April 19, 2017

It Doesn't Matter, and We'll Never Shut Up About It

Scanning through my work emails this morning, I came upon a mention of an award given to one of our university's lecturers for her work on Canadian Studies. Once again I found myself musing on the paradox of the modern academy's attitude towards "identity".

I have no idea of the content of this particular lady's work, but it's fair to say that virtually the entire academy are lukewarm (at best) when it comes to the idea of nationalism-- whether that's political nationalism, cultural nationalism, economic nationalism, or any other kind.

Once, flicking through an anthology of essays on Canadian Studies, I came across a sentence that fascinated me. I can't remember it verbatim, but it was something like this: "The university is a place for open minds, and patriotism has no place there." So apparently open-mindnedness means ruling patriotism out of bounds-- which doesn't seem terribly open-minded.

The vast majority of academics (at least in the fields of social science and the humanities) seem to favour a post-national, globalised, borderless future. Now, they may deny that they want to get rid of nations, but their understanding of nationhood would be something very watered-down and cosmopolitan.

The same is true of gender, or sex, or whatever you want to call the difference between men and women. The orthodoxy in academe seems to be that it shouldn't matter-- unless you're a transexual, when it's allowed to matter (for some reason). Differences between men and women are unfortunate, and the more they can be abolished, the better. I realize they wouldn't put it as starkly as that, but that's the basic idea. At the very least, they would argue that gender identity should really come down to the whim of the individual, a kind of self-creation or performance.

You'd think that, given all this, they would move on from the subject-- there doesn't seem to be much else to say. But they won't shut up about it. There's an endless mill of books about gender and national identity poured forth by people who profess to find the whole idea of gender identity and national identity cramping, restrictive and old-fashioned.

The same is true of atheists. Chesterton, once again, put it best:

We have had during the last few centuries a series of extremely simple religions; each indeed trying to be more simple than the last. And the manifest mark of all these simplifications was, not only that they were finally sterile, but that they were rapidly stale. A man had said the last word about them when he had said the first. Atheism is, I suppose, the supreme example of a simple faith. The man says there is no God; if he really says it in his heart, he is a certain sort of man so designated in Scripture. But anyhow, when he has said it, he has said it; and there seems to be no more to be said. The conversation seems likely to languish. The truth is that the atmosphere of excitement by which the atheist lived was an atmosphere of thrilled and shuddering theism, and not of atheism at all; it was an atmosphere of defiance and not of denial. Irreverence is a very servile parasite of reverence, and has starved with its starving lord. After this first fuss about the merely aesthetic effect of blasphemy, the whole thing vanishes into its own void. If there were no God, there would be no atheists.

This is true of liberal Catholicism as well, of course. Once you dispense with dogma, who is to say what's wrong or what's right? Everything is up for grabs. Religion becomes a kind of poetry, or self-expression. Theological discussion becomes impossible, or at least, pointless. (As a matter of fact, what happens is that new dogmas come in by the back door-- in liberal Catholicism, the dogmas of political correctness.) It certainly becomes incredibly boring.

This is what I was trying to get at with my Keeping Things Interesting series, here and here and here.

The modern world seems to me like a massive rush down a collection of dead ends, in the illusion that they are wild and uncharted horizons.

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