Author Topic: De-Classifying the Classics  (Read 2523 times)

peter_speckhard

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Re: De-Classifying the Classics
« Reply #15 on: February 08, 2021, 10:13:44 PM »
I've been listening to a Yale open course on the American revolution taught by Professor Joanne Freeman.

https://oyc.yale.edu/history/hist-116

In the lectures, she points out the indebtedness of the founders of American government to classical learning. So the roots of this go back at least to the 17th century. Truly, we should say that this is a Renaissance interest far before the Enlightenment.

Our representative style of government is rooted in that classical tradition. Much of the study of that tradition samples things that happened in ancient Greek and Rome and contrast it with totalitarian or oppressive governance. I think there is still great benefit in reading that history broadly as a learning experience that has born good fruit: modern representative government, expectations of freedom and fairness and rule of law that have guided our nation to become strong.

At the same time, I appreciate the world history movement that is edging out the customary teaching of Western Civ. If there are examples of other civilizations that can also teach us about good governance, that would be valuable.

A missing element in those other civilizations, however, will likely be the biblical tradition. I believe it is the biblical tradition that has balanced out the values sought in western civilization. That is the leaven that has made Western Civilization strong and dominant.
The problem is that the world doesn't have a history in the sense that history is relevant to the present. Today is built on yesterday, which is built on the day before that. The foundation of this building is not the same thing as the study of building foundations. Continuity is key. We don't celebrate the Wright brothers for what they can teach us about flying. Any high school physics student knows more about it than they did. We celebrate them because theirs is the discovery that the history of flight flows through. If it turned out that we discover an ancient biplane frozen in Siberia that proves someone else invented air travel long before the Wright brothers, that would be an interesting curiosity. But it wouldn't teach us anything we don't know about flight and it still wouldn't be the invention that the history of flight flows through. A modern jet is connected to the Wright brothers in a way that no airplane will ever be connected to that other "first" airplane in Siberia. Even if the Siberian biplane from a thousand years ago were way better than the Wright brothers' plane, it would be largely irrelevant culturally and historically. The Siberian plane would factor into the story the way some long-lost uncle who had no children factors into your family tree. Might be a great guy, but he isn't your ancestor. Western Civ is not about biological ancestry but is about cultural inheritance. The Wright brothers changed the world for people of every race. That hypothetical Siberian airplane changed the world for nobody.

Consider Herodotus. He was very interested in other cultures and civilizations and he is considered foundational to the efforts of Western Civilization to write history.

In college I had a class on East Asian History. Turned out to be both interesting and useful for understanding the present although it taught me little about my heritage.
I agree that studying other cultures is interesting and useful. I love the Hardcore History podcast series about the history of Japan, for example. But there is a sense in which the study of other cultures is not the same thing as the study of one’s own culture. The move toward teaching World History instead of Western Civ is an effort to erase that distinction. But that is like studying heritage as a concept instead of one’s own heritage. There is no sense in which ancient Japan led to the formation of our nation. There is a sense in which Ancient Greece led to our nation. It is like Esperanto, the attempt to have language without particulars of history and culture.


pearson

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Re: De-Classifying the Classics
« Reply #16 on: February 08, 2021, 11:02:10 PM »

I agree that studying other cultures is interesting and useful. I love the Hardcore History podcast series about the history of Japan, for example. But there is a sense in which the study of other cultures is not the same thing as the study of one’s own culture. The move toward teaching World History instead of Western Civ is an effort to erase that distinction. But that is like studying heritage as a concept instead of one’s own heritage. There is no sense in which ancient Japan led to the formation of our nation. There is a sense in which Ancient Greece led to our nation. It is like Esperanto, the attempt to have language without particulars of history and culture.


In my experience, courses like World History and Comparative Religion (which I teach) run concurrently with the consumerist mindset.  The modern Western Self is a collector of knowledge-commodities, which are consumed and mostly forgotten, passing through the system and leaving little that is enduring behind.  It is intellectual capitalism, browsing the knowledge market to see what looks fresh today.  It has scant to do with heritage or "personal identity," with discovering how one is situated in life, community, world, history.  For us modern folks, "personal identity" is invented inside the vacuum of personal preferences and other local markets.  Heaven forbid that we should all be born with a past.

Tom Pearson   

Charles Austin

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Re: De-Classifying the Classics
« Reply #17 on: February 09, 2021, 05:23:05 AM »
I find it amusing that Peter, who so vigorously abhors what he calls “identity politics” seems to embrace “culture politics” in these postings.
   It sounds as if he is dismissive of the “cultures” which he contends do not have a direct, historic connection to ours. He says “In ‘Western Civ’ we are plagued by having to answer for people who lived long ago because we claim to have uninterrupted cultural connection to them.” (I would first claim that it is not a “plague” to have to answer for the errors of our ancestors when we have based our society on their errors, but that is another question.)
   It may be that we have – in ways we have not yet seriously explored – certain kinds of “uninterrupted cultural connection” to cultures not part of “Western Civ,” not because they do not exist, but because we were kept from knowing they existed and how they might have influenced our culture.
   Peter writes: “If it turned out that we discover an ancient biplane frozen in Siberia that proves someone else invented air travel long before the Wright brothers, that would be an interesting curiosity.” No, that would be an indication that certain things we have said about “our” culture and that other culture have turned out not to be true.
    In the Netflix movie, "The Dig",  based on real events, in 1939 an amateur archeologist discovers in England a “burial ship” dating back to the 7th century and with artifacts blowing away the “standard” myths about what people of that period were like. A portion of English history had to be written because of that find, and the artifacts are now a prominent exhibit in the British Museum.
   Peter writes: “But there is a sense in which the study of other cultures is not the same thing as the study of one’s own culture.”
   I ponder: Why? How?
   Peter writes: “The move toward teaching World History instead of Western Civ is an effort to erase that distinction. But that is like studying heritage as a concept instead of one’s own heritage. There is no sense in which ancient Japan led to the formation of our nation.”
   I ponder again: Are we sure? Ancient Japan led to a culture which we encountered and evaluated, as contact with that land began to exist in “The West,” and began basing our response to "The East" on our conclusions.
   I think of the Jesuit missionaries of 400 years ago, for example, and maybe even Marco polo. Would there have been pasta in Italy today without his travel to the East? Our views of Japan and Asia were shaped by those experiences with their cultures and our ignorance (or misinterpretation) of those cultures. In intellectual life, in politics and in our understanding of who we are, we paid no attention to anything outside that “Western Civ” framework, except to extol our “Western Civ” as preeminent and “right.”
   Then there is today’s global “culture” which exists due to massive immigration (schools in some places must accommodate Muslim, Hindu and Sikh holidays), the global economy and global politics. The Academy Award-winning documentary, “American Factory,” shows what happens when a Chinese company takes over and rebuilds an auto parts plant in Ohio. African Americans are finding respect for and being influenced by aspects of the cultures of the lands from which their ancestors were taken centuries ago. And they may be less inclined to find all the "glory" in the "Classic" cultures we lift so highly. Hence the Padilla approach, I think.
   We have let what we have known as “Western Civ” be our world view, our identity. To fail to see the errors in that and cling to it becomes “identity politics” on a global scale.
   In Tanzania years ago I was in one church which could have been lifted out of any small town in Germany and set down in a suburb of Dar Es Salaam. And I was at other services, in a sports stadium, in an open field, and under a grass roof, which - while they had the same theology and expression of the Gospel as that "German" church - were not based on the "culture" which designed that steepled edifice.
    Furthermore, as Tanzanians, Ethiopians, Liberians, Namibians and other Lutheran Africans, not to mention Chinese and Indonesians,  took their place in world Lutheranism, their cultures became part of "Western Civ."
« Last Edit: February 09, 2021, 05:27:19 AM by Charles Austin »
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Rev. Edward Engelbrecht

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Re: De-Classifying the Classics
« Reply #18 on: February 09, 2021, 07:07:59 AM »
Herodotus and Strabo show interest in other cultures IS characteristic of historians in Western Civilization.
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Dave Benke

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Re: De-Classifying the Classics
« Reply #19 on: February 09, 2021, 09:04:12 AM »

I agree that studying other cultures is interesting and useful. I love the Hardcore History podcast series about the history of Japan, for example. But there is a sense in which the study of other cultures is not the same thing as the study of one’s own culture. The move toward teaching World History instead of Western Civ is an effort to erase that distinction. But that is like studying heritage as a concept instead of one’s own heritage. There is no sense in which ancient Japan led to the formation of our nation. There is a sense in which Ancient Greece led to our nation. It is like Esperanto, the attempt to have language without particulars of history and culture.


In my experience, courses like World History and Comparative Religion (which I teach) run concurrently with the consumerist mindset.  The modern Western Self is a collector of knowledge-commodities, which are consumed and mostly forgotten, passing through the system and leaving little that is enduring behind.  It is intellectual capitalism, browsing the knowledge market to see what looks fresh today.  It has scant to do with heritage or "personal identity," with discovering how one is situated in life, community, world, history.  For us modern folks, "personal identity" is invented inside the vacuum of personal preferences and other local markets.  Heaven forbid that we should all be born with a past.

Tom Pearson

I taught Comparative Religion for some years at now-closing Concordia, Bronxville.  What I always did at the beginning - it being my prerogative (according to me) as the Bishop In Residence - was to ask the students to speak about their religious background.  Most were lapsed Roman Catholics.  Their paper for the course was to compare their faith journey story with the story line of a religious tradition we had explored.  Kept them occupied at least, and connected to their past. 

Always a learning experience - we started with the "dead" religions, Greek and Roman gods, etc., so I breezed through that, Zoroastrianism and the like. A student raises her hand and says, "Professor, please don't say that Zoroastrianism is a dead religion.  My best friend is a Zoroastrian."  Say what?  "Yes, she's a Parsi."  So I say, "You're telling me she's involved with the whole thing, like the death ceremonies?"  I asked that because it's quite a thing, with a ziggurat and all.  The student answers, "I've been to several.  The spotted dog and the Tower of Silence are very powerful."  She then explained them to the class.

And thus the professor becomes the student. 

Dave Benke

peter_speckhard

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Re: De-Classifying the Classics
« Reply #20 on: February 09, 2021, 09:10:13 AM »

   Peter writes: “But there is a sense in which the study of other cultures is not the same thing as the study of one’s own culture.”
   I ponder: Why? How?
   
Because there is such a thing as culture. And cultures are different. And cultures play a big role in forming people before they can even begin studying anything. But maybe your questions are sincere and you honestly can't tell the difference between studying your own culture and studying some other culture, in which case I lack the skill to engage with you. Or maybe your questions aren't sincere, in which case I lack the will to engage with you. 

MaddogLutheran

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Re: De-Classifying the Classics
« Reply #21 on: February 09, 2021, 09:12:12 AM »
I find it amusing that Peter, who so vigorously abhors what he calls “identity politics” seems to embrace “culture politics” in these postings.

Maybe it amuses you because you're uninterested in what those terms mean, or what they mean to others.   I'll proffer my own definitions, using contemporary American examples, to which you and everyone else (perhaps Dr. Pearson especially?) is free to disagree.

"Identity politics" is the bogus methodology of third party observers claiming that groupings of people should have uniform, common beliefs or behaviors unrelated to the arbitrary characteristics, such as race, language or ethnic origin.  This is Marxist at its core, defining people as "middle class" for example.  One of the earliest contemporary examples of this is Thomas Frank's 2004 book What's the Matter with Kansas, where the author couldn't understand how those dumb rubes in flyover country could possibly vote against their economic self-interest because of unimportant social issues like abortion.

"Cultural politics" is the tendency of people with shared beliefs and practices to coalesce and ally themselves in the public square.  No, there is not a monolithic Catholic population in the United States.  There are traditional Catholics who are pro-life and trend conservative though maybe not exclusively so, while there are also progressive Catholics who are pro-immigrant and probably pro-choice and certainly in favor of government social welfare spending.  I'm not judging who is the "authentic" Catholic, just that both are legitimately cultural in their self-understanding and grouping.  Note this is me trying to listen to how each group describes itself, not me imposing my definitions.

The challenging thing about "Black History Month", for example, in relation to the topic of the classics, is that there is simply not as much recorded history about blacks as there is about dead white guys, which is what the classics are.  Because the victors write the history, and for most of human history, certainly Western civilization, that was white males.  To suggest "alternative" studies is to reject most of ours.  Not that expanding beyond the dead white guys is not salutary, but just not realistic.   During the pandemic, I've been watching the Youtube channels of Mount Vernon, Monticello, and Montpelier.  Most of their scholarship is possible because of the letters/writings of the Virginia post-colonial aristocracy.  There simply exists very little about their enslaved populations, only the casual mention in letters and plantation records, and certainly almost NO direct first-person writing.  Archeology is another avenue to learn about the lives of slaves, but it pales in comparison to the written record left by their masters.  That's not discrimination, it's fact.

« Last Edit: February 09, 2021, 09:13:47 AM by MaddogLutheran »
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Re: De-Classifying the Classics
« Reply #22 on: February 09, 2021, 09:41:12 AM »
When I was newly arrived in Oxford, I wandered through Christ Church Meadow and reflected on how the golden buildings along its north edge were endowed with wealth extracted from people's pain: from the Enclosure Acts, the East India Company, the child labor in the coal mines and the mills and factories, the exploitation of colonial peoples.

My reflections concluded, probably self-servingly, that I could still study theology there, but only if I did my very best, honest work.

There is no innocence to be found. We have to cultivate the virtues appropriate to our sinful state.

Peace,
Michael

I agree with your conclusion and thank you for the images of those golden buildings at Oxford. 
We journeyed once upon a time when journeys were allowed to Toledo, Spain, and walked through those arches of gold brought by the Conquistadores and fashioned into the cathedral.   Of course, to see that is to utter "Holy Toledo."  But it is also to think of the extraction of that gold and what was happening in the Americas to get it back to Spain and again, no matter the magnificence, there is no innocence.

Dave Benke

When I walk through the arches of gold, I usually wonder Big Mac or Quarter Pounder With Cheese?

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Re: De-Classifying the Classics
« Reply #23 on: February 09, 2021, 09:49:50 AM »
When I was newly arrived in Oxford, I wandered through Christ Church Meadow and reflected on how the golden buildings along its north edge were endowed with wealth extracted from people's pain: from the Enclosure Acts, the East India Company, the child labor in the coal mines and the mills and factories, the exploitation of colonial peoples.

My reflections concluded, probably self-servingly, that I could still study theology there, but only if I did my very best, honest work.

There is no innocence to be found. We have to cultivate the virtues appropriate to our sinful state.

Peace,
Michael

I agree with your conclusion and thank you for the images of those golden buildings at Oxford. 
We journeyed once upon a time when journeys were allowed to Toledo, Spain, and walked through those arches of gold brought by the Conquistadores and fashioned into the cathedral.   Of course, to see that is to utter "Holy Toledo."  But it is also to think of the extraction of that gold and what was happening in the Americas to get it back to Spain and again, no matter the magnificence, there is no innocence.

Dave Benke

How about those men who moved the huge stones 15 miles and then to the top of the Acropolis in order to build the Parthenon?

Peace, JOHN
Pr. JOHN HANNAH, STS

Dave Benke

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Re: De-Classifying the Classics
« Reply #24 on: February 09, 2021, 10:23:07 AM »

   Peter writes: “But there is a sense in which the study of other cultures is not the same thing as the study of one’s own culture.”
   I ponder: Why? How?
   
Because there is such a thing as culture. And cultures are different. And cultures play a big role in forming people before they can even begin studying anything. But maybe your questions are sincere and you honestly can't tell the difference between studying your own culture and studying some other culture, in which case I lack the skill to engage with you. Or maybe your questions aren't sincere, in which case I lack the will to engage with you.

Thinking of my own upbringing, the culture in which I was raised was the German-American immigrant culture, version 2.5.  We learned and spoke (when I was a little dude) German in the home, received religious instruction anchored in that heritage, went to the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music to be steeped in music instruction from German heritage teachers, sang in choirs made up almost exclusively of German-background children and adults, were carefully but definitely told to avoid Catholics from a young age up, had no knowledge of or contact with black people (although we knew that they lived nearby and that the South Side was filled with Polish people, meaning we had heard of the "inski" names), had family gatherings during which our elders interacted for significant portions of the time in German, and went to restaurants (John Ernst, Mader's, Bavarian Inn) and cultural events that were steeped in German European culture.  Now - this was post-WWII Milwaukee, and Milwaukee was one of the German epicenters from its beginnings. 

It was then a semi-sequestered way to live.  As time went on, of course, the national emergencies of the 60s made their way to us.  The Freeway system pushed through the black neighborhoods, segregating, separating and razing them to the ground, pushing that burgeoning population - uh-oh - outward on the North Side, where the families tied to the factories lived.  And I became a factory worker in the summertime, working side by side with black and Polish people.  It was a definite jump in cultural appreciation not from a book but from the ground up.  Black working males became my mentors in that system, but mostly I was learning about their culture, religion, and interaction with the wider culture of the 60s. 

The overarching Western culture had to do with the system of law which was enforced very differently in different parts of our city (viz. Fr. Groppi), and democracy, which in Milwaukee meant that our Mayor could be of any party.  For many, many years the Mayors were Socialists.  And the people, union folks like our family, were happy with a working man's socialist mayor, who, at that time, lived about six blocks from us on the north side. 

My experience would be shared by tons of people from Milwaukee at that time, and yet be tremendously distinct from black folks who lived a mile away, and certainly from people in Wyoming or some other far-off land.

Dave Benke

« Last Edit: February 09, 2021, 11:17:34 AM by Dave Benke »

Charles Austin

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Re: De-Classifying the Classics
« Reply #25 on: February 09, 2021, 11:16:48 AM »
Mr. Spatz writes:
The challenging thing about "Black History Month", for example, in relation to the topic of the classics, is that there is simply not as much recorded history about blacks as there is about dead white guys, which is what the classics are.  Because the victors write the history, and for most of human history, certainly Western civilization, that was white males.  To suggest "alternative" studies is to reject most of ours.
I comment:
No, to suggest "alternative" studies is suggesting that we add to our studies, not eliminate part of them.

Mr. Spatz:
Not that expanding beyond the dead white guys is not salutary, but just not realistic.   During the pandemic, I've been watching the Youtube channels of Mount Vernon, Monticello, and Montpelier.  Most of their scholarship is possible because of the letters/writings of the Virginia post-colonial aristocracy.  There simply exists very little about their enslaved populations, only the casual mention in letters and plantation records, and certainly almost NO direct first-person writing. 
Me:
Then we have to find other ways. First of all, we dig more deeply for what written records may exist. We know there are some, and there may be others. Then, rather than simply glorifying the written records of the post-colonial aristocracy, we look more critically at those records. The recent biography of Jefferson did that. It still "excused" his ownership of slaves and relations with Sally Hemmings, but we learned some things that put those matters into a perspective.

Mr. Spatz:
Archeology is another avenue to learn about the lives of slaves, but it pales in comparison to the written record left by their masters.  That's not discrimination, it's fact.
Me:
See above. We have work to do. No one said it would be easy. And it would be discrimination not to do it, namely, "We got our history of old white rich land-owning males, nuts to the history that is not theirs."
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Re: De-Classifying the Classics
« Reply #26 on: February 09, 2021, 01:21:24 PM »
The right-press picked up that story also. This is Dreher, https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/suicide-of-the-humanities-dan-el-padilla-peralta-classics/, but there were several others.

The united refrain was imagine something powerful and universal enough to inspire a kid more or less outside of it to dedicate a life to it, who is now forced to renounce what was his muse.  Imagine the soul twisting torture.

This type of thing is actually part of my great hope.  If all these woke-occupied institutions throw out all this gold, we might be able to establish new ones faster than thought.  I can imagine a role where the local church becomes like the monastery the repository of true learning from both Greece and Rome and Jerusalem.  If you want a career, go to New Haven.  If you want the truth seek it out.

And honestly, its a joke thinking that the classics haven't talked about slavery.  My Latin was rather clear that the entire empire rested on a substrate of slaves.  Of course those were the days where left-y teachers would then make class allusions to wage-slaves and how the American Empire was not that different because of how it treated 3rd world work forces.  Workers of the World Unite!  I am Spartacus! But such things are passe now, too white.  My nice white lady Latin magistra would be forced into a different confession.