What do you make of the following words of self-promoting wisdom, with text, from a Gen-Z wokester SJW on a video (go to the 12-minute mark) found on YouTube:
“A lot of the people using kitty and pup and bunnyself pronouns are neurodivergent minors. It is a very common neurodivergent experience to feel a disconnect from being human, and from the societal expectation of the gender u were assigned at birth. So when you have this intersection of feeling a disconnect from the societal expectations of gender – whether you’re ND or not, a lot of ppl have this experience who aren’t ND, it’s just very common w ND people – when this intersects, you get nounself pronouns and animal nounself pronouns.”
One’s first reaction – or at least mine – is to think, “What the hell was that?”
Upon consideration, it is clear that the issue at the base of all this, as I alluded to in my last column, is education. More specifically, a poor education.
When people immerse themselves in abstractions, which they themselves do not fully understand, it leads to thoughts and beliefs and explanations that are unconstrained from the reality of the world in which we exist.
Consider this: communication exists on a continuum with clear meaning at one extreme of the spectrum, ambiguous meaning somewhere in the middle, and at the other extreme mere noise. To the extent one lives in a world of abstractions, as does the poor soul from the aforementioned video, the more they will tend toward mere noise.
There is a reason why postmodernist literary critics have dominated “bad writing” contests in recent years. Their notoriously abstract writings have been derided for years as pretentious gibberish, and those who claim to “understand” such texts have been challenged as to their integrity.
A New York University physicist challenged the meaningfulness of such abstract language by submitting an article to the popular-among-postmodernist-professors Social Text. The article was full of postmodernist verbiage and references to postmodernist thinker this and post-colonialist intellectual that, all put together in a completely incoherent argument about the “Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.”
It was all a hoax, as Alan Sokal explained in a simultaneously published article in another journal, Lingua Franca. He wanted to demonstrate that the postmodernist “emperor” had no clothes, and that much of the abstract intellectualizing in academia is simply noise with no real communication taking place.
Today, we seem surrounded by such abstract intellectualizing. Just take in again the incoherent diatribe from our intellectual guide that started off this column.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with the concept of abstractions, per se. Albert Einstein is one of the most abstract thinkers who ever lived. However, his abstractions were always closely anchored in real world thinking about reality as it exists, not some abstract conjectures with little relation to the real world.
Here is a key to seeing if a written or spoken text suffers from too much abstraction: count the concrete nouns. Those are nouns one can experience with one or more of their five physical senses. As opposed to abstract nouns that identify ideas, subjective moods or judgments, or categories.
When one thinks in terms of concrete nouns one is interacting with the real world. If one’s coin of communication are abstract nouns, God only knows what conceived and artificial reality they are living in.
One gets away with such abstract and looney-land thinking because our educational system has so relativized our understanding of objective truth that people often believe they cannot challenge any given discourse without being judged as being a bigot, or illiterate, or unwilling to leave the comfort of their own bias.
Or they are simply ignored as unintelligent and ignorant boobs.
Well, to quote Shirley Temple’s character in the film Fort Apache, “pishtosh.”
There is a joke that illustrates well the incoherence of constructivist relativism with which youth today are imbued. This is the sort of relativism which proclaims that all that is perceived as real is socially constructed and, therefore, is not objectively real.
Simply, there is no objective truth.
Whether it be gender or race or mathematics or physics or citizenship, there is no objective reality to any of it. It is all – all of it – socially constructed, often, as the argument goes, to serve the oppressive interests of the powerful.
So, goes the joke, a young man, thoroughly “woke” to the lack of reality of our socially constructed world, says gravity isn’t real. It’s just a figment of those who use gravity to further their own interests. To prove his point, he goes to the top of the tallest building in town and jumps off. On the way down, as he passes each floor he can be heard saying, “So far, so good.”
A renewal of education that renews an emphasis on common sense, logic and the real physical world in which we exist is desperately needed today. Emphatically so!
In an earlier time in 19th century America, as described by William H. Goetzmann in his book, Beyond the Revolution, education was grounded in John Locke, Scottish Common Sense philosophy and the Constitution (pp 230-1).
He writes: “Without God there was no order. Without order there could be no liberty …. Without liberty there could be no freedom to choose the best of the world’s lifestyles past and present – no freedom even to be educated as to what these might be. But within a Common Sense framework of order, individualism, and community, both were possible, as were innovation and eccentricities that respected the rights of others.”
Education today is dominated by educational bureaucrats who constantly are inventing new pedagogies to justify their bureaucratic positions which, if results mean anything, have thoroughly bankrupted our educational system and ruined countless children’s lives. Today’s educational theorists give no consideration for past educational practices – think Phonics – that, results show, worked well for students.
One could do worse today than follow the advice of John Senior, who established the Integrated Humanities Program at the University of Kansas. A firm believer in a classical education, he has a very detailed approach to education as laid out in the book John Senior and the Restoration of Realism.
There is a serious problem in education today, according to Senior. The students of today, because of their exposure to the soul-damaging effects of a thoroughgoing relativism that rejects objective truth and reality, have become “modern Hamlets and Descartes, skeptical and doubtful of the true, the good and the beautiful, of being itself.” (page 296)
Senior argues students have had enough of today’s liberal arts and critical theory divorced from reality. What is needed is a re-grounding educationally to relink them sensibly and emotionally to reality, with the goal being a rediscovery of beauty, of friendship, of patriotism, and of the good work of civic institutions to make for better informed citizens.
Learning, he insists, should, from early childhood on, be structured from the sensible, to the imaginative, to intelligible knowledge.
Hence, learning should begin with gymnastic, learning of one’s body and its senses through play and sports and meeting challenges which teach courage. In learning about one’s body, most importantly about the physical limits of one’s body, one learns about the physical reality of the world. Don’t underestimate the real-world educational value of the jungle-gyms of yesteryear.
This kind of realism is missing from modern education. Educators today argue against competitive sports, for example, saying activities like Dodgeball creates anxiety among kids and shames the losers of such contests. But how else is one to learn one’s limits?
We all have physical limitations of one kind or another. Isn’t it best to have them exposed so as to know what one’s limits are and, as a result, be able to make the adjustments necessary to live a fulfilling life in a real world of physical and emotional challenges? How can one learn that if shielded from such knowledge?
Next, Senior argues a child’s learning should take in music and poetry, where the real world sounds of instrumental and vocal music are experienced through the physical sense of hearing and the sense of touch if performing with an instrument, while the spoken or printed stories and poems are experienced through the physical senses of hearing and sight.
Experienced as a firm reality, the music and poetry are transformed subjectively into emotions that inspire imagination and memory. Think Disney of the 1950s and 1960s before Disney became “woke.” In this way, the magic of music and poetry and narrative fiction are internalized and forever associated with reality.
If taught by teachers in an abstract manner that emphasizes categories like plot and character analysis, rather than allowing readers to simply immerse themselves into the story, the text loses its inherent power to bind emotionally a reader to a fictively REAL experience of friendship, or love, or beauty, or loyalty.
It is very much as the Robin Williams character in Dead Poets Society tells his students in this short clip. To lose the vividness of the youthful emotions associated with real world music and poetry through deadened educational practices is to begin a long-term divorce from reality itself.
The third area of learning, according to Senior, is an understanding of the seven liberal arts that constitute knowledge in a classical education. The first three liberal arts, grammar, logic and rhetoric, are known as the trivium, and must be learned to advance further.
The remaining four liberal arts, arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy, known as the quadrivium, all have to do with the real world of science we experience through numbers and quantity and proportion.
Senior summed up this classical education by saying “gymnastic begins in experience and ends in delight; poetry or music begins in delight and ends in wonder; philosophy begins in wonder and ends in wisdom.” (p. 149)
It is this kind of wisdom, built from the ground up during a child’s first exposures to reality through gymnastic, music and poetry, and later expanded with intelligible knowledge through one’s formal education if done properly, that establishes and maintains a deep affinity to reality that is so lacking today.
The young woman whose “lecture” opened this article, simply put, is divorced from reality despite her self-understanding as among the wokest of the woke. Indeed, that is the problem with the ideologically abstract policymakers of today who feel unconstrained by reality when making decisions that affect so many.
As John Senior teaches, what is needed is a restoration of realism. Or, in the combined words of novelists Michelle Hodkin and Philip K. Dick, respectively:
“Thinking something does not make it true. Wanting something does not make it real.” and “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
By Ron Nutter
Ron Nutter is a regular contributor to The Blue State Conservative, and retired college professor of Philosophy and Religion living in a cabin on a mountain in Western North Carolina with his retired physician wife, and he still reads voraciously.
Featured photo is a YouTube screengrab.