The something lost? The City of God [manuscript at the NY Public Library]
Here is some more of David Berlinski being interviewed by Peter Robinson on the contrast of St Augustine’s reinterpretation of history, watching the fall of Roman civilization from across the Mediterranean versus the poverty of our own intellectual position in the early 21st watching the fall of our own civilization on the internet:
[Berlinski] The point is, we do live in a society where the house of intellect is coordinated with only a finite number of microphones, and those microphones are connected with the academic world and with a certain part of the journalistic world. I think that is true in the United States, it’s true in Canada, England, France, throughout Europe. There is a doctrine, amounting to a dogma. And, according to the doctrine, the dogma, this way of thinking [Augustine’s City of God] no matter what [the last Pope] Benedict says, or what the rabbis in Israel say is not part of the interpretable cannon. It cannot be introduced. Should it be introduced? would it make more sense? have we lost something of tremendous value in our culture? Don’t forget, we are part of a Judaeo-Christian culture. My answer is yes, of course, of course. We have lost something of value; we cannot think in those terms any more.
Tolling through the AsiaTimesOnLine archives I came across a highly provocative item by Henry C. K. Liu, a writer the Meme Merchants have followed for a number of years. What came up today was the first installment of a series he wrote back in July 2003: The Abduction of Modernity, The Race towards Barbarism. I say provocative in two senses: being thought-provoking in Lui’s inimitable way, and also provoking some very strong disagreement.
Before I was halfway through the article I found myself doing a kind of point by point rebuttal, the genesis of this piece, which I had to eventually push mentally aside in order to finish the article. The article was so thought-provoking that I feel I have to give myself a kind of ‘intellectual time out’, before I proceed with a more serious analysis or criticism of the article. Mr. Liu is a very smart and thoughtful writer, one has to at least try to meet him at his own level.
This morning in way of introducing the topic I will anticipate that much of the further discussion on the subject will revolve around two rather different world views, one the so-called ‘modern’ Western world view and the other the traditional Eastern Confucian world view. To be fair to Mr. Liu, the point of at least the first article of this series is precisely the nature of that ‘modernity’ and its relationship to Western civilization.
A strong dichotomy it appears.
Of the many possible dichotomies of civilizations you can draw, one is the dichotomy of a civilization that sees what is noble and valuable in the individual as what is in conformance with the cultural model, and another civilization who’s culture sees what is rare and valuable in the individual as everything that is different from the cultural model.
One of those world views, I propose, is ‘modern’, the other is not.
One of the joys of blogging, a rare joy around here, is receiving the accolades of ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ from your readers, the problem comes when a ‘like’ or a ‘follow’ seems to come from someone who might be either a sincere and interested reader or someone phishing for recruits into a multi-level marketing scheme – hard to tell which sometimes – we seem to have had both types today. In particular we had that situation come up this morning over at the other blog.
It is considered good blog etiquette to stop by and visit the blog of someone new who has decided to undertake the formality of voluntarily subscribing to be pestered electronically by your blog – the Law of Reciprocity in practice. There’s a URL for that now, who knew? I followed the follower’s profile back to the KarenEllisBlog to see who my visitor was, find out what they are up to and see if they have anything interesting to say. When I got there I found a great deal of information hidden by hind menu tabs about: how to “Explode your blog with income”, her business, and all about her. Fine, but I’m not interested in signing up for any newsletters. I also found her, then, most recent blog article: Tipping Servers $200, Wouldn’t that feel great to do?. Sounds interesting.
In the last few days an interesting missive has been circulating in the blogosphere, a letter of resignation from an anonymous PhD candidate at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, one of Europe’s top research institutes, outlining his frustration, and disappointment with the system of academic science and ultimately his rejection of continuing to participate in the system.
It’s worth noting that Junod himself says his experience at EPFL
I don’t think that the exposed facts are a problematic unique to EPFL, nor to any other Swiss university: to the contrary, this is probably a worldwide phenomenon.
Finally, I would like to make very clear that I did not experience the same feelings at all during my (very happy) PhD times at EPFL. So, don’t try to make any parallel with my own experience.
Like the author, I don’t have any good idea how to change the system towards a better one.
Sean Summers an achievement oriented post-doc at ETH Zurich had a rather scathing response The Value of a Degree at his personal website. He seem to have been grossly offended by the letter and didn’t seem to want to admit to any of the problems it outlined – and conducted a point by point rebuttal of the letter. He also doesn’t seem to allow comments on his articles either.
To boil his mindset down the “nitty gritty” [my ginsu editing]:
I know you didn’t mean to, but you offended me. On behalf of my friends and colleagues who are current and former PhD students, you offended me more. In fact, on behalf of everyone who has ever achieved something of personal importance, you have offended me…
…Here’s the thing. In the process though, you threw everyone (myself very recently included) with a PhD under a bus….
Your claim of widespread dishonesty in academia is offensive I don’t appreciate that you have thrown hard working individuals under the bus…
Mostly, I don’t like the way that you have devalued individual achievement.
I’m here to say that a PhD is remarkable; it is an amazing personal achievement worthy of pride.
Personal achievement in all shapes and form should be celebrated, with head held high.
Every once in a while, unexpectedly, I encounter a reality so crystally clear and real that I have to say to myself, “time to pack it in, fold it down, close up shop, there is nothing I can really say here that contributes ANYTHING to advancing the human condition”. This has been one of those days.
I noticed I had a visitor, so I followed her home, this is who found there…
For over two thousand years the idea of a ‘Black Swan’ has been synonymous with something that does not exist or cannot exist, and comes down to us originally from Aristotle’s Prior Analytics where the concepts: white, black and swan are proposed as predicates in syllogisms using white + swan as a necessary relations and the black + swan as an improbable or impossible one – not an entirely unreasonable position when you consider that no one had ever seen anything but white swans and seven eights of the world was unknown to the Greeks.
The Black Swan form was further popularized from the 2nd century on by Roman satirist Juvenal’s couplet:
rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno
[a rare bird in the lands, and very like a black swan]