Posts Tagged ‘tradition’

Keep The Cheese In The Master’s Room: The Stanley Fish Edition

January 19, 2009

Stanley Fish has delivered another provocative broadside against the commercialization of American culture and its impact on one of those institutions of the twentieth century that is at once opaque, instantly divisive and somehow always seeming to be self-justifying: tenure. I largely agree with what Professor Fish has to say, though I think his global tone is a little annoying — tenure may be succumbing to practicality in the United States but that’s perhaps only because the grand American civilizational experiment is coming to an end, even if only to become the second grand American civilizational experiment.

Tenure was established in the US by some of the large and old universities — Harvard, Columbia and the University of Chicago — that were established at a time when education in diverse fields, including the now-emaciated arts, was as seen as a badge of pride for the newly established colonies. It received a further boost in the mid-twentieth century when professors had to be “attracted and retained,” in the familiar jargon of human resource management, to lead the classrooms bursting with GI Bill and Baby Boomer induced enrollment growth.

Today, there are alternate modes of attraction and retention, notably through the operation of for-profit universities. And the current academic establishment has largely spent itself with theory and analysis. When we think today of the great truths of the day and the nascent discoveries that will become the great truths of tomorrow, is our first thought to look to the universities? No. The cubicle warrens of technology companies or the waterholes of the Internet or the divey coffee bars of urban conglomerations around the world are the source of our new cultures and new humanisms. Tenure is not protecting innovation; it is only the mothball that preserves the well-worn relics of a previous era.

Tenure itself is a good idea but it has today been appropriated by a class that is only seeking to protect its way of life, rather than the grand idea of freedom and diversity of thought that was the original charge it was meant to guard. Professor Fish contends that the loss of tenure will signal the loss of culture. It’s in fact the truth that the loss of his culture, and its accession to something new being cooked somewhere outside the confines of his colleagues’ traditional holds, is endangering tenure.


Wah, Don’t Move My Cheese: The Rick Warren Edition

December 29, 2008

The Rick Warren controversy (President-elect Obama wants him to deliver the opening prayer at the inauguration) has had me thinking about this for a while. Also, the chance of getting a few hits on my blog on the coat-tails of this kerfuffle is one that cannot be passed up on. (Thanks for clicking!)

Rick Warren’s stance on gay marriage is: for five thousand years, marriage has been between a man and a woman, so I can’t support changing it. Also, because we can’t allow marriages between brothers and sisters, and between “old guys” and “young girls,” we can’t allow one between two men (or two women.)

Warren’s logic itself is terrible, not to account for his rather hidebound stance over tradition. Then there’s the issue of whether marriage indeed has been this unchanging institution for “five thousand years,” the magic figure that he likes to roll off his tongue. Much shorter ago than that, marriage involved the virtual sale of the woman to the man (or rather to the man’s family), and I don’t see Warren, or any one interested in staying in the mainstream of social debate, advocating a return to the glory days of feminine chattel.

But. Warren’s got a point that a heck of a lot of Americans do think that this definition needs defending. There’s a line between defending it socially and defending it legally — now-President Bush tried getting a constitutional Kevlar vest for marriage a few years ago, and his efforts were met with a resounding “No” from public opinion. However, this doesn’t mean that a lot of people aren’t feeling very threatened by the potential sea-change in what will constitute marriage, and to my mind, what President-elect Obama is looking to do is offer this constituency a voice.

I think they should get a voice. I think gay rights organizations should ensure in each state that sexual orientation is not a bar for any rights granted by the state, including the right to adopt, the right to civil unions and everything else that a loving couple would like to do when they are married (including no-fault divorces, a fascinating idea, about which more another time.) I think any measure that restricts these rights should be challenged as unconstitutional, as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

The social debate on marriage has to be allowed to run its course, and to imagine that we can completely exclude people who are on the traditionalist side of the debate from the public sphere is preposterous. As to the allegations that Warren compares gay relationships to child abuse, it’s important to note that “old guys” marrying “young girls” is not considered child abuse in some cultures — so if it sounds repugnant to those of us who are offended at Warren’s equivalences, we have to wonder if his aversion isn’t the same as our aversion at what to some cultures is a perfectly reasonable matrimonial arrangement.