A Culture in Regression

We Don’t Need No Steenking Books

by Fred Reed

The night closes in. Read the surveys of what children know, what students in universities know. Approximately nothing. We have become wanton morons. As the intellectual shadows fall again, as literacy declines and minds grow dim in the new twilight, who will copy the parchments this time?

Fred Reed

No longer are we a schooled people. Brash new peasants grin and peck at their iPods. Unknowing, incurious, they gaze at their screens and twiddle, twiddle. They will not preserve the works of five millenia. They cannot. They do not even know why.

Twilight really does come. Sales of books fall. Attention spans shorten. Music gives way to angry urban grunting. The young count on their fingers when they do not have a calculator, know less by the year. We have already seen the first American generations less educated than their parents. College graduates do not know when World War One happened, or what the Raj was. They have read nothing except the nothing that they read, and little of that. Democracy was an interesting thought.

Ours will be a stranger Dark Age than the old one. Our peasants brush their teeth and wash, imagine themselves of the middle class, but their heads are empty.

And they rule. We have achieved the dictatorship of the proletariat. Hod-carriers in designer jeans, they do not quite burn books but simply ignore them. Their college degrees amount to high school diplomas, if that, but they neither know nor care.

The things that have forever constituted civilization—respect for learning whether one had it or not, wide reading, careful use of language, manners, such notions as “lady” and “gentleman”–these are held in contempt.

Yet ours is a curious bleakness. Good things of everywhere and all time lie free for the having. When I was a child, you went to a library for books and the libraries often didn’t have many. Today you can get even the Chinese classics, or those of Greece and Rome, or almost any book ever written in any language, from the web in five minutes. Do you want Marvin Minsky on finite automata? Papinian and Ulpian on Roman law? Balzac? Raymond Chandler? Tolkien? All are there. The same is true for any music, any painting, any movie, almost any historical curiosity: Ozzie and Harriet, Captain Video, Plastic Man. You can have cultivated friends in Katmandu or Yuyuni in the Bolivian alitplano, and talk to them face-to-face with Skype.

This is news to no one. Yet it may prove important in ways we do not think. The internet allows an electronic community of those who have not been peasantrified. On the Web, learning and taste will live or, perhaps I should say, hide out. When there is no longer enough interest in books to support bookstores—they close now in droves—the residual demand integrated over the surface of the earth will provide enough of a market to keep the One True Bookstore, Amazon, going. Project Gutenberg will do the same for works not in copyright.

Things grow worse for the many but better for the few.

Odd: In one sense the internet is highly democratizing, giving any teenager in Tennessee resources greater than those of the Library of Congress. It does this equally for a Cambodian teenager in Battambang. A bright youngster can learn almost anything with a cheap computer and broadband: mathematics, literature, languages.

The net also allows a terribly needed aristocracy, by which I mean not a governmental arrangement but the community of those of discrimination. They will shortly amount to a secret society, perhaps with a distinctive hand-shake for mutual recognition. It could become dangerous to speak correct English. It would indicate Elitism. We live in a society in which elitism is thought far more criminal than mere pederasty or cannibalism.

“Elitism” of course means only the principle that the better is preferable to the worse, but society today, except in matters of football, believes the worse to be preferable to the better. (One does not readily imagine a quarterback being urged to lower his passing percentage so as not to wound the self-esteem of his colleagues.)

It is literally true that the better is suspect. If you correct a high-school teacher’s grammar, she will accuse you of stultifying creativity, of racism, of insensitivity. If you reply that had you wanted your children brought up as baboons, you would have bought baboons in the first place, she will be offended.

Home-schooling, it seems to me, becomes a towering social responsibility. I have actually seen a teacher saying that parents should not let children learn to read before they reach school. You see, it would put them out of sync with the mammalian larvae that children are now made to be. Bright children face enstupiation and hideous boredom in schools taught by complacent imbeciles. They are also encouraged to believe that stupidity is a moral imperative.

Once they begin reading a few years ahead of their grade, which commonly is at once, school becomes an obstacle to advancement. This is especially true for the very bright. To put a kid with an IQ of 150 in the same room with a barely literate affirmative-action hire clocking 85 is child abuse.

Essential, even crucial, to the preservation of civilization in the deepening gloom is a grim, intransigent determination not to apologize. You cannot cleanse the schools of teachers who barely speak English. The country is too far gone. But you needn’t be cowed into regarding cretins as other than cretins. In front of your kids especially, don’t be cowed. If your child in the second grade is reading at the level of the sixth grade, she (I have daughters, which clouds my mind) she is superior. It is not that “she tests well,” with the subtle implication that testing well is some sort of trick, having nothing to do with intelligence, which doesn’t exist. She is smart, literate, superior (oh, forbidden word).

She will have figured out the “smart” part anyway. You need only to let her know that smart is a good thing.

In an age of blinkered specialization perhaps we should revive the idea of the Renaissance man. Today the phrase is quaint and almost condescending (though how do you condescend up?), arousing the mild admiration one has for a dancing dog. A time was when the cultivated could play an instrument, paint, knew something of mathematics and much of languages, traveled, could locate France, attended the opera and knew what they were attending. They wrote clearly and elegantly, this being a mark of civilization. I think of Benvenuto Cellini, born 1500, superb sculptor, professional musician, linguist, elegant writer, and good with a sword.

If there is any refuge, it is the internet. Let us make the most of it.

© Violeta de Jesus Gonzalez Munguia

11 Responses to A Culture in Regression

  1. A magnificent example of why I adore Fred…but he omitted something of extraordinary importance. They have no MORALS either. They lie, steal, and cheat casually. Chastity? Say that to them and they think “Chaz” Bono. They cannot be trusted in your house because they will steal you blind. Their gruntings are uninteresting and offensive, and they lack any concept of “language not suited for mixed company.” Barbarians? An insulst to a decent barbarian would resent. They are useless animals, and I am quite certain I would have found Thorkild the Skull Splitter more congenial company. He, too, had standards..

    I have spent a lifetime enhancing my superiority, although we must remember noblesse oblige cuts several ways. I am a “lady,” as opposed to a woman, and I have “accomplishments.” I embroider beautifuly and play magnificently upon the pianoforte, as well as those skills Fred mentioned. I go to the opera every chance I get for pleasure. I speak at least elegant smatterings of several languages. I dress appropriately, and I do not CARE if the gymnasium (no one seems to have an auditorium any more) is full of rag pickers, so far as I was concerned my son’s graduation from high school required proper dress. My husband was the only man there in a suit, which was fine with us. I do not allow others to set my standards. I’m picky about grammar, diction, and syntax. I say (correctly) “was graduated from,” not “graduated high school.” I’m not the least bit repentant, either. I taught these things to my children–well, my son only had to learn to use a sewing machine, his request, not embroider. I carry dainty tissue-thin linen handkerchiefs embroidered by dear little nuns in my purse automatically, and I am not even faintly ashamed of any of the things which make me different. I am an EXAMPLE. I treat everyone courteously, and it never occurs to me that my superiority is not obvious. Put me in Salvation Army garb, cut my stylish nails, mat my hair, and I don’t think I could panhandle a dime. And I refuse to feel guilty for what I am and do; all anyone has to do is look and copy my example.

  2. Robert says:

    This is why I homeschooled my children. We started almost 20 years ago before it was as widespread as it is now. We had to have our children tested every year to keep that state out of our business. (We were blessed with a local school superintendent that thought homeschooling was the best thing ever.) Our Kids tested ‘post high school’, was the phrase I believe, after only a couple of years. My thought was ‘what are they teaching them in the public schools’.
    When our children went to college they we amazed by the number of students that were unable to think. We had very little official class time. We just made tons of books available and did neat stuff. As a result our children never learned that learning is supposed to be painful.
    As a result I have three wonderful children that can think and do amazing things. My eldest daughter does math that I can’t even describe much less understand. My son is a car guy and has saved enough to move to Australia because as he said America sucks. He has already been there and is following friends his age that have already moved there and are doing quite well. My youngest daughter loves languages and picks them up easily. She started with Greek and Hebrew then went for Russian and Japanese. She is the most voracious reader I have ever seen.
    So I believe there is hope. With as many homeschooled children as we have there is more than enough to lead when it all comes down. The elite do not have to be a majority five percent will do and we have more than that now. Not much more, but more than enough.

  3. Hey You says:

    Hey! I learned a new word: “enstupidiation”. Sorry if I spelt it wrong; it isn’t in my spell checker.

    Also, speaking of gentlemen and culture and all that, at least you could show up in some better raiment, such as designer jeans!

    • I suspect Fred made up “enstupidation.” I haven’t checked because it is obvious in context. Fred has used that photo for years and I think he looks great. Of course…I like costumes, blue jeans, expensive suits, and ball gowns and don’t wear anything else. Story you may like. A friend asked me to take care of a treasured goat while he was gone for two weeks, hoping desperately I could manage to milk her enough to keep her producing until he got back. (Hah! I doubled her output because I milked her very ineptly twice a day, never having been around a goat before and having no talent whatsoever for the pursuit, but plenty of determination..He only milked her once a day.) He calls me “Marie Antoinette” and insists I’m not a serious rancher.

      Raimant is also for fun, yes? When I knew he was going to come get Sister I pulled out–literally–a floor length black gown that glitters all over and I wear to the opera frequently, but he was a little early and caught me with 2 yards of 2″ blue satin ribbon and a pair of scissors, preparing to tie a big, beautiful bow around her sleek black neck! The idea was for him to find me actually milking the embellished goat while in full dress attire. I have goats of my own, now, and they wear collars with their names, the telephone #, and the ranch name on them, not that mine wander. If Cass Sunnstein showed up with Dr. Doolittle my cattle, horses, goats, and chickens would run them off the place. I don’t know about the pigs, not being well acquainted with them. To quote Georgette Heyer, “Pigs have a most unpleasnt order and would offend one of your delicate sensibilities.” Very true.

      If we don’t keep our sense of humor we’ll never get through this. LBT

  4. LOVE TO TUTOR says:

    As a professional tutor, I see the aftermath, if you will, of lack of quality teaching daily. A seventh grade girl who doesn’t know the multiplication tables (taught in fourth grade), so she cannot do long division (and doesn’t know how to keep the columns straight). Her class will be starting pre-algebra in a few weeks—she’ll be totally lost! Her parents think that 2 hrs. of cheerleading practice 2 school nights a week, plus cheering at 2 games on school nights (that wipes out Mon.-Thurs. nights) is more important than tutoring.

    When she has to drop out of cheering in November b/c of poor grades, maybe I’ll see her (she feels very “overscheduled” right now—no surprise!) and her mother again…..so sad…

    We need a Cellini Society to honor and cultivate Renaissance Men and Women! Kinda like American Mensa Society, with not a test but a questionnaire indicating areas of interest. Elitist? NO! For people who love learning!

    • What a sickening story, Love to Tutor., but very typical. To have a chance at a “good” college you must have extracurricular activities, and the teachers (knowing this) make up titles so that the girls appear to be leaders. A friend’s daughter was so hopeless that she got “Social Coordinator,” but it was enough. That’s one reason a favorite punishment of mine for the young is pure, rote memorization–the multiplication tables, the periodic tables, the kings and queens of England in order of succession, Egyptian dynasties…doesn’t pay to disobey Mama! I bore them into following the rules–and no, it has never turned one off learning yet. Kids LOVE to learn, and they actually love to memorize. Think of how many commercials they know….

  5. What an inspiring story–and teaching our own children is as enjoyable as it is inspirational.

  6. Chris F says:

    I never let my schooling get in the way of my education – Mark Twain

    I couldn’t find the total number of books sold per year in a google search. They seem to be more concerned about the billions of dollars that people spend on books per year. Because so many book publishers are small and independent, many do not report the number of books sold.

    I did notice that Amazon is now the largest book seller. This is one of the reasons that book stores cannot seem to stay in business. Another is that the current corporate model for book selling is failing many retail locations.

    While my personal interests have me reading four to ten books a month, I’ve noticed that only about 10% to 15% of the population are regular book readers. We may lament the fact that many book readers are not concentrating on serious subjects, but this economic collapse could end not only all the fiat currencies, it could also end the monopoly of public schooling as the nation states go broke.

  7. This was a great post. Though I think it isn’t as bleak as you believe it to be. There are still intellectuals out there. The US though has always been very anti-intellectual when the wind blows in the way of conservatism. That’s because half of the US population are authoritarians. This means if you aren’t acting, thinking, dressing the way they do then you’re facing serious social ostracizing. If you happen to not live in the closed societies in certain regions of the US then I know your education is better, you are being taken seriously and respected for it. Pursuing an education isn’t frowned upon.having seen both sides of the US. I can tell you one side is trying to drag us down, but they won’t. Anyway the big culprit in all of this is consumerism. It has been going strong for almost 100 years. I believe that too is running out of steam. Being in my 20s I have met others in my age group that are doing productive things. Volunteering, traveling the world, learning new languages, and they all do it because they want to explore themselves, interact with diverse groups of people, learn about their cultures, and improve who they are as people. I have met many in my age group like this, but of course I was an expat. Anyway as with any generation. There are those that will find success and inner peace, and though who will continue to have inner turmoil.


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