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Biography Conservatives and the Creative Impulse: Part I

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The Race To Unimportance

by Christopher Chantrill
March 10, 2005 at 2:34 am


EVERYBODY now knows that President Larry Summers of Harvard, leader of an institution devoted both to truth and phonics (VE-RI-TAS), is in serious trouble for pursuing truth.  It is a situation beyond parody.  But inquiring minds are bound to wonder what is really behind all the sound and fury.  Suppose the attack on Summers were not just a power play by leading women in science?  It could have deep philosophical significance.

As sophisticated American Thinkers we should not eliminate the most likely possibility: mindless liberal wreckers at work.  Liberals have already wrecked K-12 education, and they have wrecked the little platoons of civil society with their welfare state.  They wrecked the working class, turning it into the underclass.  They are doing their darndest to wreck the nuclear “heteronormative” family.  Why not wreck the university, too? 

But why should liberal women want to wreck Harvard over the issue of jobs for women in science?  As usual, Jane Austen has the answer.  Her heroines Fanny Price (of Mansfield Park) and Anne Elliott (of Persuasion) can tell us what is going down at Harvard. 

Reviled and ignored by their snobbish families, Jane Austen’s two “good-girl” heroines seem to be superfluous; they are women of no consequence.  In Fanny Price and Anne Elliott, according to C.S. Lewis, the “consciousness of mattering which is necessary even to the humblest woman is denied.”  Men, we know, are expendable, but women, even the humblest, are important: they matter.  Fortunately, the compassionate Jane Austen rescues her heroines from the denial of mattering in a traditional novelistic dénouement.  Perhaps the distinguished scientific women of Harvard are telling us that they are afraid they don’t matter.

A century ago, science was simple.  Ten thousand eager young male German physicists (ok, twenty) were pondering over the problem of the speed of light.  No doubt every one of them was brilliant and deserving.  But one day one of them solved the problem, and the rest are forgotten.  Nobody cares.  Why should they?  But imagine now ten thousand female American scientists at this very moment working in university research laboratories all across America to solve spinal injuries using embryonic stem cells.  If some man solves the enigma tomorrow and becomes the toast of Democrats everywhere, what will happen to all those worthy female scientists?  Will they be reduced to doing research on adult stem cells?  Should they go back to nursing?   Might they become homemakers?  They cannot just be ignored.  They are women.  They matter, as Larry Summers now agrees.  

Women matter for a simple reason.  We need them to make children.  Historically, men have been peripheral to this activity, as biogenetic researchers recently discovered. Down the ages, only about half of the men in each generation have succeeded in inserting their genes into the next generation, whereas almost all women have succeeded in this endeavor.  In compensation, men have focused their interest on less important activities, like making war and making science.  The recent entry of women into historically less important activities like science is therefore important.  It implies that the generation problem has at last been solved.  What matters now is not the generation of children, but the generation of science.

Now that science has become necessary the men that once dominated the academy are deserting it for less important activities.  Whereas a century ago the vast majority of college graduates were men, today only about 40 percent of each graduating cohort is male and even that proportion is expected to decline.

In fact, males seem to be going off education altogether.  They are becoming so inattentive that up to 17 percent of boys ( go ahead, pick your favorite number) are now being drugged in the government’s public schools in order to keep their “bums on seats,” as the British say, and their minds focused “on task.”

We know why boys are going off education.  They have less important things to do.  They are engrossed in the current Big Thing: video games.  All across America, at this very minute, millions of teenage boys have their bums on seats in front of their Xboxes playing the first person shooter game Halo 2.  It’s an international phenomenon, of course.  One all-American boy recently discovered that the Halo shooters around him were all speaking German. 

On weekends, American kids are getting their fathers to take them into the office so they can play Halo 2 using big screen conference room monitors. 

There are those that worry about this race to unimportance.  They worry that the generation problem has not been solved, for modern women have shown such distaste for generation that population decline is now inevitable, at least in Old Europe.

But however hard they try, women will never be as unimportant as men.  Whether they like it or not, women matter.  Even women of science.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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Faith & Purpose

“When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.”
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990

Mutual Aid

In 1911... at least nine million of the 12 million covered by national insurance were already members of voluntary sick pay schemes. A similar proportion were also eligible for medical care.
Green, Reinventing Civil Society


“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State

Living Under Law

Law being too tenuous to rely upon in [Ulster and the Scottish borderlands], people developed patterns of settling differences by personal fighting and family feuds.
Thomas Sowell, Conquests and Cultures

German Philosophy

The primary thing to keep in mind about German and Russian thought since 1800 is that it takes for granted that the Cartesian, Lockean or Humean scientific and philosophical conception of man and nature... has been shown by indisputable evidence to be inadequate. 
F.S.C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West


Inquiry does not start unless there is a problem... It is the problem and its characteristics revealed by analysis which guides one first to the relevant facts and then, once the relevant facts are known, to the relevant hypotheses.
F.S.C. Northrop, The Logic of the Sciences and the Humanities


“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison

Democratic Capitalism

I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness... But to make a man act [he must have] the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm


“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh

Living Law

The recognition and integration of extralegal property rights [in the Homestead Act] was a key element in the United States becoming the most important market economy and producer of capital in the world.
Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital

presented by Christopher Chantrill

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