Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Lunch with Friends

We met for lunch at Cego's on Deep Valley Drive just down the hill from the Library. Along with a delicious lunch and some jokes by the Cego's owner (“Gov. Arnold broke his leg by… leaning too far to the left.”) the conversation with Don and Ted Wynne and Pat Hart was stimulating.

The Wynne brothers are developing a new condominium building just a few steps from Cego's and the concrete has been flowing. I had a chance to see the building plans and it looks like a place where I’d like to live: brand new, upscale and a short walk to the shops and restaurants, the Library and The Avenue of the Peninsula.

I sent a letter of support to the Rolling Hills Estates City Council. If you like the idea of the new Peninsula Village in the Deep Valley area, send a note of support to
nikic@ci.rolling-hills-estates.ca.us. If not, well… never mind.

Pat told us about the upcoming Ralph McInerny Banquet and conference on the “Philosophical Foundations of Human Dignity” (March 8 in Washington DC). Dr. Robert George of Princeton is the keynote speaker. Again this year, Pat is buying a table at the banquet. He also mentioned a conference at the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture in October. Pat thinks “The Two Cultures” conference is about the potential (inevitable?) collision of Islam and Christianity. He suggested that I submit a paper.

The phrase “The Two Cultures” was popularized by British novelist, civil servant and minor scientist Sir Charles Percy Snow. The phrase referred to a rift—“a matter of incomprehension tinged with hostility”—that has grown up between scientists and literary intellectuals in the modern world. The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution,
[ref] was the title of Snow’s 1959 Rede Lecture at Cambridge University which was subsequently printed in Encounter magazine. The Two Cultures became infamous a year later when the critic F. R. Leavis published his “Two Cultures? The Significance of C. P. Snow,” in The Spectator magazine. Leavis’ article is a “devastating rhetorical fusillade. It’s not just that no two stones of Snow’s argument are left standing: each and every pebble is pulverized; the fields are salted; and the entire population is sold into slavery.”

Roger Kimball noted in The New Criterion (Feb. 1994) that “this year marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of Snow’s essay. As we look around the cultural landscape today, we see the debris of a civilization seemingly bent on cultural suicide: the triumph of pop culture in nearly every sphere of artistic endeavor, the glorification of mindless sensationalism, the attack on the very idea of permanent cultural achievement -- in the West, anyway, the final years of the twentieth century are years of unprecedented material wealth coupled with profound cultural and intellectual degradation. C. P. Snow is hardly to blame for all this. He is merely a canary in the mine.”

Snow wrote: “I came to Cambridge and did a bit of research here at a time of major scientific activity. I was privileged to have a ringside view of one of the most wonderful creative periods in all physics. And it happened through the flukes of war -- that I was able, and indeed morally forced, to keep that ringside view ever since.” …

“I believe the intellectual life of the whole of western society is increasingly being split into two polar groups: at one pole the literary intellectuals, who incidentally, while no one was looking, took to referring to themselves as 'intellectuals' as though there were no others. I remember G. H. Hardy once remarking to me in mild puzzlement, some time in the 1930's: ‘Have you noticed how the word intellectual is used nowadays? There seems to be a new definition which certainly doesn't include Rutherford or Eddington or Dirac or Adrian or me. It does seem rather odd, don't y' know.’”

Unfortunately, Snow was also a communist sympathizer who thought that the Soviet Union was way ahead of the West, partly because the Russians have a “passionate belief in education,” and also because they have a “deeper insight into the scientific revolution than we have, or than the Americans have.” He was convinced that the Reds would resolve the “three menaces” of nuclear war, overpopulation, and the gap between rich and poor. One wonders what he thought of the Soviets when he passed away in 1980.

The Two Cultures debate has continued, spirited and sometimes funny. In 1996 physicist Alan Sokal published an article in the humanities journal Social Text which Sokal, himself, revealed to be a hoax in a second article (in Lingua Franca May/June 1996). Sokal wished to call attention to “an apparent decline in the standards of intellectual rigor in certain precincts of the American academic humanities.” Sokal's articles triggered a barrage of accusatory publications by scientists and non-scientists alike. What fun!

Returning to Notre Dame, their Ethics and Culture web site has a podcast by Professor Thomas Hibbs of Baylor University on “Nihilism and American Popular Culture.” Hibbs takes the description of nihilism from Nietzsche who accepted no distinction between right and wrong, between noble and base; who advocated a life without standards, only preferences, and no God. He traces this decline of culture to a perversion of liberalism from the ideals of Kant to the current respect for hedonism, the absurdly trivial, even the demonic. Sounds like Roger Kimball. It is worth a listen.

Ted mentioned a minor concern he has about his son’s education. The young man is studying in San Francisco and Ted’s concern relates to the exposure to radical secularism all college students experience at the hands of their liberal professors. My post on “Phallologocentrism and Queer Musicology” (1/10/07) was mildly upsetting. Well, never fear, Jeffrey Tobin, associate professor in Occidental College's department of critical theory and social justice cleared up matters in the pages of the LA times last Sunday.

Tobin’s course “The Phallus” examines phallologocentrism and the lesbian phallus, the Jewish phallus, the Latino phallus because, as Tobin explains, “for French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, the phallus is a symbol of power and privilege that is associated with patriarchal authority but which no individual man, or woman, ever fully embodies.” The Prof. then asks the pregnant question: “What, then, separates courses that have ‘actual academic content’ from those that do not? We have the great books and battles of Western civilization on one side. We have feminism, queer theory, critical race theory and other theories meant to explain white-male oppression on the other.”

What separates those??? Somebody pays this guy!

Do you know what your children are learning?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good article. I remember reading "Two Cultures" while at Columbia and finding it to be exactly what I saw at Columbia. The science and engineering students and profs, always seemed open to learning more about classic books, music and Philosophy. While professors and students from liberal arts seemed to think it was a badge of distinction to profess how little they knew or understood math and physics.

This was the 60's so to many of them Mao was a hero and really knew how to build a prospering society even if a few (30M?) people were killed. After all, weren't the back yard iron works a refreshing change from the soul-less corporations of American capitalists.


8:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I haven't read your blog for months. It seems to have lost all the interesting discussion which used to make it interesting. Have all the commentators fled in frustration? Are you happy that it's now just a vehicle for your right wing views and some polite applause from your friends? Shame, but it seems that's what you want.


3:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Mazatlan, the NEW concept for living is to own an apartment in a HOTEL, then use the amenities including room service, etc for a fee each month.

This apartment building the Wynne's are building may fit something close to that.


4:05 PM  
Blogger Bill Lama said...

How ya hangin? I'm quite happy with reasonable disagreement, but too many were becoming personally insulting to me and my other readers. I delete those comments every day. It is unfortunate that liberals find it necessary to be abusive in order to make a point. If you wish to make comments that are substantive and avoid invective I will be happy to let them stand and to reply.

4:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill, Thank you for your missive. As we slouch toward a dystopian future, it strikes me as ironic that much of what disturbs you (and me) is what also disturbs Islamic (and other religious) fundamentalists (not me).

- Steve

8:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is this new Peninsula Village near the landslide zone?....
I think it's a wonderful idea to be within walking distance of locale shops...the older I get, the more that appeals to me!


7:03 PM  

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