Other people’s ideas again

Not that I don’t have any of my own, but what with the move to Wollongong and all I have been disinclined to do too much thinking. 😉 I do have some book notes coming up soon, however.

1. An oldie but a goodie

Not that this article from UK’s Prospect is old, but the controversy has been rattling around for a couple of decades.

Efforts to make education more "relevant" to black people can be both patronising and harmful. The western literary canon should be taught to everyone.

In 2007 a home affairs select committee produced a report about young black boys in the criminal justice system, calling for the department for education and schools to consult with black community groups to make the curriculum more relevant—and to find “content which interests and empowers young black people.” We can safely assume they were not talking about Ovid, Chaucer or Shakespeare.

Sadly, the canon has a serious image problem amongst black people, too. Many see it as the preserve of white public schoolboys, taught in fusty classrooms by doddery Oxbridge tutors. We have been led to see it as whitey’s birthright, not ours. Meanwhile anti-racist educationalists and black community leaders rail against a racist curriculum which does not meet the cultural needs of their students, with some calling for “black schools” in which black culture—rather than an elite white culture—can be taught.

But the literary canon should not be the preserve of any one race. As both a writer of colour and an ardent (but not uncritical) devotee of the canon, I have little time for people who say that black people cannot relate to books written 2,000 years ago by a bunch of dead white guys, or that Maya Angelou is better than Shakespeare. This denies us our shared humanity across racial divides.

Dead white men, the pillars of the western canon, remain supremely relevant to black people in the 21st century, because their concerns are universal. At its best, the canon elucidates the eternal truths at the heart of the human condition. It addresses our common humanity, irrespective of our melanin quotient. Homer, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens—all male, all very white and all undeniably very dead. But would anyone be so foolish as to deny their enduring importance? Beoethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, Boccacio’s Decameron or Pico’s Oration On The Dignity of Man are as germane to black people as they are to white. There is no apartheid in the philosophical musings of Cicero, no racial segregation in the cosmic grandeur of Dante and no ethnic oppression in the amorous sonnets of Shakespeare. These works can, if given the chance, speak as much to Leroy in Peckham or Shaniqua in the South Bronx as they can to Quentin in the home counties…

I think I agree, but with the proviso that we all can benefit from greater acquaintance with the works of non-Western cultures too. Dead Chinese males (and females) for example…

2. Ask, Don’t Tell

The idiots have set back the inevitable end of this absurd policy in the US military. Here in Oz it went some time ago. I am pleased to see Sojourners, an Evangelical US site, being sensible on this.

“After more than 50 years in the military and politics, I am still amazed to see how upset people can get over nothing. Lifting the ban on gays in the military isn’t exactly nothing, but it’s pretty damned close.”

It took me quite a bit of searching to verify who that quote was from.  I couldn’t believe it at first, but as I read more, it made sense.  It’s Senator Barry Goldwater.  After I figured that out, I spent a while on Wikipedia trying to figure out if there were any other possible Barry Goldwater that this quote could have come from.  But no … it was from the late conservative icon and presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.

How could this be?  Goldwater explained, “The conservative movement, to which I subscribe, has as one of its basic tenets the belief that government should stay out of people’s private lives. Government governs best when it governs least — and stays out of the impossible task of legislating morality. But legislating someone’s version of morality is exactly what we do by perpetuating discrimination against gays.”

But, wouldn’t ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ be sufficient to meet this military veteran and small government conservatives criteria?  No.  He said, “I served in the armed forces. I have flown more than 150 of the best fighter planes and bombers this country manufactured. I founded the Arizona National Guard. I chaired the Senate Armed Services Committee. And I think it’s high time to pull the curtains on this charade of policy. What should undermine our readiness would be a compromise policy like ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.’ That compromise doesn’t deal with the issue — it tries to hide it.”…

That will surprise many.

3. The West should stop panicking

Aron Paul on ABC Unleashed:

Lately the ‘West’ – a loaded term in itself – has reached a crescendo of civilisational panic.

The Bishop of Rome was in Great Britain trying to whip up a frenzy of fear over atheism and Muslims. The French president was banning burqas and deporting gypsies. Americans were rallying against, and for, a mosque in New York.

All over the remains of European Christendom the old racial anxieties are coming to the fore under the pressures of economic recession, and reactionaries are riding the wave.

The panic is not confined, sadly, to the reactionaries and fundamentalists. Eric Kauffman’s new book Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth would have secular liberals in the West panicking as well. Taking the ‘demography is king’ argument, he claims that secularism is doomed because religious people breed more and secular women do not.

One would expect secularists at least would rise above the race baiting and racial anxieties that drive the hysteria of the beleaguered Christo-European racial and religious supremacists. But no, apparently even reasonable people are to fear the continued demographic growth of the ‘non-Western’ world.

The crux of Kauffman’s argument is after all, that his version of the ‘West’ is going to be swamped, just as the Christo-European supremacists also panic in much the same terms that they too are going to be swamped by the monolithic ‘East’ of their imaginings…