OpinionTrending Commentary

The Reading of Books Is Now a Cudgel in the Ongoing War on Excellence

The Blue State Conservative

There has been a spate of articles of late with the general title of “The War on Excellence.” Mostly, they have to do with education and the various attempts by self-identified Progressives to advance inclusion and racial justice by limiting the opportunities, resources, and possible outcomes of the educationally gifted.

In the Commentary article highlighted above, Christine Rosen ends it with the warning:

“Equity” advocates who want to abolish all tracking, all selective public high schools, and all advanced courses in subjects like math aren’t interested in thoughtful reform. They demand revolution. If you believe, as equity advocates do, that acknowledging disparities in ability or interest is a gateway to returning to last century’s malign racial segregation in schools, abolition of such standards is the only path forward—and gutting advanced courses and tracking are viewed as a necessary casualty in that larger war.

The price to be paid, of course, is the abandonment of future generations of students to the Moloch of political correctness.

And that, because it impedes and turns our brightest away from advancing quickly in the very STEM fields that adversaries like China are emphasizing, will create a great poverty of thought and innovation in the future.

But it’s not just in the field of education that a war on excellence seems to be occurring.

What is it about people that they just cannot stand to see excellence in others? Is it envy? A hateful recognition of their own failures? A sad take on some of life’s losers? It’s hard to say.

Regardless, the minions of the unimpressive have decided to bring down as best they are able a professional football player who has dared to say he is unvaccinated and has read a book.

Aaron Rodgers, a very accomplished quarterback with the Green Bay Packers, is the odds on favorite to be named the Most Valuable Player in the NFL this year as his team now prepares for the Playoffs.

But that hasn’t stopped one MVP voter in Chicago from refusing to vote for Rodgers as the league’s best. And why? Because he’s a “jerk” and a “bad guy.” And why is he a jerk and a bad guy? Because Rodgers is not vaccinated.

Rodgers’ response is to say he didn’t realize the award was for the Most Valuable Vaccinated Player in the league.

This Chicago voter is allowing politics and a personal animus to enter into a purely sports domain, to the detriment of the sport. The same, it can be argued, can be said as to why Curt Schilling and Pete Rose are not in the baseball Hall of Fame.

And when it comes to Rodgers, there is also this: He appeared during the fourth quarter of the NFL simulcast of the recent Steelers v Browns game with Payton and Eli Manning.

Along about the 23rd minute of the linked video above he begins talking about his experience with the TV game show Jeopardy. After giving a great amount of credit and respect to host Alex Trebek, Rodgers then talks about the characteristics of the show as he experienced it.

He once appeared as a contestant, and he admits the questions were seriously “dumbed down” so the celebrities would have a chance at answering them. He realized the contrast when he led the show as the network was seeking a new host after the sad death of Trebek.

The Peyton boys ask if he knew the answers to the questions he was asking contestants. Rodgers responds saying he reads books, but that when the subject came to subjects like 18th century literature he hadn’t a clue. He admitted he had difficulty just reading the questions, much less being able to answer them.

That led the Peytons to ask what some of the books over Rodgers’ shoulder were. And then it came.

Rodgers said he’s been reading a lot of French poetry and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

The Twitter mob exploded.

One of the upset cognoscente wrote: “It’s been very difficult watching Aaron Rodgers, my all-time favorite player, embrace everything I loathe. But Atlas Shrugged? Trade him.  F— it.”

Another of the distressed guardians of society wrote: “Aaron Rodgers just bragged that he has Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged on his bookshelf. Explains all his lying about being vaccinated and such. He’s one of those ‘screw everyone else before they can screw you’ wackos. People like this are always a danger to others.”

Think about it. Those reacting in this manner are, in effect, creating a deductive categorical syllogism with the major premise being “Those who read Atlas Shrugged are always a danger to others.” The minor premise is “Aaron Rogers read Atlas Shrugged.” Conclusion: “Aaron Rogers is always a danger to others.”

Now, as a retired professor of philosophy who has taught Logic over the years, I can tell you that is a valid argument. However, validity only has to do with the form of an argument, not its truth.

I would actually have students stand up, start tapping the top of their heads with their hand and turn circles in place all while reciting, “validity has nothing to do with truth” just to plant the notion firmly in their minds. Of course, an argument needs to be valid to be a candidate for truth. But mere validity does not make an argument true.

When speaking of the truthfulness of a deductive argument one speaks of an argument’s “soundness.” Those criticizing Rodgers because of what he reads are making an unsound argument.

There are those who say this is all a tempest in a teapot, that Rodgers was just trolling the Mannings and the other listeners with his literary choices.

I’ll use inductive reasoning as I did in my work on Louis-Antoine de Saint-Just, who came to prominence during the French Revolution. A member of the treacherous Committee of Public Safety, Saint-Just went to the front lines in the war against France’s enemies as a high official.

He ordered troops to wear their uniforms at night when they sleep so they can respond quickly if needed.

He heard a boyhood friend was nearby, so he went to his tent for a visit. Reportedly, they had a wonderful visit talking about old times and old friends. When the conversation was over and his friend went back to his bunk, Saint-Just ordered his friend to be executed because he was not wearing his uniform when he got him out of bed.

Is the story true? I don’t know. Instructively, the story was passed around among the troops, so it made an impression on the story’s listeners such that they believed it to be true, and judged Saint-Just accordingly.

Similarly, I don’t know if Rodgers was trolling the Mannings, but the Twitter mob’s response reveals that they take Rodger’s literary tastes quite literally, so their response is fair game. And their response is essentially to dehumanize Rodgers. Why? Because of the books he reads.

How shallow. How ignorant and stupid. How Progressive.

Just for the record, I’ve read French poetry. Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil) is an incredible work, and one of its poems, “The Metamorphosis of a Vampire,” has had a lasting impression on me since I first read it some 40 years ago. But can you judge who I am based on that?

I’ve also read Atlas Shrugged. So what? I took from the novel how the government can limit innovation and creativity by micromanaging its citizens. But to the Twitter mob, it apparently means I want to wander off to some Western utopia of capitalist freedom dominated by white supremacists and anti-government anarchists?

There are other books the Left despises and tries to have banned in schools and libraries.

Take To Kill a Mockingbird. Yeah, I read that, too. That doesn’t mean I am throwing the n-word about indiscriminately and hoping to lynch a black man. Rather, it helped reinforce in me a proper and rational rejection of racial bigotry.

Same for Huckleberry Finn. Yeah, I read that, too. But that doesn’t mean I am bigoted toward my friend “Jim” when I use the natural colloquialisms of the time when referring to him.

How about this. I’ve read Marx’s Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Does that make me a communist or a “fellow traveler”? Would that be enough for the Twitter mob to say, Oooh, I like this Nutter guy?

I should hope not.

How about 1984? Read that, too. Does that mean I’m looking to carry on a secret affair with a woman half my age in an upstairs junk shop bedroom and am afraid of rats in Room 101? Of course not.

I’ve read Brave New World. Does that mean I want to live in a world narcotized with soma and having the depth of human spirituality summarized in anonymous and meaningless sex? Hardly.

Along the same vein, how about the Russian writer Zamyatin’s We? It pre-dated both 1984 and Brave New World with its description of an authoritarian dystopia. Does the reading of these three novels mean I have a hard-on for authoritarian regimes?

I’ve read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Cancer Ward, The First Circle, The Gulag Archipelago, and am currently working my way through his Red Wheel series. Does that make me a prison afficionado?

How about Dostoevski’s Crime and Punishment as well as The Brother Karamazov? Yeah, I’ve read them, too. Does that mean I am hankering to murder whatever stray pawnbroker or relative who comes along just to prove that Nietzsche was right, that God is dead and that all is permitted?

How about Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Anna Kerenina? Having read them, I neither want to wander through a battlefield while the guns are ablazin’ nor do I wish to don a dashing officer’s uniform and cavort with the magistrate’s wife.

I’ve read the poetry of Sylvia Plath, Ann Sexton, Ted Hughes, and Robert Lowell, but no, I have no intent to commit suicide. Farthest thought from my mind despite what they write.

Perhaps poetry is a good place to wrap this up.

When in graduate school at Western Kentucky for my Master’s I took a class in contemporary American poetry. As part of the class the professor brought in William Matthews, a North Carolina writer who exemplifies the model of contemporary poetry.

Whereas modern poetry along the lines of T.S. Eliot can be summarized as complex words, complex language, and simple ideas, contemporary poetry is more along the lines of simple words, simple language, and complex ideas.

Anyway, the next class the students reacted to his visit. I was particularly disgruntled by one who claimed Matthews dressed like a poet. He wore jeans, a plaid shirt and had a poncho for warmth. The student added, “If he’d worn a coat and tie, we’d never have accepted him as a poet.”

So much for David Ignatow.

This is the kind of juvenile judgment that dominates Twitter mobs today. That student may be a really good guy, but he gets no credit for his silly notion.

And how utterly silly it is. Matthews’ character and standing as a poet is not measured by his wardrobe, but by the kind of poetry he produces and by the kind of meaningful life he leads. Period.

What one wears has no more to do with a person’s status as a poet than what one reads determines one’s status as a “jerk” or “bad guy” or Most Valuable Player or anything at all. If you want to pass judgment on a person like Aaron Rodgers, or me, or anyone else, then come to know that person, not what they read or an abridgement of what they say.

Just one more book: The Ox-Bow Incident. Yeah, read that one, too. It is a story of how a mob made unsound conclusions about three men they suspected of cattle rustling and murdering a neighbor of theirs. Instead of getting to know the men and the facts, they instead jumped to conclusions and allowed their own hatefulness to rule the day.

They lynched the three men, only to learn later that they were innocent of the crimes of which they were accused.

It is a lesson we all need to keep in mind when we find ourselves susceptible to knee-jerk reactions and too-quick judgments of others, particular concerning those with whom we disagree.

And it’s not only a problem for those on the political Left. Conservatives, too, can be too quick to judge and condemn. Just today (Monday) Parker Beauregard suggested in a Blue State Conservative column that perhaps it might be best if Donald Trump stood down and let any number of other talented Republican leaders lead the party in the next Presidential election.

The only problem I had with the column was my own selfish disappointment because I was planning on writing a similar column myself.

However, if you read the comments to Parker’s piece, you’ll find a comment by somebody who calls himself “the prisoner.” He writes: “This is merely a bunch of RINO nonsense, replete with contradictions. I won’t waste my time to point them out. You folks will never give up with your anyone but Trump campaign. I’d like to see who funds your site. You folks go form a China Mitch fan club.”

This writer clearly is wanting to write a hurtful comment. Why? Because a column that amounts to a rational argument that perhaps it might be best were Donald Trump to stand down the next election offends “the prisoner’s” political sensitivities.

Again, so quick to judge. And like the Twitter mob that attacked Rodgers, the criticism says much more about the critics than the subject of their barbs.

I say, God bless Aaron Rodgers for his reading of books. Books are what humanize us and allow us virtual entry into the lives of others. In doing so, they also teach humility in trying to understand others, even those with whom we disagree.


Featured photo by Foundry at Pixabay.

Content syndicated from TheBlueStateConservative.com with permission.

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