by Victor Davis Hanson
1. Four years of high-school Latin would dramatically arrest the decline in American education. In particular, such instruction would do more for minority youths than all the ‘role model’ diversity sermons on Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, Montezuma, and Caesar Chavez put together. Nothing so enriches the vocabulary, so instructs about English grammar and syntax, so creates a discipline of the mind, an elegance of expression, and serves as a gateway to the thinking and values of Western civilization as mastery of a page of Virgil or Livy (except perhaps Sophocles’s Antigone in Greek or Thucydides’ dialogue at Melos). After some 20 years of teaching mostly minority youth Greek, Latin, and ancient history and literature in translation (1984-2004), I came to the unfortunate conclusion that ethnic studies, women studies — indeed, anything “studies” — were perhaps the fruits of some evil plot dreamed up by illiberal white separatists to ensure that poor minority students in the public schools and universities were offered only a third-rate education.
2. Hollywood is going the way of Detroit. The actors are programmed and pretty rather than interesting looking and unique. They, of course, are overpaid (they do to films what Lehman Brothers’ execs did to stocks), mediocre, and politicized. The producers and directors are rarely talented, mostly unoriginal — and likewise politicized. A pack-mentality rules. Do one movie on a comic superhero — and suddenly we get ten, all worse than the first. One noble lion cartoon movie earns us eagle, penguin and most of Noah’s Arc sequels. Now see poorer remakes of movies that were never good to begin with. I doubt we will ever see again a Western like Shane, The Searchers, High Noon, or The Wild Bunch. If one wishes to see a fine film, they are now usually foreign, such as Das Boot or Breaker Morant. Watching any recent war movie (e.g., Iraq as the Rape of Nanking) is as if someone put uniforms on student protestors and told them to consult their professors for the impromptu script.
3. All the old media brands of our youth have been tarnished and all but discredited. No one picks up Harpers or Atlantic expecting to read a disinterested story on politics or culture. (I pass on their inane accounts of ‘getaways’ and food.) The New York Times and Washington Post are as likely to have op-eds as news stories on the front page. Newsweek and Time became organs for paint-by-numbers Obamism, teased with People Magazine-like gossip pieces (at least, their editors still cared enough to seem hurt when charged with overt bias). NBC, ABC, and CBS would now make a Chet Huntley or Eric Sevareid turn over in his grave. A Keith Olbermann would not have been allowed to do commercials in the 1950s. Strangely, the media has offered up fashionably liberal politics coupled with metrosexual elite tastes in fashions, clothes, housing, food, and the good life, as if there were no contradictions between the two. No wonder media is so enthralled with the cool Obama and his wife. Both embody the new nexus between Eurosocialism in the abstract and the hip aristocratic life in the concrete.
4. After the junk bond meltdown, the S&L debacle, and now the financial panic, in just a few years the financial community destroyed the ancient wisdom: deal in personal trust; your word is your bond; avoid extremes; treat the money you invest for others as something sacred; don’t take any more perks than you would wish others to take; don’t borrow what you couldn’t suddenly pay back; imagine the worse case financial scenario and expect it may very well happen; the wealthier you become the more humble you should act. And for what did our new Jay Goulds do all this? A 20,000 square-foot mansion instead of the old 6,000 sq. ft. expansive house? A Gulfstream in lieu of first class commercial? You milk your company, cash in your stock bonuses, enjoy your $50 million cash pile, and then get what — a Rolex instead of a reliable Timex? A Maserati for a Mercedes, a gold bathroom spout in preference to brushed pewter? The extra splurge was marginal and hardly worth the stain of avarice on one’s immortal soul.
5. California is now a valuable touchstone to the country, a warning of what not to do. Rarely has a single generation inherited so much natural wealth and bounty from the investment and hard work of those more noble now resting in our cemeteries — and squandered that gift within a generation. Compare the vast gulf from old Governor Pat Brown to Gray Davis or Arnold Schwarzenegger. We did not invest in many dams, canals, rails, and airports (though we use them all to excess); we sued each other rather than planned; wrote impact statements rather than left behind infrastructure; we redistributed, indulged, blamed, and so managed all at once to create a state with about the highest income and sales taxes and the worst schools, roads, hospitals, and airports. A walk through downtown San Francisco, a stroll up the Fresno downtown mall, a drive along highway 101 (yes, in many places it is still a four-lane, pot-holed highway), an afternoon at LAX, a glance at the catalogue of Cal State Monterey, a visit to the park in Parlier — all that would make our forefathers weep. We can’t build a new nuclear plant; can’t drill a new offshore oil well; can’t build an all-weather road across the Sierra; can’t build a few tracts of new affordable houses in the Bay Area; can’t build a dam for a water-short state; and can’t create even a mediocre passenger rail system. Everything else — well, we do that well.
6. Something has happened to the generic American male accent. Maybe it is urbanization; perhaps it is now an affectation to sound precise and caring with a patina of intellectual authority; perhaps it is the fashion culture of the metrosexual; maybe it is the influence of the gay community in arts and popular culture. Maybe the ubiquitous new intonation comes from the scarcity of salty old jobs in construction, farming, or fishing. But increasingly to meet a young American male about 25 is to hear a particular nasal stress, a much higher tone than one heard 40 years ago, and, to be frank, to listen to a precious voice often nearly indistinguishable from the female. How indeed could one make Westerns these days, when there simply is not anyone left who sounds like John Wayne, Richard Boone, Robert Duvall, or Gary Cooper much less a Struther Martin, Jack Palance, L.Q. Jones, or Ben Johnson? I watched the movie Twelve O’clock High the other day, and Gregory Peck and Dean Jagger sounded liked they were from another planet. I confess over the last year, I have been interviewed a half-dozen times on the phone, and had no idea at first whether a male or female was asking the questions. All this sounds absurd, but I think upon reflection readers my age (55) will attest they have had the same experience. In the old days, I remember only that I first heard a variant of this accent with the old Paul Lynde character actor in one of the Flubber movies; now young men sound closer to his camp than to a Jack Palance or Alan Ladd.
7. We have given political eccentricity a bad name. There used to be all sorts of classy individualists, liberal and conservative alike, like Everett Dirksen, J. William Fulbright, Margaret Chase Smith, or Sam Ervin; today we simply see the obnoxious who claim to be eccentric like a Barbara Boxer, Al Franken, Barney Frank, or Harry Reid. The loss is detectable even in diction and manner; Dirksen was no angel, but he was witty, charming, insightful; Frank is no angel, but he merely rants and pontificates. Watch the You Tube exchange between Harvard Law Graduate Frank and Harvard Law Graduate Raines as they arrogantly dismiss their trillion-dollar Fannie/Freddie meltdown in the making. I suppose it is the difference between the Age of Belief and the Age of Nihilism.
8. Do not farm. There is only loss. To the degree that anyone makes money farming, it is a question of a vertically-integrated enterprise making more in shipping, marketing, selling, packing, and brokering than it loses on the other end in growing. No exceptions. Food prices stay high, commodity prices stay low. That is all ye need to know. Try it and see.
9. As I wrote earlier, the shrill Left is increasingly far more vicious these days than the conservative fringe, and about like the crude Right of the 1950s. Why? I am not exactly sure, other than the generic notion that utopians often believe that their anointed ends justify brutal means. Maybe it is that the Right already had its Reformation when Buckley and others purged the extremists — the Birchers, the neo-Confederates, racialists, the fluoride-in-the-water conspiracists, anti-Semites, and assorted nuts — from the conservative ranks in a way the Left has never done with the 1960s radicals that now reappear in the form of Michael Moore, Bill Ayers, Cindy Sheehan, Moveon.org, the Daily Kos, etc. Not many Democrats excommunicated Moveon.org for its General Betray-Us ad. Most lined up to see the premier of Moore’s mythodrama. Barack Obama could subsidize a Rev. Wright or email a post-9/11 Bill Ayers in a way no conservative would even dare speak to a David Duke or Timothy McVeigh — and what Wright said was not all that different from what Duke spouts. What separated Ayers from McVeigh was chance; had the stars aligned, the Weathermen would have killed hundreds as they planned.
10. The K-12 public education system is essentially wrecked. No longer can any professor expect an incoming college freshman to know what Okinawa, John Quincy Adams, Shiloh, the Parthenon, the Reformation, John Locke, the Second Amendment, or the Pythagorean Theorem is. An entire American culture, the West itself, its ideas and experiences, have simply vanished on the altar of therapy. This upcoming generation knows instead not to judge anyone by absolute standards (but not why so); to remember to say that its own Western culture is no different from, or indeed far worse than, the alternatives; that race, class, and gender are, well, important in some vague sense; that global warming is manmade and very soon will kill us all; that we must have hope and change of some undefined sort; that AIDs is no more a homosexual- than a heterosexual-prone disease; and that the following things and people for some reason must be bad, or at least must in public company be said to be bad (in no particular order): Wal-Mart, cowboys, the Vietnam War, oil companies, coal plants, nuclear power, George Bush, chemicals, leather, guns, states like Utah and Kansas, Sarah Palin, vans and SUVs.
Well, with that done — I feel much better.
©2008 Victor Davis Hanson