- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I, the center

“Many students come to college asking the question: Who am I? At its best, a liberal arts education responds to that question by pushing students outside of their limited selves and into the vast reaches of human imagination and experience. It assumes that students can enter lives radically different from their own - that a Chinese-American girl, say, can find meaning in Odysseus’ quest to return home - and that they can start to participate in a centuries-long conversation that contains sorrows and fears that most 18-year-olds can barely imagine.

“No freshman can understand the battle between Lear and his daughters, but 40 years later, it might return to him with a deep pang of recognition. Thomas Hobbes’ warning regarding the ever-present threat of anarchy will likely remain wholly abstract for secure American students until they have seen more of the world. When they have, however, his articulation of the fragility of social order may echo in their minds as terrifyingly true.

“Today’s solipsistic university, however, allows students to answer the ‘Who am I?’ question exclusively, rather than inclusively. Identity politics defines the self by its difference from as many other people as possible, so as to increase the underdog status of one’s chosen identity group.”

Heather MacDonald, writing on “Victimology 101 at Yale” in the March 16 issue of the Weekly Standard

Smith, the socialist

“However, even as the positive contributions of capitalism through market processes were being clarified and explicated, its negative sides were also becoming clear - often to the very same analysts … the huge limitations of relying entirely on the market economy and the profit motive were also clear enough even to Adam Smith.

“Indeed, early advocates of the use of markets, including Smith, did not take the pure market mechanism to be a freestanding performer of excellence, nor did they take the profit motive to be all that is needed. Even though people seek trade because of self-interest … nevertheless an economy can operate effectively only on the basis of trust among different parties. When business activities, including those of banks and other financial institutions, generate the confidence that they can and will do the things they pledge, then relations among lenders and borrowers can go smoothly in a mutually supportive way. …

“Smith explained why sometimes this did not happen, and he would not have found anything particularly puzzling, I would suggest, in the difficulties faced today by businesses and banks thanks to the widespread fear and mistrust that is keeping credit markets frozen and preventing a coordinated expansion of credit.”

Amartya Sen, writing on “Capitalism Beyond the Crisis” in the March 26 issue of the New York Review of Books

Gore, the bore

“After I came home from the fabulous sold out [Bill] Maher-[Ann] Coulter debate, I began to wonder something. The next big show on the MSG Speaker series is the Al Gore show on April 1st. If two circus acts like Maher and Coulter can sell out the Chicago Theater, it should be no problem for an elder Statesman like Gore whose mantle holds trophies from the Nobel, Oscar, Emmy, and Grammy organizations. …

“A couple clicks on the Ticketmaster link assured me that there is no danger of a People’s Choice Award on that mantle anytime soon, since the public isn’t buying Gore. With a little more than two weeks before showtime, it is still possible to purchase six seats on the main floor, center stage, row K. Ouch.

“Turns out that even hard-core Al Gore supporters cannot imagine sitting through an hour of listening to him. People like the idea of Al Gore far more than the actual person. They want him to speak much more than they care to listen. It’s much easier to give him an Academy Award than to sit through his movie. Ditto on his Emmy awarded for Current TV, a cable channel with scant evidence of capturing even a single viewer.”

Tim Slagle, writing on “Inconvenient Box Office” on March 15 at Big Hollywood

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