I just posted a review of Anthony Esolen’s translation of Dante’s Inferno, which I was inspired to read by coming across this excellent essay of his over the summer. I can’t speak highly enough of his translation or of his essay; I feel compelled to share with you at least a three-paragraph excerpt from the essay here. Professor Esolen gives a powerful critique of one modern fad in education, and of its proponents, who would erase the classics and enshrine the contemporary, all in the name of “diversity.”
The material I teach in the first year of DWC spans four millennia, from ancient Babylon to the end of the Renaissance. This year’s entries were originally written in Babylonian, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, old French, Italian, German, Spanish, and English. We are in Jerusalem with David, on the coast of half-Christian England with the poet of Beowulf, in Rome with Cicero, in Madrid with Calderón, in exile with the Florentine Dante, and in London with Shakespeare. We have studied the Parthenon and Saint Peter’s, Giotto and the stained glass windows of Chartres, Arthurian romance and the poetic philosophizing of Lucretius. It is utterly preposterous to say that we are anything but multicultural. We study cultures, and there are a lot of them, and they diverge far from ours and from one another. A Viking chieftain is not a Roman senator or a Christian friar. Xerxes is not Francis Xavier.
But I know that none of that really counts. One of the student protesters, abashed, has written in our newspaper that even though a Viking is admittedly “diverse” from anybody we may meet on the street now, studying the Vikings does not serve “the larger purpose” of diversity. And thus has he unwittingly given up the ballgame.
He and the students are not really interested in studying cultures other than ours. What counts for them as “diversity” is governed entirely by a monotonous and predictable list of current political concerns. If you read a short story written in English by a Latina author living up the road in Worcester, that counts as “diverse,” but if you read a romance written in Spanish by a Spanish author living in Spain four hundred years ago, that does not count as “diverse.” It probably does not even count as Hispanic. If you pore over the verb system of Old Icelandic so that you can stumble around in the sagas of Snorri Sturluson, that does not count, despite the fact that the sagas are utterly different from any form of literature now written. But if you collect a few editorials written by Toni Morrison, that does count, despite the fact that they are written in English and that you have read hundreds of such.
Prophetic words from 1995:
“I think cyberspace means the end of our species….Because it means the end of innovation….This idea that the whole world is wired together is mass death.
“Every biologist knows that small groups in isolation evolve fastest. You put a thousand birds on an ocean island and they’ll evolve very fast. You put ten thousand on a big continent, and their evolution slows down. Now, for our own species, evolution occurs mostly through our behavior. We innovate new behavior to adapt. And everybody on earth knows that innovation only occurs in small groups.
“Put three people on a committee and they may get something done. Ten people, and it gets harder. Thirty people, and nothing happens. Thirty million, it becomes impossible. That’s the effect of mass media—it keeps anything from happening. Mass media swamps diversity. It makes every place the same.
“Bangkok or Tokyo or London: there’s a McDonald’s on one corner, a Benetton on another, a Gap across the street. Regional differences vanish. All differences vanish. In a mass-media world, there’s less of everything except the top ten books, records, movies, ideas. People worry about losing species diversity in the rain forest. But what about intellectual diversity—our most necessary resource? That’s disappearing faster than trees.
“But we haven’t figured that out, so now we’re planning to put five billion people together in cyberspace. And it’ll freeze the entire species. Everything will stop dead in its tracks. Everyone will think the same thing at the same time. Global uniformity.”
–Michael Crichton, The Lost World
The massacre at Fort Hood only two days after the premiere of the new science fiction series V, about hostile plotters hiding in our midst, has me thinking about how current events might further factor into the show’s plot. Specifically, I’m inspired by the leftists in our society who misdirect our attention from the real problems here–violent anti-Americans operating in the open because we’re too politically correct to combat them–to their weird pet projects of multiculturalism and diversity.
The strangest and most revolting example of this must be General George Casey’s assertion that a loss of diversity in the military as a result of this shooting would a greater tragedy than the shooting itself. This kind of self-flagellating defeatism, of course, plays right into the hands of terrorists.
So here’s my idea for the show: as rebels try to expose the alien invaders for the hungry reptiles they are, the “Visitors” should respond by smearing their critics, slamming them for their lack of open-minded compassion. Bloggers or talk radio hosts who ask tough questions about the Visitors’ motives should be met with press conferences by aggrieved, indignant aliens who look sternly into the camera and ask, “Why are you so afraid of things that are different or that you don’t understand? Why are your hearts so full of hate?”