Welcome to the Fun House
Politics, in our age of all-intrusive media, is not the science of governing the polis. There’s little left that resembles what Aristotle would have recognized as a polis at all: a smallish self-governing city-state wherein pretty much everybody knew everybody else by sight or by reputation or by family. Current politics is not even a way, though incomplete, of looking at the world. It is instead a way of not looking at the world, of refusing to credit what is right in front of your eyes.
We are probably wrong if we assume that all of the fine Stalinists in Ukraine were liars, when they presented to the world the rosy picture of boys meeting tractors for the first time and falling in love, and of peasants wresting lands from the kulaks and turning them into collectives of material bounty and Soviet joy. They were better and worse than that. Millions of people were being starved, deliberately, by Stalin and his political machine. Stalin himself knew he was a liar. But I imagine that most of the attendants to the self-styled Man of Steel did not know they were liars. They thought they spoke the truth, because they had trained themselves not to see.
Now, if the university is about the pursuit of truth, and if I am right about politics as a concerted effort not to see or not even to acknowledge, in moral, aesthetic, and intellectual matters, that there is such a thing as truth, then a politicized university is no university at all, just as a painter who blinds himself can no longer be a painter. It is a monstrous self-contradiction or swindle.
Let me illustrate.
When President Trump came out with his executive order regarding immigration, the president of my soon to be former college sent out a letter to the faculty, the staff, and the whole student body, assuring everyone that Mr. Trump was out of keeping with Catholic thought, and that the president and his staff would be working hard to ensure that the two students affected in some way by the order would be assisted.
I applaud their helping the students in question. I am uneasy about the advertisement of the fact, which if nothing else could have put those students at greater risk for trouble.
What was strange, though, was that the president announced that there would be a “solidarity” march that evening on campus – solidarity for women, Muslims, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people.
Let’s catch our breath here. It’s as if women had not made up the majority of students at Nameless College for at least the last thirty years. It is as if fair dealing with refugees implied approval for sodomy and sexual confusion. That’s not to mention the refusal to acknowledge the danger that Islam poses to those very people the protesters claim to defend.
But there’s more. What about solidarity for little boys who have their brains blown out by Muslim radicals for refusing to deny that Jesus is the Son of God? What about solidarity with Christians in Palestine, Iraq, and Iran – those few who still survive there?
Several years ago, a congregation of Coptic Christians erected a big new church a few miles from Nameless College. I’ve taught a few Coptic Christians, myself. Have any of the righteous secularists on the faculty tried to reach out to the Copts in our own community? Has the president of Nameless College ever done so?
I am proud to belong to the most culturally diverse institution in the history of the world: the Catholic Church. Yet I’ve lived all my professional life among people whose every other sentence has “diversity” in it – the word, not the reality – and who do not notice what is right in front of them to see. I used to attribute that failure to inattention. Now I attribute it to politics, and I conclude that in a room full of the most committed diversitarians, I may be the only person who actually believes that it’s good to learn from a way of life that is not your own.
Suppose you don’t have any religious faith, and your vision of the world is thoroughly secular. You find yourself at a Catholic school among people who sing hymns and see suffering as possibly a gift and consider themselves in real communion with fellow believers who walked the earth centuries ago. How fine that ought to be for you, if you believe what you say about diversity! Yet you spend your career at Nameless College complaining that the students are “all alike,” meaning that they are too Catholic for your taste, and you wish more of them were like you instead.
Or suppose you belong to a racial group that hasn’t been prominent at Nameless College, because of its location and because of its being Catholic rather than Baptist or Methodist. Now you are there, among thousands of students who are, sometimes in trivial ways (complexion), sometimes in significant ways (faith), different from you.
Why don’t you say, “Oh, I am in very Diversity Heaven!” Then you might advocate greater diversity among the student body, not for yourself, because you’re already deriving its benefits, but for the majority. You wouldn’t be complaining about getting to drink brandy while everybody else was drinking watered orange pulp. You would be praising the brandy.
“Why don’t we seek out more born-again Christians for our student body?” said no secular professor, ever. But why not? That would, in effect, also bring in a greater number of African American and Latin American students than usual. The answer is not far to seek. Secular professors do not belong to the most culturally diverse institution in the world. They say “diversity,” and mean uniformity.
I must watch out, lest they teach me to treasure cultural diversity no more than they do.