Letters - Summer 2018

Responses to Our Spring 2018 Issue

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By Our readers

June 4, 2018


 

Call Me Cleon

Your instructive, riveting, often hilarious, and terrifying  Spring 2018 cover story (“A Vacuum at the Center,” W. Robert Connor) proves that the humanities—by providing context—offer critical insights in these chaotic and dangerous times. Published in the midst of the shocking revelations of Cambridge Analytica’s role in Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, Connor’s analysis illuminates that particular news cycle. In those news reports we’ve seen clips of the president gleefully telling donors that, during his campaign, he’d used phrases he neither understood nor liked—collections of words guaranteed by Cambridge Analytica’s manipulators to fire up his base. In the context of Connor’s article, Trump might as well have tweeted, “… but you can call me Cleon.” This article should be required reading for all thoughtful Americans. I’ve shared it widely and been gratified to learn that most of those to whom I sent it are sharing it with many others.

Catherine L. O’Shea
Flemington, New Jersey


The distinction between a populist and a democratically elected leader is very much in the mind of the beholder, and often as not reflects class snobbery. Democratically elected leaders are decried as populists when elite critics don’t like them, although they aren’t when favored by elites. But the distinction between populist and demagogue made in Connor’s article adds a whole new wrinkle. I understand the distinction being made, and understand the application of the term demagogue to Trump, and it makes sense. But I also consider the celebrity as a type, since the absent center of the demagogue strikes me as very celebrity-like. As Daniel J. Boorstin famously defined them, celebrities are known because they are known. Many are actors whose occupation requires playing different characters. The absent center is almost an occupational prerequisite. Yet not everybody has the makings of a celebrity. There’s something about a celebrity’s manner that enables others to impute what they want to see in them. It all remains a puzzle, although I appreciate the light this
article sheds on it.

Ken Morris
from our website


Accentuate the Privilege

I worked in the stem fields and still recall the professor of the course that provided me with my first graduate school teaching assistantship back in 1980. After we met and I spoke with him for a while, he gave me a lesson similar to that given to Robert Boyers by Professor Stone (“The Privilege Predicament”). He made similar identifications (assuming correctly, for example, that I was the first child of my working-class parents to go to university). Then he pointed out that I would do better all around if I learned some proper pronunciation. Being eager to do well in my field, I quickly began to replace “gonna” and “wanna” with “going to” and “want to,” and I stopped raising the inflection at the end of my sentences, so that my statements no longer became questions. Like Boyers, I never questioned the professor’s motives (we maintained a decades-long friendship) and was grateful to have heard what he told me that day. In my mind, I was simply learning how to get people to listen to what I had to say by sounding as if I was in their “group.” Over the years, I would convey this in a speech I gave to graduate students. If they resented me for it, they did a great job of hiding their resentment.

I enjoyed Boyers’s essay very much. Thanks for publishing it.

Glenn Ward
from our website


The current climate of “privilege warfare” has eliminated the good that those privileges can allow. No professor today would call in a student to offer the wisdom that Professor Stone shared with Robert Boyers. “Speaking truth to weakness” is not something one hears of, yet it should be. Giving young minds the direction they need, in matters academic and otherwise, is crucial to the development and improvement of society.

Bruce Jordan
from our website


Articles in the Scholar are frequently thoughtful and informative. “The Privilege Predicament” is no exception. I admire Robert Boyers’s patience and objectivity in describing his predicament and in framing the subject in a comprehensible way. I wonder about the motives of partisans (as Boyers calls them) who charge millions of people on purely racial grounds. This “movement” appears to be organized and relentless. Two questions arise from his essay: Who in America doesn’t get it that racism is morally wrong and illegal if acted out? And why does no one challenge such obviously wrongful behavior when it occurs? We don’t allow bullying in grade school. Why is cultural bullying allowed in universities?

Christopher Walsh
Arlington, Virginia


What a pleasure to read such nuanced and precise thought on a topic as burdened with abuse as this one! Thank you, Robert Boyers—my hat is off.

“saksin”
from our website


As a heavily accented Chinese-Malaysian medical student at an Australian medical school, I took it upon myself to studiously adopt the plummy educated English accent I’d learned from Merchant Ivory films. I’d hoped this would help me fit in with my peers from elite private schools once I graduated into medical practice. One day, a senior surgeon mistook me for a graduate from hallowed Cambridge University. He then noted my surname and proceeded to heap praise upon a cousin of mine, the first Asian Australian to lead the First XV rugby union team and win the school captaincy of his grammar school. This surreal episode made me feel like a complex amalgam of a deliberately fabricated identity that I have long since chosen to abandon. My career advancement hasn’t suffered since.

Joseph Ting
Brisbane, Australia


McClatchy’s Last Words

Wow. J. D. McClatchy’s poem “Radiation Days” would be nearly too intimate and graphic to read but for its sheer power of detailed imagery and barely cloaked sadness and fear. We hope for the best outcome even when we know the situation is already lost. To die with poetry still on our lips, still drifting through our minds, is the best any poet can hope for. Thanks.

“Michael R”
from our website


“Radiation Days” is incredibly intimate, arousing the sadness and the curiosity of the reader. Peace to Mr. McClatchy, his family, and friends.

“Bev”
from our website


Unnatural Resources?

Toward the end of her review of Edward O. Wilson’s latest book (“Why We Need Art,” Winter 2018), Natalie Angier dismisses the conceptualizing of women as a resource over which men compete as one of the “off-putting adumbrations of the field” (evolutionary psychology). Regardless of my own reaction to the idea of women—or any human—as commodities, I found her response deeply “off-putting.” She cannot wave off the data from multiple disciplines because it insults her view of herself, of women, of what’s fair or polite or respectful. Her dismissal seems part of a dangerous trend of skittish, timid, and politically correct avoidance of history: like it or not, we humans, from our earliest days, have indeed viewed and treated each other as “resources.” And if, via biology or culture, we modern men—and women, let’s be honest—still tend to view each other in this deeply unattractive way, that is something we must acknowledge and process in order to outgrow. No one ever got over a phobia, a prejudice, a handicap, a weakness, or a pet peeve by pretending it didn’t exist.

bennett pologe
New York City


For the Love of Animals

Chloe Shaw’s beautiful, well-written essay (“What Is a Dog?” Spring 2018) makes me feel that I am not alone in understanding the depth of nonhuman love, the only love that is not judgmental, that allows us to be accepted for who we are and to be ourselves. I have recently lost the companionship of a feline “sister” who was over 15. Her love was complete. It kept me going—she buoyed me when I needed it, she made me smile, and she loved me beyond words. This incredible friend often stayed at home on her own for as long as two months, with someone checking in on her, and yet, when I would return from my work abroad, sometimes after four to five months, she would welcome me in such a way that it was overwhelming. She would never leave my side. All she asked was love back. I was blessed with this deep love, and now I grieve.

“Capitanissa”
from our website


Wonderful essay! I’m crying over all the animal-friend losses I’ve experienced. Shaw’s words brought back the bittersweet taste of grief. Thank you.

“wildlandlover”
from our website


Correction

Having lived in Boston and worked in a number of Boston hospitals, I was happy to see that the city’s hospitals are ahead of the curve when it comes to carbon neutrality (“Enviably Green,” Works in Progress, Spring 2018). Cheers to Boston Medical for leading the way. Unfortunately, the photo you published showed the Massachusetts General Hospital, another great Boston institution, but not the one you highlighted.

Robert H. Gilman, MD, DMD
University of Michigan Medical Center, Ann Arbor


Our readers may send letters to The American Scholar, 1606 New Hampshire Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009; or e-mail them to scholar@pbk.org. Please include a daytime telephone number. Letters may be edited for length or clarity.


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