Our Need for Privacy

From the August/September 2015 Print Edition

The new game Cards Against Humanity advertises itself as “a party game for horrible people—despicable and awkward [like] you and your friends.” Its premise is simple. Black cards pose a question like “What did Vin Diesel eat for breakfast?” or an incomplete statement, such as, “After months of practice with ——, I think I’m finally ready for ——.” Players must answer the question or complete the statement by using white cards printed with answers that have to do primarily with unusual kinds of sex, excrement and bodily fluids, and popular culture. Some of the tamer answer cards: “a bloody ­pacifier” and “my genitals.”This game, which is widely popular, is in fact a party game for ironic people. Of course its players aren’t really horrible, despicable, or awkward; they are progressive, forward-thinking, and uninhibited. Clearly it’s all a big joke, a poke in the eye of those repressed types who wouldn’t want to talk about sadomasochism with their grandparents around the game table.Lena Dunham’s recent memoir trades on the same brand of irony. Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” uses offbeat allusions and casual obscenity to ridicule convention and tradition while establishing its author as a quirky antihero. “I am not,” she writes, “a mother of three or the owner of a successful hosiery franchise.” She dares us to conclude from this that she has nothing worthwhile to say. Continue Reading »

Taking A Life

From the May 2015 Print Edition

Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights

by katha pollitt

picador, 272 pages, $25
It’s easy to be a charitable reader when you like what a writer is saying. It’s possible even when you don’t agree, if an author is temperate and thoughtful. It’s most difficult when the author is an ideologue who inhabits a cartoonish world. This describes Katha Pollitt, noted feminist and columnist for the Nation. For her, there are simply good guys and bad guys; and you, the reader of this review, are probably the bad guy. The argument of her latest book, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, is that conservative men and right-wing Christians are engaged in a systematic and intentional campaign to oppress women by placing limitations on the right to abortion. Because they want to “restrict sexual freedom, enforce sectarian religious views on a pluralistic society, and return women to traditional roles,” these enemies of progress are making it harder for women to get abortions. But the right to abortion, Pollitt argues, is essential for women’s liberation and fulfillment. And it isn’t shameful, or even morally ambiguous. It is a good that we ought to defend without blushing. Continue Reading »

Learning in Love

From the April 2014 Print Edition

Over the past few months there has been a marked increase in stories about the decline of the humanities in higher education. Sometimes the coverage emerges from a particular political vantage point: The humanities are dying because they have been corrupted by leftist ideologues. Race, class, and gender, that great triumvirate, have replaced Plato, Chaucer, and Milton.Or the problem is posed in terms of jobs: Young people must be realistic in this day and age, and humanities majors simply don’t earn as much as other graduates. It’s a basic pragmatic calculation. Business majors will make more money than those with English degrees. On this reading, the decline of the humanities actually makes sense, and it’s a surprise that it hasn’t happened earlier.Sometimes the decline is put into the context of university survival: Humanities courses are costly to teach and seem expendable. Why not buy into a system of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, where students can have immediate access to all the best lecturers in the country? This would eliminate the need for extraneous, “luxury” departments, of classics and unpopular foreign languages, for example. Online courses could even be used as substitutes for large survey classes in history and political science and similar fields. Continue Reading »

No Happy Harmony

From the October 2013 Print Edition

At least once a semester, a young female student will come to my office with questions about an assignment, and after we have finished our official business, will mention her concerns about the future: whether she should apply to medical school or take the less demanding physician’s assistant . . . . Continue Reading »

On Susan

From the November 2012 Print Edition

Susan was a colleague in Baylor’s Honors College, not exactly a friend, though we were quite friendly. She was reserved and elegant, with a willowy figure all women couldn’t help but envy. She was a fine scholar and a beloved teacher, but she never cultivated a following, eschewing . . . . Continue Reading »

Life on the Divide

From the June/July 2012 Print Edition

On a typical afternoon, I drop off my eight-year-old daughter and her best friend at ballet lessons and return home to meet my five-year-old son’s friend for a “play date.” Their mothers and I appear to have everything in common. We all order our children’s clothes from the same upscale . . . . Continue Reading »

A Disposition of Delight

From the February 2012 Print Edition

After his death in 1990, Michael Oakeshott’s executors found dozens of unpublished but completed essays in the drawers of his desk. It’s hard to imagine a modern-day academic, under pressure to produce, leaving such a volume of work unpublished, but Oakeshott never felt compelled to bow to . . . . Continue Reading »

Shaping Up the Campus

From the May 2011 Print Edition

Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities by Mark C. Taylor Knopf, 240 pages, $24 Mark Taylor’s Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities began life as a widely noticed and controversial New York Times op-ed in 2009, after which . . . . Continue Reading »