I love my son. That is a declarative statement with no interjection of a “however” or “but.” That being said my son is a self-described “Marxist” (wince) and an atheist (obvious cringe while simultaneously making the sign of the cross). How his extreme (and make no mistake when he waxes politically it is extreme), political bent evolved is no mystery at all. His thought derived from the very liberal college and graduate school he chose to attend.
The fact that my son absorbed leftist political thought from the institutions that were paid to educate him for an occupation is exactly what David Mamet is excoriating in his book “The Secret Knowledge.” A Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, he writes well, but he also lays out very simply and concretely the views held by the left in this country and then counterbalances them with his conservative thought, that came to him gradually, over time.
He believes that the very liberal doctrine that is infiltrating our public schools and continuing into the graduate schools is not reason, but “devolution from reason to belief.” And the graduates who are spoon fed this belief and gravitate towards it like moths to flame have no employable job skills upon graduation, so they continue in their ivory towers to be employed as professors and eventually administrators.
They become accepted and reinforced by that herd; as Mr. Mamet says, their repetition of liberal thought is how they get their “pellets,” and then they continue to indoctrinate their students into this herd mentality. The students are encouraged to “criticize and dismantle a culture they, in their adolescence, are equipped neither to understand nor participate in.”
Mr. Mamet as a young person in Hollywood and In New York was a liberal who was very successful in his chosen trade of playwriting. But as he grew older, he began to question his own belief system politically and became disillusioned because it was not based on sound reason or proven history.
He suggests that phrases that sounded correct and were accepted by the left as truth then became a code that identifies members of the left and accepts one into the group not based on thought but on the ability to repeat catch phrases. Something he was doing himself. His private thoughts on government, taxation, social justice were anathema to the liberal doctrine he was espousing.
An example: People on the left claim to believe passionately in social justice. But what does this mean? To the liberal mind social justice is a way of caring for the underdog and trying to change his circumstances by not asking them to “do” anything but by persuading people who are successful in this society “to care” about them.
But there’s the rub, we are a nation of law. We have laws in place that state there is no discrimination of opportunity based on race, creed, gender or religion. But, our laws cannot predict that life’s outcome will be equal for everybody. There will be richer, poorer, more successful, and less successful. The social justice mindset wants to manage the outcomes so everybody is raised to a more equal, read affluent, level, not through hard work and equal opportunity but through redistributing the wealth of the successful people.
In other words, the successful give more money to the government and then the government decides who is most worthy to receive the largess. Never mind that the government has not proven to be good stewards of people’s money, and with all our government programs from the New Deal and the War on Poverty the poor and the homeless populations have grown, as well as our national debt.
What is important to the liberal mindset is that the “rich” will have and should have less. The rich show they “care” not by creating more jobs for the populace but by giving away their earned money to a benevolent government. The government’s belief, however erroneous, is that there are people who simply cannot help themselves, and who must depend on government and the opportunity this country offers does not include them, which is an oppressive way to view any set of Americans.
Mr. Mamet gives more examples of liberal beliefs as he explains his transition to conservatism and he is realistic in his approach. As a Jewish man in America, he admits there is anti-Semitism that he experiences that non-Jews probably do not decipher. But he is quick to point out that because of our existing laws of no discrimination in the workplace, being Jewish did not stop him from exploring his talent and bringing it to a level that enabled him to earn a living. As a matter of fact, he and many Jews who assimilated in the American culture have done quite well along with other minorities and immigrants.
Mr. Mamet does acknowledge that the transition from liberal belief to conservative thought was not an easy one. He realized that not being part of the liberal group was losing acceptance and being met with scorn because his liberal group thought they were beyond question and exceptional in their self-righteousness. And like all individuals we like being part of a group especially if many members are our friends.
When my son comes home from school, I would like him to read this book and then maybe we could discuss it civilly without acrimony and perhaps maintain a scintilla of humor. Currently we are mired in this quicksand of bad feeling that we can’t seem to escape. I don’t even understand why politics has to infiltrate our conversations but it has.
A recent phone conversation:
Son: Mom, did you see that Congress is saying that pizza is a vegetable and want to keep it in public school lunches?
Me: (laughing) Yeah. That was pretty funny.
Son: (outraged) How can you laugh? I don’t believe this! They put sugar in the sauce, they add sugar!!
Me: I don’t think pizza at lunch is that big of a deal. And coming from you, laughable, because you refused to eat hardly anything except pizza when you were growing up.
Son: Mom, they are liars. Pizza is not a vegetable.
Me: But isn’t this the same congress of liars you want the wealthy to give more money too? At least Barney Frank is not running for re-election so there will be one less liar.
Son: Barney Frank is a great guy.
Me: (aghast) Barney Frank was/is up to his eyeballs is that Freddie Mac mortgage fiasco that ruined our economy.
Son: Where did you hear that Mom, Fox news? Fox news lies.
Me: Maybe I read it in the Times. It’s still true.
Son: (still outraged) I can not stand this! I gotta go to class. Bye.(hangs up)
Me: (sadly) OK. Still love you. Bye. sigh
Dagger Book Columnist Susan Kelly will appear Thursday, December 8 at 7:30 a.m. on the WAMD 970 AM Morning Show with Maynard Edwards and Cindy Mumby to discuss her review of “The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture” by David Mamet.
Bill Vanden Eynden says
Wow! This sounds like a terrific book that I’m going to have to buy today! I have always wondered how was it possible for, seemingly, smart people to become liberal. Over time, I’ve developed some of my own theories but it will be nice to read an entire book about that mindset.
It is a good book and it encourages you to question what is real due to reason and historical fact and what is belief based on accepted emotion.
Since I have not read the book yet but plan to read it soon (put it on my Christmas list), does he discuss how people can be liberal in some aspects but conservative in others and justify the possible conflicts and incongruencies?
susan kelly says
He talks about the incongruities between action and thought more. Like he led his life as a conservative capitalist but spoke liberal beliefs. He does not discuss a dicotomy of his beliefs.
Jokers to the Right says
“The students are encouraged to ‘criticize and dismantle a culture they, in their adolescence, are equipped neither to understand nor participate in.'”
Since when did criticism become not a form of contribution and participation? The true republican values of this country (and I use “republican” in the classical sense of denoting an informed and politically active citizenry) requires that each person be equipped to criticize the staus quo in order to progress to ever greater democratic ideals. Universities help students become aware of their surroundings, so they can gain more knowledge and strive toward the kind of future they want to live in before the other burdens of the workplace and family maintenance take up all of their time. It is not the fault of the Humanities (I assume Mamet’s claims are directed specifically at the Humanities because he does not seem to take issue with all of the scientific and technological advancements that come out of university research) that most of the great philosophers and thinkers in western history happen to align with what would be called the political left. It is not the fault of the Humanities that these canonical ideas (Shakespeare would be considered a leftist today) do not more profoundly pervade other sectors of our society. In fact, it is arguments like this one, and those of you who have decided to agree with this nonsense, that progressive ideas must remain the place of the university. Education has been so derided and systematically underfunded in this country that a barrier was been erected between the great ideas of the past and present actualization (generally because notions of equality conflict with capitalist ideology, even though it has tried to appropriate them into its nonsense about everyone starting on an equal playing field. Do you have no sense of the intergenerational realities of the capitalist system?) Progressively-minded people have few options. Being educated in the Humanities is rather a burden in the job climate, because no one is interested in progressivism; most interest lies in the immediate accumulation of capital, a mindset without past or future, which is why the U.S. has still not signed the Indigenous Persons Act or has anything remotely resembling a sustainable energy policy. People who are interested in these ideas are ostracized, are force to find places where they can engage in them. The place happens to be the university: where GOOD ideas are appreciated. But if people keep constructing this ideological barrier between the university and the outside world (which trust me is not the desire of the university) then these people will continue to have only one place to go. If you stop this nonsense argumentation about the impractical leftism of the university, maybe some people can slip out, bring good and beneficial ideas to society, and stop the cycle that you all deride while perpetuating it with that very derision. And. by the way, you all are not exempt from the idealism of the Humanities, just somewhere you’ve been hardened not to believe in it, while still trying to instill your children with those very same ideals. Let me ask you: who thinks Robin Hood was not a hero? Who teaches their children that he was not? Who thinks Scrooge was not a bad man before his transformation? Who teaches their children he was not? Who believes It’s a Wonderful Life does not have a happy ending? Who teaches their children it does not? Look at the art you love. Look at what you teach your children. Maybe you’re a leftist, or maybe you’re a Scrooge and those who don’t have money should get busy dying. Maybe you should end A Christmas Carol early this year and tell your kids that they already got the message.
I find it funny they feel that student’s are not capable of participating on some level and thinking on a higher level. Maybe an adolecent is not perfect but is th idea to teach them to think and rationalize for themselves or does Susan believe they should let mommy and daddy do their thinking for them?
susan kelly says
Susan believes students should be well grounded in history, current events and well read. They should be taught different political ideals and theories not just one. They should always challenge their belief with fact. Many theories sound good but have proven to be unrealistic when put into practice. I don t like anyone to be taught just one way to think even from the parents. But I do think students should educate themselves politically before they make a choice. I resent universities just presenting one political side as correct and deriding all others
That is not education that is dogmatic.
I agree they should be taught many different theories and ideas. It is up to them to reason which they believe to be true. I am often amazed that Anti-Evolutionist believe Evolution should not be taught. You can not effectively argue against it if you do not know the science. The same is true with political doctorine. To understand the flaws of Marxism or Facism you need to understand the thought process. I will say that where I went for my undergrad I got a very balanced view of poltics presented to me by my many prefessor in the social studies department.
I think my issue with your statement is you find it wrong for students to be critical of the government. Almost as if you think they should be seen and not heard. If I understand you correctly. So when in your opinion is the appropriate age for this choice to be made? I know when I was younger I always said I was a democrat. My parents where democrats 3 of my 4 grandparents where and most of my friends where democrats. I learned as I got older I was not really a democrat but not a republican either. I saw merrit in both parties base philosophies. I would now call myself anti-party because I cant stand the hypocrisy both parties excercise in their bad case of Potomac Fever. I register with a party because of the system but I vote very independently.
susan kelly says
I think you and I fundamentally agree. The quote you had trouble with was Mr.Manet s statement not mine. My problem was my son s colleges presenting one philosophy to students that had yet to form a political identity and they embracing that philosophy in an almost religious fervor like my son has. But time passes and even my son is broadening his thought processes some. He teaches at his university and I constantly remind him to respect and present both sides of an issue. I don t know if he does that but if I was paying $40,000 a year to have my child educated I would hope the student is getting educated not preached to. By the way. Joker to the right is my son.
Billy Jack says
As a parent with an obvious conservative leaning in your own ideology, did your college education effect your political and social ideology at the time?
Susan Kelly says
I really don’t remember any professor sharing his political belief’s at the time but admittedly it was a long time ago. I was heavily influenced by the times,the mid seventies, coming out of the Vietnam war, my friends, and
my rebellious nature to be the exact opposite of my very conservative parents. I was not political at all but I had strong emotion towards the ending of the war and was moved by the civil rights movement, Bobby Kennedy’s death and martin Luther Kings death. I do not consider myself a conservative although I have leanings that way.
“Each new generation born is in effect an invasion of civilization by little barbarians, who must be civilized before it is too late”.
Paul Mc says
That quote reminds me of another quote, “Barbarism is needed every four or five hundred years to bring the world back to life. Otherwise it would die of civilization.” ~Edmund and Jules de Goncourt
Kevin Michel says
I am looking forward to reading David’s book, because I think he is a great writer, and I believe that we should all expose ourselves to both sides of the arguments that are currently defining our national discourse. I take profound exception to the idea that our schools are teaching a profoundly liberal or biased curriculum. In fact, it is the LACK of a defined agenda that is crippling our classrooms. We have removed our teachers rights to be creative in fear our children may hear something that we dissaprove of. Instead of ensuring that they hear passionate defense of multiple points of view, our children are subjected to the most sterile, boring, oatmeal of spineless concepts and opinions in the forlorn hope that they will ultimately find something meaningful to believe in. What they come to believe is that their teachers, parents and political leaders are only concerned with the most short sighted and self aggrandizing ideas and ideals. Therfore, that is the right way to look at the world. I had the great good fortune to attend one of those liberal bastions as an undergraduate during the early 70’s. There was nothing homogenous about the presentation of ideas, the course offerings, or the political opinions on campus, among the students, the faculty, or anyone else in the neighborhood. What there was an excess of, was protection of EVERYONE’S right to express their opinions, at all times, and the fastest way to censure was to attempt to drown out an argument you disagreed with.
I find myself,( and I consider myself a moderate democrat), on the exact opposite side of the argument Susan had with her son with all three of my sons, frequently. I raised them to question, to argue, to evaluate and to search for the central truth of any proposition. We argued in the car, we argued at the dinner table, we argued during football games. When they challenge my opinions, I can’t help but swell with a combination of pride AND consternation, (our children are always supposed to agree with us, right?). The great and central truth of our age is that we have achieved a profoundly false sense of certainty about our own opinions. I submit, that David Mamet included, we actually KNOW far less than we purport to know, and until we begin our discourse with one another from that place, we will continue to struggle to move our society and the world forward.
I have read two reviews of this book. Hitchens’ and yours.
I will not be reading this book.
It sounds silly.