Tag Archives: closing of the american mind

The third step to reforming America, with music

Summary: Listen to our music for evidence that the steam has gone from America’s engines of reform. The Sixties were the last great age of reform. It two major themes, the civil rights movement (a historic success) and the anti-war movement (a partial success), were partially powered by popular and vital music. What do we have today? How can we conjure up citizen energy when our artists remain bystanders? Or is it our apathy which leads to artists’ disinterest? These things are beyond my ken, so we consult an expert to explain the political power of music.

“Was there a time when you could say that music could change the world and be serious?”

Comment by Cathryn Mataga, who posted this video:

“If I Had A Hammer” by Peter, Paul, and Mary as broadcast on 6 April 1963 at ABC’s “Hootenanny”. See the lyrics.



Reply by Coises

It was perhaps better understood in the sixties that our social institutions derive most of their power from shared beliefs. Change what you believe, and you experience the world differently; change what a critical mass of people believe, and surely the world itself must change. Much of the counterculture was a grand experiment to see what would happen if a large number of people simply stopped believing in some things and began believing in others.

I think the results of that experiment are in, and they indicate that in practice just trying to change beliefs is usually a failing strategy—the critical mass is a much larger fraction than one might imagine. Social systems (and the beliefs that allow them to exist) are incredibly resilient: half a century after the victory of the civil rights movement, it still sucks to be black in America.

… Music can help to change the world, but it has never been enough all by itself.

I believe that reform of America will only come by breaking the box around our thinking, and offering a new way to see America and our politics. For reasons explained below, we’ll know we have hit the mother lode, the foundational love of liberty on which America was founded, when we get musical accompaniment. It can be sought, but not forced (as the Soviet Union attempted with “socialist realism” art).

Recommendation: work to recruit artists to the movement. There is more politics than “interests”, facts, and logic.

The power of music

“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.”
—  William Shakespeare by Victor Hugo (1864), Part I, Book II, Chapter IV

To better understand the power of music, we turn to one of the great sources of insight about modern America:  The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom (1987). This is an excerpt from Part One, chapter 3. Red emphasis added on the vitally important section at the end.

Though students do not have books {as an active force in their lives}, they most emphatically do have music. Nothing is more singular about this generation than its addiction to music. This is the age of music and the states of soul that accompany it. To find a rival to this enthusiasm, one would have to go back at least a century to Germany and the passion for Wagner’s operas. They had the religious sense that Wagner was creating the meaning of life and that they were not merely listening to his works but experiencing that meaning.

Today, a very large proportion of young people live for music. It is their passion; nothing else excites them as it does … The enthusiasm for Wagner was limited to a small class. The music of the new votaries knows neither class nor nation.

… The power of music in the soul — described to Jessica marvelously by Lorenzo in the Merchant of Venice — has been recovered after a long period of desuetude. And it is rock music alone that has effected this restoration. Classical music is dead among the young. … Classical music is now a special taste, like Greek language or pre-Columbian archeology, not a common culture of reciprocal communication and psychological shorthand.

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What’s the future of the family in America? How will that change our government?

Summary:  As the dust from the election settles, let’s not forget the powerful elements of the conservative critique of 21st C America. Here we look at one of the many forces driving the expansion of the government — the family. What might be its fate in the next few generations?



  1. A question about the family, our government,
    and the future of America
  2. The answer: it’s toast, it’s growing, and …
  3. Allan Boom explains
  4. For More Information



(1)  A question about the family, our government, & America

Question from Matt D, in response to Civil rights just took a step forward, the slow hard way. The right way. (about same-sex marriages):

I read your first link with quotes from de Tocqueville, and I have a question: How does your support for gay marriage square with de Tocqueville’s observation that the suppression of natural hierarchy among individuals drives societies towards centralized despotism? It is clear enough that the legitimization of same-sex marriage is not a driver of the degeneration of well-defined gender roles, which has been taking place over the last half-century. But it is the direct result of this degeneration, and helps to make it more durable.

Through the lens of de Tocqueville’s analysis, would not the blurring of male-female distinctions represent the elimination of the last natural focus of authority in the smallest and most basic unit of human organization? I won’t speculate about the observable results of this process, as that is a topic where there is much diversity of opinion. But on a purely theoretical level, using de Tocqueville’s framework, will not the man who can no longer order his family and the woman who can no longer be protected by her man be filled with a thirst for an ever-stronger and more intrusive centralized authority?

(2)  The answer: it’s toast, it’s growing, and …

Here we come to deep waters, in which the conservative viewpoint has much to say — if we can find these insights among the trash in which it hides today.

In brief, the family is toast in its current configuration. My guess is that the places where this disintegration have advanced most (eg, Scandinavia, Los Angeles) society is coasting, support by inherited cultural traditions which no longer have any foundation. My guess is that this is one of our greatest social problems, which the boomers bequeath to future generations much as the Founders did slavery. We’ve built a system that we don’t like with hopes it will all work, but no ideas as to how.

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What should a student learn from college? Why go to college?

In the comments to yesterday’s post a discussion arose about the purpose of a college education, sparked by ”JOURNAL: I’m Young and Need Advice“ by John Robb, posted at his website Global Guerrillas, 26 October 2009.   Robb replies to an important question often asked by young people:  “What should I be doing to prepare myself for an uncertain future?”   I recommend reading the post in full, as this post gives only a brief excerpt.  This post gives an alternative answer. 

At the end are links to other posts on the FM site about education.  Also, although it should be unnecessary to say, these are all opinions on matters about which we can only speculate.

Robb answers this on three levels.  First, a goal:

You will need train yourself to be an entrepreneur, to run your own business. This requires an ability to do everything from designing your own products to selling products to keeping the books straight.

Second, about college:

That being said, you should still go to college (if you haven’t already). For the most part, it’s not going to play much of a factor in how you make your living in the future (for most people). Instead, do it because it improves you as a human being. Learn about everything you can while you are there, from philosophy to physics.

Third: about a broader skill set (this is an abstract from his reply):

Here’s the maximal strategy for those that can pull it off (I’m assuming that if you are reading my work and you understand it, you certainly have the smarts to pull it off). … Learn to make/repair things. … Learn how to communicate/collaborate with others online.

Section One — Career Goals

An alternative view to his goal (section #1 above):  not everybody wants or is suited to be an entrepreneur.  It’s just one path in life.  I know, as I’m not.

Section Three — acquiring skills

An alternative view to his third section, here is advice from Sherlock Holmes (from A Study in Scarlet, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle):

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A better answer to “why women outperform men in college?”

Summary:  Yesterday’s post examined the evidence that women are outperforming men in college, and some opinions about the reasons for this — and the implications.  Many interesting theories were mentioned, most or all of which probably play a role.  However I believe there are deeper factors at work.  The moral basis for men’s role in our society has disappeared, and the moral highground is decisive in the war between the sexes — just as it often is in 4th generation warfare.


The simple reason for women’s increasing success in college relative to men:  they work harder then men.  Obvious social trends explain why.

Relative status of men and women in western society

Men’s status — that is, the status of the average man — came from man’s role as head of the family.  Breadwinner and provider.   Men worked long hours at difficult, often dangerous jobs to provide for their families (even today men’s shorter lifespans result in part from their workplace exposures and injuries).  Women’s role was lifegiver and raising children.  The relative status of these roles varied over time in western societies, but men’s were always at least equal to women’s.

Since WWII all that has changed.  Perhaps the key date was 1969, when Ronald Reagan (governor of California) signed the first no-fault divorce law — one of the most radical bills in American history.  Today every State allows no-fault divorce, and only a few require mutual consent.   (Conservatives usually take the radicals steps in America, since “only Nixon can go to China”).  That destroyed the basics of the marriage contract, leaving little left except natural affection.  And we see that’s not nearly enough to maintain the family as it was.

Now women must prepare to provide not just for themselves but also for their children.  As single mothers they bear the greatest burdens, and accordingly have the highest moral place.  Combined with so many other factors reducing the status of fathers, the result is is a revolutionary change in our family structure, probably unique in the history of the world.  Women increasingly own all the key social roles in America. The result is, as Irina Dunn said, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”  (source)

The new world:  women on top

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The secret about our universities (seldom even whispered among Professors)

This is the second in a series of posts about America’s education system.  Links to the other posts appear at the end.

In College education in America, another broken business model (3 July 2009), we discussed the economics of undergraduate education.  Left untouched was its purpose.  Why bother?  By now most of us realize it no longer has any purpose beyond giving new adults a paper to slot them into America’s class system.

Undergraduate education is one of the most expensive functions of our society.  Not just in the cost, but in that it consumes 2 to 4 years of priceless time of so many citizens.  What do these “students” get in exchange?  What does American get for this expenditure?

For answers to these questions — as to so many critical questions about America — we turn to Allan Boom’s The Closing of the American Mind.  It is the book I most strongly recommending reading.   Red emphasis was added to these excerpts.

Excerpt from the chapter “The Clean Slate”

Those of us who can look back to the humble stations of our parents or grandparents, who never saw the inside of an institution of higher learning, can have cause for self-congratulation. But — inevitably but — the impression that our general populace is better educated depends on an ambiguity in the meaning of the word education, or a fudging of the distinction between liberal and technical education.

A highly trained computer specialist need not have had any more learning about morals, politics or religion than the most ignorant of persons. All to the contrary, his narrow education, with, the prejudices and the pride accompanying it, and its literature which comes to be and passes away in a day and uncritically accepts the premises of current wisdom, can cut him off from the liberal learning that simpler folk used to absorb from a variety of traditional sources. It is not evident to me that someone whose regular reading consists of Time, Playboy and Scientific American has any profounder wisdom about the world than the rural schoolboy of yore with his McGuffey’s reader.

From the chapter “Music”

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The first step on the road to America’s reform

This site has had many discussions about reforming America.   How to put us back on the path to security, prosperity, and freedom.  Recalling who we are.  The need is admitted by all, but the means — the process of reform — remains unclear.

I have suggested several ways this can run, but none have been convincing.  Not to me.  Not to most folks posting comments.  The most difficult step is the first, and so far none can see how to spark the process.  This posts takes another shot at finding a solution.

  1. The problem
  2. A first step to a solution
  3. The second step to a solution
  4. Afterword, and For more information about these questions

(1)  The Problem

America needs reform, as our citizens become passive consumers of government services.  Become sheep, unable to make the mental and moral effort required to run the Constitutional machinery.

Under a republican form of government the citizenry supposedly accepts the responsibility for managing its own affairs, but over the last quarter of a century the heirs to the American fortune have lost interest in the tiresome business of self-government. Rather than vote or read the Constitution – a document as tedious as the trust agreements that the family lawyers occasionally ask them to sign — the heirs prefer to go to Acapulco or Aspen to practice macrobiotic breathing. They have better things to do with their lives than to be bothered with the details of preserving their freedom. They spend their time making themselves beautiful, holding themselves in perpetual readiness for the incarnations promised by the dealers in cosmetics and religion.

…  By abdicating their authority and responsibility, the sovereign people also relinquish their courage.

— From “The Precarious Eden”, published in Money and Class in America, Lewis Lapham (1988)

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Sources of inspiration for America’s renewal

Summary:  Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To gain anything, something of equal value must be given.  That is life’s First Law of Equivalent Exchange, and applies to thing tangible and intangible — matter, energy, and spirit.  When America learns this we will be back on our true path.

As describe in dozens of posts on this site, America has come to a point where the burdens of self-government are too great for us to bear.  Our national motto seem to be “It’s not my fault”, which should replace  E Pluribus Unum on the dollar bill. **   This is the ethos of a nation in decline. 

What’s next?  When a people’s conceits and delusions are burned away, we must fall back on our core beliefs.  Those are seldom enough, at least IMO not enough for America.  Belief in freedom, free markets, human rights, and a republican form of government — all valuable and important ideals.  But America is in a sense an intellectual project, which gives it a basis in our minds but not our hearts.  So it should not surprise that these beliefs did not prevent us from our current situation — similar to that of  a jet aircraft with sputtering engines, pilots bickering, and passengers panicking.  Neither self-interest or love of our nation provide guidance in such a crisis.

All we have left are our myths. Unfortunately our modern myths reflect the spiritual weakness that is one cause of our crisis.  For example, most of them tell about about people who find a magic dingus and become great, or have powers bestowed on them by some Great MacGuffin.  James Bowman calls these Hollywood’s “slacker heroes”:

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