On the Purpose of the University

With the recent talk about university debt relief, I want to look at something closely related: the stated vs. the functional purpose of the university, and how the mismatch between them has and continues to cause dyscivilizational effects.

The stated purpose of the university is, and always has been, to educate students in various fields and to award degrees certifying mastery of those fields. There is an assumption that basic knowledge (from primary education) and intermediate knowledge (from secondary education) has already been mastered. This serves as a bit of gatekeeping, which has a long and honorable tradition going back to at least Plato, who is said to have Mηδείς άγεωµέτρητος είσίτω µον τήν στέγην! (Let no-one ignorant of geometry enter here!) inscribed above his Academy. A student was required to have knowledge, and so had to have acquired knowledge prior to entry. This means ability to learn, and opportunity to learn. Specifically monetary resources, either from the student’s family, or from other sources. A university degree conferred status much as a masterpiece would give an architect or artist or other tradesman status. Sometimes the status was akin to that of clergy, depending on the university and degree.

So what’s the point? Universities were for those with resources, let them meet each other, and granted status. In Current Year terms: For elites and making elites. As in ancient Greece, the liberal arts (literally, the things that free men were required to know) granted more status over the servile arts. And as the universities were started by the Church from the monastic school tradition, theology was the highest status (and most difficult) subject to study (only after one had mastered all of grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music), more so than law or medicine. Scholarships offered high-merit, low-resource students access that they could otherwise never have had (or had at a lower level). But in many ways, universities were where the ‘right sort’ went to meet others of the ‘right sort’. (What sort is the ‘right sort’ is different depending on the particular university.) And that’s not a stated part of the university purpose, but part of the functional role they played and continue to play. Even when the power of Christianity waned with the rise of secularism, universities would serve, not necessarily for rulers, but for their bureaucrats. With the rise of Modernism, and especially Progressivism, the bureaucrats gained more and more power, making the universities, rather than the church or the military, indispensable for those seeking power, for old money, for blue bloods, what have you.

This brings us to the early-to-mid twentieth century. You have people studying and working hard in university. Either they already have family connections and resources, in which case things are easy for success later, or they do not, in which case they need to be diligent, intelligent, and self-disciplined to graduate, and those characteristics contribute highly to success. So what happens? “Correlation vs Causation” + “Politician’s Syllogism”.

Everyone who has taken a course in probability and statistics has been warned that “Correlation is not Causation.” What does it mean? Just because two things vary the same way (they are co-related), doesn’t mean that one causes the other. Example: ice cream sales and sunglasses sales are often strongly correlated. Does one cause the other? Generally not: both are driven by the sun; ice cream due to heat and sunglasses due to brightness. In this case, “graduated college with a degree” and “success in life” were shown to be correlated. [NB: This depends on the definition of success. For purposes of this argument, the precise definition does not matter.] The problem is that many took this to mean, “If only someone can get a college degree, then that someone will be successful in life.” This is where we run into the Politician’s Syllogism.

  • We Have To Do Something!
  • This is Something.
  • Therefore, We Have To Do This!

How does this work? “We have to do something to make people successful. Getting a college degree is a way to make people successful. Therefore, we have to make college degrees easier to get.” [NB: This is of the form AAA-2, and so commits the formal fallacy of the undistributed middle. Thus, the argument is invalid simply from its form alone, let alone the Correlation vs. Causation issue.] And that’s what they did. Hence, student loans and student aid. Lots and lots of federal and bank money.

So what happened? Here, we take a bit of a detour into Economics. Universities want money. So if they can raise tuition, then more loans and aid will come their way. So tuition rises a lot. Far faster than inflation, wages, house prices. Result: the people who need the loans have to repay them later (and often cannot), so those who do not need the loans (generally rich) get off debt-free. And so the university system returns functionally to being a gatekeeper to the ranks of the elite. And this doesn’t get into the Long March Through The Institutions that the servants of lies and ignorance have made, turning them from true education to political propaganda.

Will universities as a whole survive? They certainly serve a political purpose, so yes. Will they survive as education-focused institutions? They already have failed, instead mostly serving as cesspits of anti-Christian propaganda. So, unless a degree is required as a certification for your desired profession, I would say: don’t give money to people who hate you (the university proper). Or to those allied with people who hate you (the banks). I wish I had learned this earlier, and sought to be an autodidact.

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The Horns of Elfland Faintly Blowing

I first ran into this phrase which comes from Tennyson’s poem The Splendor Falls in a cri de coeur from John C. Wright, speaking on the mood of fantasy (as opposed to science fiction). I have read much fantasy before, and after, Mr. Wright’s essay, but not until today did I understand and truly experience those horns.

It is a bit of a surprise, for it is not in deep fantasy (for example, Tales of Moth and Cobweb), urban fantasy (Monster Hunter or Dresden Files) or in science fiction so broad as to be fantasy (Count to the Eschaton, The Night Land and stories set in it), or horror (Lovecraft), sword and planet (Burroughs’ Barsoom), nor yet in realistic fiction that technically counts as alternate history (Tom Clancy, John Ringo) that I have found these, but in books where the setting is half a step out of the reality I know.

It is in Fenton Wood’s Yankee Republic series that I find it. It is an alternate history that started with our own, but something changed thousands of years ago. As a result, things are a lot like our own world, or at least the United States. Except.

At first, it seems as though things are in a Brigadoon-type setting of teenage boys coming of age, which is eerie enough. But there are a lot of things that are just alien enough to not be familiar, but familiar enough to not be fantastical. And this proceeds through the four books of the series. (Fifth coming out soon.) I think this is the key here. Applied to human images, it’s the Uncanny Valley effect. And that’s precisely what this setting is: Uncanny.

Going back over books I have read, the only other one that brings a similar uncanny tone is Loki’s Child by Fenris Wulf. Again, things are close to reality, but here the insanity of the music entertainment industry leaks through. Others may be eerie, chilling, disturbing, fantastic, mundane, or a mix. These are the only ones I’ve seen nail Uncanny.

Sleepers, Awake!

First, I have to issue a mea culpa: my exercise in self-discipline has failed spectacularly, and it’s been three months since I last wrote here. I’ll have to pick up the pace to at least once a week.

As for why I am breaking my long silence? Last night was interesting.

My wife and I were talking last night about the leftist females going on a sex strike to protest the anti-abortion laws (Yes! Practice abstinence outside of marriage!) and other silly so-called protests (My wife said, “The best analogy I can think of is that she’s breaking her arm to protest against the boy who eats gross things in the school cafeteria–it hurts her, and doesn’t impact him at all.”) when I said that the Left treats abortion as a sacrament.

This made her pause, not really convinced. “I’ve heard people link it to Moloch worship, but I don’t think they’re worshiping him.”

“Just because they aren’t deliberately, knowingly, worshiping Moloch doesn’t necessarily mean he’s not receiving worship.”

“But he’s not real! One of the false gods!”

“False god, yes. So a demon.”

She ended up flabbergasted, but unwilling to discard my statement because, first, I’m her husband and she honors me, second, she found it horrifically plausible once she thought it through. She ended up doing some research, and then this morning, told me the obvious (which I had known, but had never put together): Moloch’s consort is Ashtoreth, who is as intimately associated with extreme sexual immorality as Moloch is with child sacrifice.

Pray for those of the faith that are asleep that they, we, may be truly aware of the full scope of the spiritual warfare that rages about us. Once we are awake to the clamor of battle, we can become armed and armored, and wade into the fray. For though we may lose battles here on earth, we have solid assurance that the war is already ultimately won.

The Lamb Among the Stars

Chris Walley’s The Lamb Among the Stars series came out over ten years ago now. Unfortunately, it’s out of physical print, though used copies can be had, and ebooks are still out there. But let’s dive right in to the prologue:

Listen! This is the tale of how, at last, evil returned to the Assembly of Worlds, and how one man, Merral Stefan D’Avanos, became caught up in the fight against it.

Right away, we have one of the oldest beginnings of a story. At least as old as Homer, calling on his audience to listen as he told the subject of the tale. Whether or not it is a deliberate homage, the imagery is of a poet or bard of old, instructing others. And then we get to what makes this speculative fiction: the assumption of something contrary to fact, and exploring what happens from there.

Eleven hundred years have passed since the long-prophesied incoming of all the children of Abraham and the spiritual renewals of the Great Intervention ended the shadowed ages of the human race.

Translation: this book is set in the Millennial Kingdom told of in Revelation, only it has lasted since around 2045 until the present day of 13851. What have people been doing all this time? Slowly taming and terraforming other worlds that humanity my go forth and multiply, for the glory of God. To bring life where there was none before, and most of the prologue is a description of how the terraforming takes place. We learn this particular world is a frontier, physically farthest from Earth. Worlds’ End. And we learn a bit more of the Assembly of Worlds: Christian, working together, the Lord’s Peace reigning for over eleven thousand years, and no reason why it should not continue the slow, steady growth of bringing life where there was none, and rejoicing in God.

But ultimately the Assembly is not Gates and worlds, still less banners and emblems. It is people: men and women, flesh and blood, bodies and souls. And as planets swing in their orbits, as the fabric of space is pierced at the Gates, and as atoms are broken in the forges of rocket fires, down on the surface of Farholme, a lone figure rides a horse northward into the gathering twilight of a winter’s day.

And so the prologue closes with the camera zooming in (metaphorically) on a single figure and the action is about to begin. Not too much action, but a beautiful and thought-provoking setting. My first question when I read this was, “What sort of society is the Assembly?” Equivalently, “What will the Millennial Kingdom be like?” And we find out Walley’s vision as we read through the books.

A digression: I am only a reviewer. I am not the author, and cannot speak for anything in the author’s head. Only the author’s words can be examined. I recall asking about a theme that I had noticed, but it was coincidence. Correlation, not causation. Another point is that the reader of a book should bring willing suspension of disbelief to the setting, at least to start with. Mr. Walley had lamented that there weren’t more denunciations of his work on various grounds, and I replied that many science fiction readers are perfectly willing to accept something contrary to what they know, or believe, to be true for the sake of setting.

And so it begins.

So who am I, what is this blog about, and why should you read it?

First and foremost, I am a Christian. Glory be to God. I enjoy mathematics and music, and helping people understand things that they have not before. Next, I want to write, and so this is discipline to help me write regularly and hone that craft, and then get the stories that want to come out onto paper. To do that, I’m starting off by doing chapter-by-chapter in-depth reviews of some lesser-known books that I have enjoyed. I’ll try for interesting.

Nōn nōbīs, Domine, nōn nōbīs, sed nōminī tuō dā glōriam. Sōlī Deō glōria.