The late Vincent Scully lecturing Eurocentrically years ago.
Heather MacDonald, BK ’70, demolishes the cant being used to justify remodeling Yale’s once-illustrious History of Art Department into a distribution center for Marxist agitprop and Multicultural Identity Stroking.
By 1974, when I enrolled at Yale, its faculty had long since abdicated one of its primary intellectual responsibilities. It observed a chaste silence about what undergraduates needed to study in order to have any hope of becoming even minimally educated; curricular selections, outside of a few broad distribution requirements, were left to students, who by definition did not know enough to choose wisely, except by accident. So it was that I graduated without having taken a single history course (outside of one distribution-fulfilling intellectual history class), despite easy access to arguably the strongest American history faculty in the country. Scullyâ€™s fall semester introductory art history course has been my anchor to the past, providing visual grounding in the development of Western civilization, around which it is possible to develop a broader sense of history.
But now, the art history department is junking the entire two-semester sequence, as the Yale Daily News reported last month. Given the role that these two courses have played in exposing Yale undergraduates to the joys of scholarship and knowledge, one would think that the department would have amassed overwhelmingly compelling grounds for eliminating them. To the contrary, the reasons given are either laughably weak or at odds with the facts. The first reason is the most absurd: the course titles (â€œIntroduction to the History of Art: Prehistory to the Renaissanceâ€ and â€œIntroduction to the History of Art: Renaissance to the Presentâ€). Art history chair Tim Barringer apparently thinks students will be fooled by those titles into thinking that other traditions donâ€™t exist. â€œI donâ€™t mistake a history of European painting for the history of all art in all places,â€ he primly told the Daily News. No one else would, either. But if the titles are such a trap for the Eurocentric unwary, the department could have simply added the word â€œEuropeanâ€ before â€œArtâ€ and been done with it. (Barringer, whose specialities include post-colonial and gender studies as well as Victorian visual culture, has been teaching the doomed second semester courseâ€”a classic example of the fox guarding the henhouse.)
Barringer also claims that it was â€œproblematicâ€ to put European art on a pedestal when so many other regions and traditions were â€œequally deserving of study.â€ The courses that will replace the surveys will not claim to â€œbe the mainstream with everything else pushed to the margins,â€ he told the Daily News. Leave aside for the moment whether the European tradition may legitimately form the core of an art history education in an American university. The premise of Barringerâ€™s statementâ€”that previously European art was put on a pedestal and everything else was pushed to the marginsâ€”is blatantly false. The department requires art history majors to take two introductory-level one-semester survey courses. Since at least 2012, the department has offered courses in non-Western art that can fulfill that requirement in lieu of the European surveys. Those classes include â€œIntroduction to the History of Art: Buddhist Art and Architectureâ€; â€œIntroduction to the History of Art: Sacred Art and Architectureâ€; â€œGlobal Decorative Artsâ€; â€œThe Politics of Representationâ€; and â€œThe Classical Buddhist World.â€ No one was forced into the two Western art courses.
Nor would anyone surveying the art history catalogue think that Yale was â€œprivilegingâ€ the West, as they say in theoryspeak. That catalogue is awash in non-European courses. In addition to the introductory classes mentioned above, the department offers â€œJapanâ€™s Classics in Text and Imageâ€; â€œIntroduction to Islamic Architectureâ€; â€œThe Migrant Imageâ€; â€œSacred Space in South Asiaâ€; â€œVisual Storytelling in South Asiaâ€; â€œAztec Art & Architectureâ€; â€œBlack Atlantic Photographyâ€; â€œBlack British Art and Cultureâ€; â€œArt and Architecture of Mesoamericaâ€; â€œThe Mexican Cultural Renaissance, 1920â€“ 1940â€; â€œPainting and Poetry in Islamic Artâ€; â€œAesthetics and Meaning in African Arts and Culturesâ€; â€œKorean Art and Cultureâ€; â€œAfrican American Art, 1963 to the Presentâ€; â€œArt and Architecture of Japanâ€; â€œTextiles of Asia, 800â€“1800 C.E.â€; and â€œArt and Politics in the Modern Middle East,â€ among other courses. The Western tradition is just one among many. Nevertheless, Marissa Bass, the director of undergraduate studies in the department, echoed Barringerâ€™s accusation of Eurocentrism. The changes recognize â€œan essential truth: that there has never been just one story of the history of art,â€ Bass told the Daily News. But Yale does not tell just one story of the history of art. Department leaders have created a parody of their own department simply in order to kill off the Western survey courses.
Those courses must also be sacked because it is impossible to cover the â€œentire fieldâ€”and its varied cultural backgroundsâ€”in one course,â€ as the Daily News put it. If this statement means that the span of time covered in each of the one-semester Western art classes is too large, non-Western survey courses are as broad or broader. â€œChinese Painting and Cultureâ€ covers 16 centuries. â€œPower, Gender, and Ritual in African Artâ€ covers nearly two millennia. â€œIntroduction to the History of Art: Buddhist Art and Architectureâ€ covers seven centuries. â€œIntroduction to the History of Art: Sacred Art and Architectureâ€ covers several millennia. None of these courses is facing extinction.
Barringer promises that the replacement surveys will subject European art to a variety of deconstructive readings designed to pull that tradition down from its alleged pedestal. The new classes will consider Western art in relation to â€œquestions of gender, class, and â€˜race,â€™â€ he told the Daily News in an email, carefully putting scare quotes around â€œraceâ€ to signal his adherence to the creed that race is a social construct. The new courses will discuss the involvement of Western art with capitalism. Most intriguingly, the relationship between Western art and climate change will be a â€œkey theme,â€ he wrote.
Barringerâ€™s proposed deconstruction of Western art illustrates a central feature of modern academia: The hermeneutics of suspicion (Paul Ricoeurâ€™s term for the demystifying impulse that took over the humanities in the late 20 century) applies only to the Western canon. Western academics continue to interpret non-Western traditions with sympathy and respect; those interpreters seek to faithfully convey the intentions of non-Western creators and to help students understand what makes non-Western works great. So, while the replacement European art survey courses will, in Marissa Bassâ€™s words, â€œchallenge, rethink, and rewriteâ€ art historical narratives, the department will not be cancelling its Buddhist art and architecture class due to the low representation of female artists and architects, nor will it â€œinterrogateâ€ (as High Theory puts it) African arts and cultures for their relationship to genocidal tribal warfare, or Aztec art and architecture for their relationship to murderous misogyny.
Thomas Cole, The Course of Empire: Destruction, 1833-1836, New York Historical Society.
James Panero tells us that Yale imported a Cambridge bolshie to “decolonize” the History of Art Department.
Are we in our own revolutionary moment? Many of our leading institutions clearly believe so. Yale University has been working overtime to prove it is on the right side of history. â€˜Problematicâ€™ colleges have been renamed. â€˜Offensiveâ€™ stained-glass windows have been knocked out. Only the leadership of an Ivy League school could spread such a poisonous rash. Heading the charge against the Dead White Male has been a progressive Yale bureaucracy that is, for the most part, pale and stale.
Now the task of dismantling Yaleâ€™s famous art history survey course has fallen to a scholar I respect, Tim Barringer. British-born, Barringer is the Paul Mellon Professor of the History of Art at Yale University and has been a leading curator at the Metropolitan Museum. He even mounted the Metâ€™s exceptional 2018 exhibition on Thomas Cole.
Following a 2017 mandate to â€˜decolonizeâ€™ Yaleâ€™s Department of English, Barringer is giving over the keys of Yaleâ€™s famous art survey course to the identity vandals. According to the Yale Daily News, instead of one class that will tell the story of art from â€˜Renaissance to the Presentâ€™, new courses will, Barringer says, be devised to consider art in relation to a five-step history lesson, â€˜questions of gender, class and raceâ€™, with further discussion of artâ€™s â€˜involvement with Western capitalismâ€™. Of course, â€˜climate changeâ€™ will also be a â€˜key themeâ€™.
Art doesnâ€™t fare well in revolutionary times. Likewise, revolutionary sentiments are often revealed in the treatment of art. If only Professor Barringer had looked more carefully at another five-step history lesson, Thomas Coleâ€™s â€˜Course of Empireâ€™ tableau (1833-36), he might have seen how civilizations burn down from decadence as well as assault.
That whirring sound you hear in the background is grand old Yale Art History professors, men like Sumner Crosby who taught the Gothic Cathedral course and Charles Seymour who taught the Italian Renaissance Art course, who fished for salmon together every summer on the Upsalquitch, spinning in their graves at 78 RPM.
Jan Matejko, Stanczyk during a Ball at the Court of Queen Bona after the Loss of Smolensk, 1862.
July 1514: Stanczyk, the famous jester of Sigismund the Old, was renowned for his cynical humor, but Matejko shows the jester in a private moment of despair in a palace anteroom outside the royal ball being given by Queen Bona Sforza. On the table next to the jester, we see dispatches announcing the fall of Smolensk to the Muscovites. Alone among the denizens of Poland’s royal court, only Stanczyk the jester forsees with dread the rise of Moscow and the destruction of the Commonwealth.
If Stanczyk were employed as jester these days at Yale Universuty in New Haven, Connecticut, he’d probably looked similarly after reading this Yale Daily News story.
Yale will stop teaching a storied introductory survey course in art history, citing the impossibility of adequately covering the entire field â€” and its varied cultural backgrounds â€” in one course.
Decades old and once taught by famous Yale professors like Vincent Scully, â€œIntroduction to Art History: Renaissance to the Presentâ€ was once touted to be one of Yale Collegeâ€™s quintessential classes. But this change is the latest response to student uneasiness over an idealized Western â€œcanonâ€ â€” a product of an overwhelmingly white, straight, European and male cadre of artists.
This spring, the final rendition of the course will seek to question the idea of Western art itself â€” a marked difference from the courseâ€™s focus at its inception. Art history department chair and the courseâ€™s instructor Tim Barringer told the News that he plans to demonstrate that a class about the history of art does not just mean Western art. Rather, when there are so many other regions, genres and traditions â€” all â€œequally deserving of studyâ€ â€” putting European art on a pedestal is â€œproblematic,â€ he said.
â€œI believe that every object I discuss in [â€œIntroduction to Art History: Renaissance to the Presentâ€] (with the possible exception of one truly ghastly painting by Renoir) is of profound cultural value,â€ Barringer said in an email to the News. â€œI want all Yale students (and all residents of New Haven who can enter our museums freely) to have access to and to feel confident analyzing and enjoying the core works of the western tradition. But I donâ€™t mistake a history of European painting for the history of all art in all places.â€
Instead of this singular survey class, the Art History Department will soon offer a range of others, such as â€œArt and Politics,â€ â€œGlobal Craft,â€ â€œThe Silk Roadâ€ and â€œSacred Places.â€ Barringer added that in two or three years, his department will offer a substitute class to â€œIntroduction to Art History.â€ But the new class â€œwill be a course equal in status to the other 100-level courses, not the introduction to our discipline claiming to be the mainstream with everything else pushed to the margins,â€ Barringer said.
It’s essential, you see, to flatter the amour propre of representatives of Identity Victim Groups (specially recruited and affirmatively actioned into Yale) by assuring them that the crude carvings of devils and bogeys their Stone Age ancestors turned out are the equivalent of Michelangelo’s David.
Five Yale students staged a protest outside of Global Affairs professor Emma Skyâ€™s classroom on Tuesday afternoon after University administrators forbade them from entering and distributing a pamphlet criticizing the professor.
â€œOpen your eyes, open your ears, you are being taught by those you should fear,â€ chanted the protestors, disrupting Skyâ€™s 110-minute Global Affairs class titled Middle East Politics. Protestors â€” Zulfiqar Mannan â€™20, Casey Odesser â€™20, Hazal Ã–zgÃ¼r â€™20, Nika Zarazvand â€™20 and Francesca Maviglia MPH â€™20 â€” said they initially intended to enter Skyâ€™s seminar and distribute pamphlets calling their professor a war criminal.
But a Yale Police Department officer and Dean of Student Affairs Camille Lizarribar prevented students from entering the classroom. …
In an interview after the protest, Odesser told the News that she thought the Universityâ€™s response to the protest foreclosed discussion about Skyâ€™s previous involvement in Afghanistan.
â€œI am incredibly disappointed with the way that the University rejected our proposal to honestly, earnestly and creatively engage with [the students in the class],â€ Odesser said. â€œIâ€™m appalled and horrified at how no one will talk to us engage with us and instead perceive us as a threat.â€
According to Mannan, who is a staff writer for the News, the project was largely inspired by â€œthe revolutionary aspectâ€ of Paradise Lost and draws inspiration from the Extinction Rebellion, Greta Thunberg and Shaikh Sarmad.
While Mannan and Odesser received a Creative and Performing Arts Award from Morse College for their project, the college is now â€œre-evaluating if they are still ableâ€ to fund the project, Mannan said. The reason for the collegeâ€™s reevaluation remains unclear. The Morse Head of College Office could not be reached for comment on Tuesday evening.
Odesser said that the project was not meant to be disruptive. She explained that the group had originally planned to â€œperform a slinky, sexy catwalkâ€ into the classroom and silently place a pamphlet on each of the studentsâ€™ desks. She said she believed that many students in Skyâ€™s class have â€œnot confronted the levels of hypocrisy and violence â€” like white feminism â€” that is propagated by her class.â€
Zulfiqar Mannan â€™20 shares (I’m not sure what possessive pronoun’s) viewpoint on the protest.
Looking at all this, I inevitably wonder why so many exotic specimens of humanity from remote parts of the world, holding alien worldviews, with native perspectives often unfriendly to the United States, are given places in the undergraduate student body at Yale.
I cannot help but think that out there somewhere are five Christian All-American A-student American Eagle Scout heterosexuals far better qualified to provide leadership to this country. Yale was founded to supply Congregationalist ministers to the Colony of Connecticut. Extending that charter obligation to provide leaders in a variety of fields to the nation was a logical evolutionary development. Exactly why and how that mission has been extended to the provision of sexually-ambiguous pseudo-intellectual activists to the Middle East seems mysterious to me.
And, yes, I think plenty of alumni would like to know what Morse College thinks it is doing funding this kind of thing.
The Zman is not a big admirer of “diversity” and “inclusion.”
The first leg of my journey was a stop in London. When booking the trip, the cheapest flight took me through Heathrow, with a half day layover. I hate having to run to make connections, as that often ends in me missing my connection, so I donâ€™t mind a few hour gap between flights. Having almost a full day between flights was not ideal, but it beat the alternatives when I was booking the flight. My plan was to leave the airport and do a quick tour of London, but that plan got scuttled by British security.
When leaving the airportâ€™s secure area, I was pulled aside for the rubber glove treatment by whatever they call their security forces. I was taken to a room and asked the usual questions. Then they asked to examine my phone, which got them upset, as there is nothing on it other than some classical music I loaded for the trip. I keep nothing on my phone as a rule. This one is brand new, so the browser does not even have some history on it. That lack of a information seemed to upset them.
That led them to ask to look at my laptop. I use a travel laptop, so if something happens, Iâ€™m not missing important parts of my life. This one I just setup with Linux and a new solid state drive. This only increased their anxiety, so we spent an hour or so playing Petrovich and Raskolnikov. My Russian visa did not help matters. Iâ€™ve gone through this a couple of times in American airports, but this seemed different. Maybe Iâ€™m imagining things, but I got the strong sense of being on a list. Maybe it was just the culture gap.
You see, thatâ€™s the other thing. The British Starsky and Hutch were Apu and Mustafa, two brown guys from over the rainbow. Their English was fine, but it had the hint of the exotic, suggesting they grew up speaking something other than English at home. They also had the narrowness that is typical of the South Asian. Thereâ€™s always a barrier that exists between the Occidental and the Oriental, despite the degree of shared experience. There is an inscrutableness there that always leaves a degree of uncertainty between usâ€¦
After getting sprung from gaol, I was free to explore the giant shopping mall that is the Heathrow airport. The best I could tell, all of the employees were either brown people from over the horizon or Eastern Europeans. I got something to eat and all of the wait staff was not British. Given the international flavor of the passengers, you would be hard pressed to know you were in the heart of Britain. They donâ€™t even have televisions playing the BBC or local sporting events. Heathrow is a foreign country disguised as an airportâ€¦
Iâ€™ve been in a great many airports in my life and I have a weird fascination for them. Most airports serving big cities are really just complex systems that have evolved over many years to solve evolving problems of air travel. An airport is a solution for a problem of modern life. As a result, you can learn a lot about the evolution of human organization by observing what happens at the big airports. Their design is similar everywhere, but everywhere is not the same, so the airport says something about the local culture. …
On the fight from Lagos to London, a couple of Africans were across the aisle, one row up, from where I was sitting. Both were dressed up in what Hollywood tells us is traditional African dress for African royalty. Their accents suggested Ghana to me. At some point, the male got very agitated at the person in front of him, who had reclined her chair. He started violently shaking her chair-back and hollering something. Two stewards came over and gave him a lecture about his behavior and airplane etiquette.
Watching the two of them struggle to understand how to be passengers on an airplane, I realized what it would be like to bring Stone Age people into this age. The two of them were just too dumb to navigate plane transport. They were frustrated by the food service process. They struggled to understand simple directions. When the plane landed, they got up and started walking down the aisle, while the plane was still taxiing to the gate. They are primitives incapable of existing in a modern society, without constant supervisionâ€¦
Walking around Heathrow, it is easy to see why our rulers love multiculturalism. They look at the diversity you see at a big intentional airport and they think of it as the Casablanca of this age. It makes them feel worldly and sophisticated. That brown guy in their department with the perfect continental English is not just a colleague. He is a symbol of what makes them special. They are not provincials. They are worldly cosmopolitans. They never see the other side of it. They just see the good part of the transaction.
The BBC has decided to attempt to rebut Kenneth Clark’s magisterial tour d’horizon of Western Art, the 13-part 1969 television series “Civilization.” This rejoinder on behalf of our contemporary Woke Multicultural Establishment begins appearing Tuesday evening in the United States on PBS.
Kenneth Clark singlehandedly took viewers from Greek Antiquity to the 20th Century, but correcting Clark’s Eurocentric emphasis on Dead White Great Men apparently requires three presenters: Classicist Mary Beard, the talented (but respectably progressive) historian Simon Schama, and (the Nigerian and therefore full-fledged representative of the viewpoint of persons and cultures of Color) David Olusoga.
Andrew Ferguson, at the Weekly Standard, has seen the series, and warns us what to expect:
[Civilizations] is kind of Clark-like â€”a catalogue of glorious creations followed by a vision of an art form in an advanced state of spiritual exhaustion. The difference is that the decline of an art form saddened Clark. Each of the episodes of Civilisations that Iâ€™ve seen ends with a celebratory profile of a contemporary artist. Invariably their work suffers in comparison with whatâ€™s gone beforeâ€”how could it not?â€”but the moments serve a summary purpose.
The episode called â€œHow Do We Look?â€ closes with Kehinde Wiley, the artist who recently completed the official presidential portrait of Barack Obama. The narrator describes Wiley as a practitioner of â€œthe modern art of the body,â€ which â€œdraws its powerâ€ from â€œchallenging the tradition of classical art.â€ Of course he lives in Brooklyn but â€œhe has traveled all over the world to explore the legacy of colonialism and the different ways we see.â€ Suddenly we see him in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, moving from masterpiece to masterpiece. A tinny ensemble plays Vivaldiâ€”a fusty reminder of the distant past. â€œI love the history of art,â€ he tells the camera. â€œI love looking at these beautiful images. But I also recognize that thereâ€™s something quite sinister about their past.â€
â€œSinisterâ€ sounds judgmental, doesnâ€™t it? So judgmental indeed that I donâ€™t think even Clark used it at all in his Civilisation. But it nicely summarizes the attitude toward the West that viewers of the new Civilisations will find unavoidable, even if theyâ€™re confident enough to find it unpersuasive.
Next to life-enhancing, the most important word in Clarkâ€™s account of civilization was confidence. Several things came together to make a civilization, Clark said: a measure of material prosperity, a sense of history, a range of vision, and a feeling of permanence, of being situated in a particular moment between past and future, that makes it worthwhile to construct things meant to last.
â€œBut far more,â€ he said, â€œit requires confidenceâ€”confidence in the society in which one lives, belief in its philosophy, belief in its laws, confidence in oneâ€™s own mental powers.â€ His program was an effort to persuade his audience that confidence in their inherited civilization was well-earned.
In the closing moments of the final episode of Civilisation, Clark intended to strike a note of optimism. â€œWhen I look at the world about me in the light of these programs, I donâ€™t at all feel as though we are entering on a new period of barbarism,â€ he said. He shows us the campus of the then-new University of East Anglia. Apple-cheeked college students pop in and out of classrooms, labor over booksâ€”the baby boomers as Clark hoped they were in 1969. â€œThese inheritors of all our catastrophes look cheerful enough. . . . In fact, I should doubt if so many people have ever been as well-fed, as well-read, as bright-minded, as curious, and as critical as the young are today.â€
Watching at home, we can assume, was the 14-year-old Mary Beard, all a-tingle and raring to go to college herself, where she could use her curiosity and reading and bright-mindedness to prove the great man and his theory wrong.
The plan to â€˜reimagineâ€™ the Alamo is well underwayâ€¦ and itâ€™s a giant load of crap.
A plan to restore and â€˜reimagineâ€™ the Alamo been in the works for some years, and itâ€™s not just a sprucing up of the place.
Itâ€™s a whole new â€˜reimaginedâ€™ Alamo that wonâ€™t focus on the battle that the site is known for.
The Master Planner of the project, George Skarmeas, said, â€˜We cannot single out one moment in time.â€™ …
The Master Plan includes items that cover 300 years of history but will focus on the diversity of cultures of the area. The plan includes being â€˜inclusiveâ€™ by â€˜telling all sides of the military storyâ€™.
“The settlement of other continents by Europeans is called colonialism. The settlement of Europe by people from other continents is called multiculturalism and emergence of a global society.” –Anonymous.
Samuel Biagetti finds an important parallel between the youthful middle-class community of fashion’s preference in furniture and its inner life.
Suppose for the moment that our young couple of today… Jennifer and Jason, are members of the upper middle class, living off their smarts and social connections rather than manual work. They live in the Sun Belt, in some newly gentrifying neighborhood of Queens, or in its equivalent in Montreal or Melbourne. They have college degrees and, even more importantly, college friends, which help to pull them up the slippery slope of middle-class employment. They are part of a scrambled white-collar workforce, drawn from all parts of the country and abroad, a lumpenbourgeoisie squeezing itself into selected wards of a few expensive cities. They follow trends in food, and music, and long-form television. Their politics are probably (but not definitely) liberal.
Let us further entertain the idea that in our time as in Dickensâ€™, life imitates furniture, and that we will learn something about our young couple if we consider where they house their underwear. If we picture Jennifer and Jasonâ€™s bedroom, it is not hard to guess what we would see there: a good deal of IKEA. Their IKEA dressers are probably black or white, or maybe covered in a veneer â€” something light but earthy, such as birch. Beneath the veneer, however, is not a cheaper wood like local poplar, but particle board â€” a material that would befuddle Dickens and his contemporaries.
Consider more closely where this IKEA dresser and its underlying substance came from. That story begins at a logging camp somewhere in the world â€” quite possibly in an illegally harvested old-growth forest in Russia or China. (It is impossible to say exactly, since IKEA has torpedoed laws that would require them to disclose their sources.) The loggers in this mystery forest fell trees of various sorts and pass them on to a logging company that might manage scores of camps. The logging company then sells the trees to a sawmill which gathers material from several dozen logging companies and cuts them into boards. Several sawmills in a region then supply the lumber to a larger board-mill that cuts the wood into even smaller pieces. Small suppliers buy the board from several board-mills and transport a portion of it to large suppliers, which in turn gather and pulverize the various materials in a chemical soup and press it into lighter, cheaper chunks. IKEA then buys this â€œcomposite materialâ€ to cut into the components of a Malm or Hemnes, sorts it into boxes, and distributes it to over 300 stores around the world, leaving the final assembly to the customers. Even a simple desk or dresser contains, by IKEAâ€™s own admission, at least 26 different species of wood from at least 18 different countries â€” and usually far more. The result is a sleek but crumbly piece of furniture, sure to camouflage into any new apartment. Jennifer and Jason use their dressers every day without a thought as to the work or the materials that made them.
We must not sneer at Jennifer and Jason, many readers are sure to point out, for choosing IKEA. Their incomes, though high in the global scale, are likely to be lower than their parentsâ€™ were, and they often have to move in order to climb the employment ladder. It is only reasonable for them to buy something inexpensive, transportable, and replaceable. IKEA fulfills an important niche in the middle-class market â€” for cheap furniture that still retains a semblance of respectability. The company has exploited this market to become the global empire that Sweden never had, a kind of Viking revenge on the modern age.
Still, there is a good chance that Jennifer and Jason actually like their IKEA dressers, and prefer them to the old oak chest that their grandparents tried to foist on them. Indeed, the extraordinary popularity of IKEA testifies not only to its convenience but to its ability to appeal to the middle-class self-image. Jennifer and Jason are drawn to IKEA because it reflects who they are: they too are modern, movable, and interchangeable, their wants satisfiable in any neighborhood with a food co-op and a coffee shop. More fundamentally, Jennifer and Jason are untraceable, a â€œcomposite materialâ€ made from numberless scraps and pieces. They have a long catalog of home towns, and their accents are NPR neutral. They can probably rattle off the various nationalities in their family trees â€” Dutch, Norwegian, Greek, and Jewish, maybe some Venezuelan or Honduran for a little color. From these backgrounds they retain no more than a humorous word or phrase, a recipe, or an Ellis Island anecdote, if that. They grew up amidst a scramble of white-collar professionals and went to college with a scramble of white-collar professionalsâ€™ kids. Their values are defined mainly by mass media, their tastes adorably quirky but never straying too far from their peersâ€™, and like the IKEA furniture that they buy in boxes, they too cut themselves into manageable, packaged pieces and market themselves online. They are probably â€œspiritual but not religious.â€ They have no pattern or model of life that bears any relation to the past before the internet. For all intents and purposes, they sprang up de novo in the modern city. Whereas the Veneeringsâ€™ high fashion covered over an essential vulgarity, Jenniferâ€™s and Jasonâ€™s urbane style masks a hollowness.
It may be tempting to call Jennifer and Jason, and the the group of people whom they represent, â€œcosmopolitans.â€ ( And indeed, IKEA, with its vaguely exotic Swedish names, provides a dash of cosmopolitanism on the cheap.) However, Jennifer and Jason are something newer and more bizarre than cosmopolitans: as Ross Douthat aptly pointed out in the wake of the Trump election, the increasingly insulated college-educated classes of the coastal cities do not grapple with real, substantive differences in beliefs and values, associating instead with cliques of like-minded classmates. …
Conversely, we must also avoid cheap epithets. The word â€œcosmopolitanâ€ is a double-edged sword â€“ long a shibboleth for worldly sophistication, it has lately turned upon its makers, serving as a political weapon against urban liberals; it is not surprising that a Trump spokesman recently attacked the â€œcosmopolitan biasâ€ of a journalist who questioned the White Houseâ€™s immigration policies. There is nothing particularly new or insightful about attacking urbanites tainted by association with the foreign, like the Judean exiles railing against the silken whores of Babylon. Still, as shallow and hackneyed as this rhetorical strategy might be, it packs a populist punch because the very concept of â€œcosmopolitanâ€ is purely relative: since no one, legally speaking, is a citizen of the world, one can be â€œcosmopolitanâ€ only in contrast to someone else â€“ a â€œprovincialâ€ in the Victorian terminology, or a â€œxenophobeâ€ in contemporary talk. In other words, the idea of cosmopolitanism carries an unavoidable subtext of class superiority.
Therefore, to be precise, the class of people of whom I am speaking are â€œcosmopolitanâ€ neither in the idealized nor in the demonized sense of the word. They neither bridge deep social differences in search of the best in human experience, nor debase themselves with exotic foreign pleasures. Rather, they have no concept of foreignness at all, because they have no native traditions against which to compare. Indeed, the very idea of a life shaped by inherited custom is alien to our young couple. When Jennifer and Jason try to choose a restaurant for dinner, one of them invariably complains, â€œI donâ€™t want Italian, because I had Italian last night.â€ It does not occur to them that in Italy, most people have Italian every night. For Jennifer and Jason, cuisines, musical styles, meditative practices, and other long-developed customs are not threads in a comprehensive or enduring way of life, but accessories like cheap sunglasses, to be casually picked up and discarded from day to day. Unmoored, undefined, and unaware of any other way of being, Jennifer and Jason are no one. They are the living equivalents of the particle board that makes up the IKEA dressers and IKEA nightstands next to their IKEA beds. In short, they are IKEA humans.
For the useful idiot, multiculturalism is supposedly aimed at ecumenicalism and hopes to diminish difference by inclusiveness and non-judgmentalism. But mostly it is a narcissistic fit, in which the multiculturalist offers a cheap rationalization of non-Western pathologies, and thereby anoints himself both the moral superior to his own less critical Western peers and, in condescending fashion, the self-appointed advocate of the mostly incapable non-Westerner. …
[M]ulticulturalism is the twin of appeasement. Once Americans and Europeans declare all cultures as equal, those hostile to the West should logically desist from their aggression, in gratitude to the good will and introspection of liberal Westerners. Apologizing for the Bush war on terror, promising to close down Guantanamo, deriding the war in Iraq, reminding the world of the presidentâ€™s Islamic family roots â€” all that is supposed to persuade the Hasans, Tsarnaevs, and Kouachis in the West that we see no differences between their cultural pedigrees and the Western paradigm they have chosen to emigrate to and at least superficially embrace. Thus the violence should cease.
At its worst, multiculturalism becomes a cheap tool in careerist fashion to both bash the West and simultaneously offer oneself as a necessary intermediary to rectify Western sins, whether as a -studies professor in the university, an activist journalist or politician, or some sort of community or social organizer.
It is always helpful to turn to Al Sharpton for an illustration of the bastardized form of almost any contemporary fad, and thus here is what he once formulated as the multicultural critique of the West: â€œWhite folks was in the caves while we [blacks] was building empires. â€¦ We built pyramids before Donald Trump ever knew what architecture was â€¦ we taught philosophy and astrology and mathematics before Socrates and them Greek homos ever got around to it.â€ Note that Sharpton was not calling for new mathematics academies in the inner city to reclaim lost African arts of superior computation. Note also that Sharpton himself did not dream up these supposed non-Western superior African achievements.