Monday Miscellany, 2/26/24

Monday Miscellany, 2/26/24 February 26, 2024

Censoring both “old climate denial” and “new climate denial”; saving university education; and we’re just tired of superhero movies.

Censoring Both “Old Climate Denial” and “New Climate Denial”

“Climate denial” does not mean denying that we have a climate.  Rather, it has become a term used to denigrate those who are skeptical that global warming and other projections of climate change are as big a problem as many environmentalists say it is.

A new organization in the UK called the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which has worked with the federal government in its collusion with Big Tech companies to censor “disinformation” on the internet, is targeting those it is accusing of hating the climate.  It is now distinguishing between “old climate denial” and “new climate denial.”

Old climate denial, which is already censored on many platforms, simply denies that climate change is happening or that burning fossil fuels is to blame.  New climate denial says that “global heating” (the new term of choice for “global warming,” emphasizing the threat) is harmless, or even beneficial; that scientists who warn about climate change and the climate movement in general can’t be trusted; and that solutions put forward to address “global heating” won’t work.

That last one is the biggest puzzler.  What if a solution really won’t work?  Is it “hate” to say so?  Don’t scientists and engineers need to be able to test, falsify, and argue about their findings?  There are lots of proposed solutions, from making everyone buy electric vehicles to injecting particles into the air to block sunlight.  Are journalists not allowed to report on the troubles of the electric vehicle industry?  Or can environmentalists not object to polluting the air in order to bring down the earth’s temperature?  Are all proposed “solutions” to be considered automatically valid and immune to criticism?

I think any needed solutions would be more likely to come out of the free exchange of ideas, untrammeled debate, and open-ended scientific inquiry.

Saving University Education

The Utah state legislature is considering a measure that could go a long way towards reforming higher education.  Stanley Kurtz thinks that this new approach could become a model nationwide.

As it is, the so-called “general education” requirements that all students have to take are run out of the various specialized departments.  As a result, students end up picking from a vast menu of topics reflecting the arcane  research interests and the radical politics of the faculty.  No two students will graduate with the same courses, which means that it’s almost impossible to assure that graduates have acquired the knowledge and skills that they need.

The “School of General Education Act”  (S.B. 226) would create a separate department with its own dean and its own faculty to teach general education courses.  All students would take the same courses, thus creating a true “core curriculum,” which would emphasize the great books and the great ideas of our civilization, as well as the intellectual skills necessary to handle them.

Says Kurtz,

No one political party or ideology has a monopoly on classic general education. No doubt plenty of traditional liberals as well as conservatives will be hired to teach the core curriculum. And while some current faculty will be let go, plenty of adherents of today’s postmodern orthodoxies will surely remain. In other words, no professorial point of view will be excluded from the university. Thus, a happy by-product of the return to traditional general education will likely be greater overall intellectual diversity at UU.

Students, for example, might take the new, required American history survey, focused on more traditional topics, in freshman year, followed if they choose by an elective race/ethnicity/sexuality-focused upper-level U.S. history course in their junior year. In other words, over four years, students will experience a mixture of the new, required classic general-education courses and the older postmodern-style courses already on offer. Students will be able to compare and decide which approach, or combination of approaches, they prefer. The marketplace of ideas will return.

Such a true “core curriculum” grounding each student in the “liberal arts,” in the sense not just of the humanities–as another academic specialty as universities define it today–but in the sense of forming a free citizen (libera), is what Patrick Henry College has, where I was the provost.  I can testify and give quantitative data for the effectiveness of this approach in giving students a first-rate education.

One big obstacle to universities adopting this sort of thing is that the specialized departments are dependent on  general education courses to subsidize their graduate students, thus advancing their main priority, which is not education but research.  And the new Deans of General Education would have a challenge to find faculty adept in teaching the kind of broad-based, interdisciplinary courses that would be called for, since most academics’ skill set is in their narrow specialties.

But there I am, thinking like a college administrator.  If Utah would pass such a bill, that state’s universities would hate it, but if the structure were imposed by law, it could create a market for general education teachers–and give a foundation that could equip such teachers whatever their specialties might be–and its academic effectiveness might make it catch on.

We’re Just Tired of Superhero Movies

Another comic book movie bites the dust. According to Hollywood ReporterMadam Web, a Spider-Man spinoff, had the lowest average score on Rotten Tomatoes (a site that averages critical responses) of any superhero movie over the last decade, a mere 13%.  Its domestic box office was just $26.2 million despite a prime Valentine Day’s release, and the international sales were just $25.7 million from 61 different countries.  The movie cost around $100 million to make.

But this is only the low point of a larger trend.  As Hollywood Reporter observes,

Madame Web joins a troubling trend for the superhero genre. Every live-action comic book movie last year underperformed (aside from Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3), regardless of studio. “Superhero fatigue” has evolved from a term used by some corners of the fandom to something reluctantly accepted as industry fact. And it’s coming at a time when Marvel, DC and Sony are all attempting the difficult work of birthing new franchises.

One of those new franchises was going to be a whole series of movies about Madam Web, but now that’s not going to happen.

Let me give Hollywood some free advice that will save them millions of dollars:  The public is tired of superhero movies!  The public is also tired of remakes, sequels, and franchises.  (I have some hopes for Dune 2, which is not so much a sequel as the continuation of a literary saga, but the point remains.)

So many films today consist  of little more than what Milton called “tedious havoc.”  It’s little wonder that the movie industry is having yet another “rough year.”
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