Monday, October 12, 2015

Closing Of The American Mind, Allan Bloom

After a lot of rememberance (some of it false), I re-read the book that along with National Review and Ayn Rand was one of the early works that led me to "open my mind" to the ancients, the classics, philosophy and the radical ideas of thinkers not sanctioned by the modern academy or culture. Call it the inverse of the kind of relativist, collectivist,  politically correct education that Bloom laments in this work. I find the following explains the title and purpose of the work.
"Actually openness results in American conformism -- out there in the rest of the world is drab diversity that teaches only that values are relative, whereas here we can create all the lifestyles we want. Our openness means we do not need others. Thus what is advertised as a great opening is a great closing. No longer is there hope that there are great wise men in other places and times who can reveal the truth about life." 
The book is a survey of the leading thoughts to Western Civilization and what has become of them in the American University. The basic answer is that there is no truth, and therefore all points of view are somewhat equivalent, although the most "progressive" is favored, since it is current. Science is king -- but alas, Science has no values or meaning  beyond "it works" and "we have lots of detailed data about stuff", so thought is atomized along with matter. The post Nietzsche world of philosophy is summarized thusly:
"The revelation that philosophy finds nothingness at the end of it's quest informs the new philosopher that mythmaking must be his central concern in order to make a world."
Once God and Religion are gone, there is a vacuum that must be filled by myth, because man does not live by mere fact.

The first time I read this book, I struggled mightily with it -- and was not sure that I got it at all, but it made me aware that in my single minded focus to attain a career through college education, I had completely missed even a rudimentary understanding of the culture that had created the world I was intent to seek my livelihood in with all haste.

When I re-read it ... I assume in the late '90s, I was better equipped and felt that I understood it, this time it was a relative breeze. Education does work -- even autodidacticism.

My false memories were related to how early I thought it was written and that I must have read it sooner -- I thought it was written in the 1960's, it was published in '87. It DOES cover a lot of discussion of the '60s, which is where I must have gotten the idea.

It was more popular than I imagined -- I read it on the Kindle this time which included an afterword by Andrew Ferguson. Bloom died of AIDs in 1992, five years after the book was published. That fact no doubt figures heavily into some of the criticism of the work out in Wikipedia (linked at the top) relative to people claiming that young people coming out for gay rights and "marriage" is "proof of morality". One would hope that anyone who read the book would realize that it is rather proof of "all things being relative" in the now even more closed American mind.

Must all alcoholics be in favor of prohibition or of complete license to consume alcohol? Must all alcoholics hold any specific view relative to alcohol? Why would not the same be true of someone with homosexual tendencies? Will we someday state of alcoholics as a group that "You are born with a genetic disposition to alcoholism. If you do not drink, you are not being true to yourself"?

Such inconsistency -- and in fact, the creation of a mind so closed that it may not dare recognize the inconsistency in the previous paragraph is the core of what "Closing" teaches. The actual open mind is open to the possibility of truth, error and even paradox. It is willing to continue to seek "the good", even transcendent, divine truth rather than be closed to even the potential. It may not find what it seeks, but it does not discount it, and it does not give up the quest because the current times assert it MUST not exist.

I'm glad that I came full circle and re-read this one probably for the last time. It opened my mind, and the mind of America has closed beyond what I suspect even Bloom might have imagined since his death.

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