06 September 2013

The Perils of Taking Sides

In Malcolm Magee’s fascinating book on Woodrow Wilson’s “faith-based foreign policy,” What the World Should Be, the author notes that, in the two major conflicts during Wilson’s administration, the president took sides largely out of a desire to divide the world into obvious “good guys” and “bad guys.” In the Mexican civil war, Wilson intervened on behalf of the faction to which he ascribed the most righteousness, although the murky realities of that country’s politics should have elicited a more cautious response. Similarly, during the First World War, Wilson’s admiration for British political institutions and his instinctive distrust of “German theology” predisposed him to commit the United States to the cause of London and Paris against Berlin and Vienna.

A century later, we face similar complexities in the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring, a series of popular uprisings which began with high hopes of a smooth transition to democracy but whose tragic reality has been civil warfare. The rhetoric of the Arab Spring fits into a larger narrative with which Americans are familiar: Subjugated people living under tyranny finally tire of oppression, rise up, overthrow their despotic rulers, and claim liberty for themselves and their communities. Having overturned a self-serving oligarchy, they set up a government more responsive to their own needs and aspirations.

Yet this narrative does not entirely fit the current situation in a region where there are no obvious good guys and bad guys.

Read the full article here.

03 September 2013

Bad People and Private Schools

Allison Benedikt could perhaps stand to take a few lessons from Mark Twain or Will Rogers, because her obviously satirical article in Slate has elicited a number of angry responses from readers who have taken her seriously. Here's the article at issue: If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person. Why?

I went K–12 to a terrible public school. My high school didn’t offer AP [advanced placement] classes, and in four years, I only had to read one book. There wasn’t even soccer. This is not a humblebrag! I left home woefully unprepared for college, and without that preparation, I left college without having learned much there either. You know all those important novels that everyone’s read? I haven’t. I know nothing about poetry, very little about art, and please don’t quiz me on the dates of the Civil War. I’m not proud of my ignorance. But guess what the horrible result is? I’m doing fine. I’m not saying it’s a good thing that I got a lame education. I’m saying that I survived it, and so will your child, who must endure having no AP calculus so that in 25 years there will be AP calculus for all.

Conventional wisdom tells us that satire doesn't work if you have to explain it, but here goes. Anyone reading the article should quickly pick up that, if the author has to resort to such flimsy reasoning to denigrate parents desiring a better education for their children, then her own admittedly bad education obviously cannot have served her very well. A better education might have prepared her to mount a more effective argument and to avoid ad hominem attacks. It really is an exquisitely subtle jab at the public system, though perhaps a little too subtle for some.

It seems odd that so many readers have failed to pick up on this satirical element. Yet charity for the author does indeed require us to assume it's satire, because if it's not . . . well, it may be wise to allow readers to draw their own conclusions in that case.

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can be contacted at: dkoyzis@redeemer.ca