The ascent of civilizations is a wondrous thing. On the way up, each generation produces treasures of its own, building on the achievements of those who came before. Alas, civilizations are like tides. Sooner or later they begin to recede. Often the tide rushes out even more quickly than it came in, and within a few generations, society has succumbed to a dark age of illiteracy, destruction, and despotism.
One of the first things to disappear is one’s own history. The Acropolis at Athens was one of the centers of ancient Mycenaean civilization, which arose in the second millennium b.c. That civilization collapsed in an invasion of Dorian tribes around 1200 b.c. A dark age ensued during which letters were lost, and for 600 years no further construction was done at the Acropolis. By the time the dark age finally ended, at the dawning of Classical Greece, the Greeks had developed fantastical myths to explain the origins of those monuments, having forgotten that they themselves had built them.
Ancient Greece soon gave way to the more magnificent and modern civilization of Ancient Rome, but that civilization, too, collapsed. The barbarian Visigoths sacked Rome in 410 a.d., followed by the Huns, who like many other barbarian tribes had originated in Central Asia. As happened in Greece, letters were lost, and the Dark Ages began.
Much of the history, literature, and art of both Greece and Rome was preserved, thanks in no small part to Christian monks isolated in a few self-sustaining monasteries in the Alps and in Ireland, who thereby helped save the seeds of the future Renaissance and of the modern age in which we are blessed to live today.
At almost exactly the same time as the Huns were invading Italy, far to the east they were ruling over modern-day Afghanistan, where they had converted to Buddhism. Around the start of the seventh century they built two majestic statues of Buddha soaring more than ten stories tall.
A few months before the attacks of September 11, 2001, triggered by the statues’ faces apparently, the Taliban dynamited them, destroying them forever.
Something eerily similar has been happening at America’s finest universities. At Princeton, students armed with what Alexander Pope called “a little learning” were triggered by the discovery that Woodrow Wilson had late 19th-century attitudes on race; they invaded the president’s office and demanded that Wilson’s name be removed from the university that he did so much to advance. That he was the father of progressivism seems not to have mattered to these Woke Taliban. Perhaps they hadn’t gotten that far in their history studies. Regardless, the university administration cravenly caved.
At the University of Michigan, opera professor Bright Sheng recently showed his students a 1965 film adaptation of Othello, perhaps the saddest and most perfect of Shakespeare’s tragedies besides King Lear. Laurence Olivier wears blackface in the lead role (Othello is “The Moor of Venice”) in a tradition tracing back to performance practices of Shakespeare’s time five centuries ago, but this is not culturally acceptable today. As Robby Soave recounts in Reason, students immediately protested to the administration, specifically citing the absence of a “trigger warning.” A fellow music professor chimed in that showing the film was in itself a racist act, regardless of Sheng’s intentions. Sheng survived the Red Guards in China — young students indoctrinated to denounce counterrevolutionaries on Mao Zedong’s behalf — only to encounter the Western version of them here in the United States. Sheng quickly apologized, but as you might expect, the apology was taken only as further evidence of his guilt.
At Yale Law School, a student was recently admonished for an offense that I don’t even understand: He invited his fellows to a party at his place, which he referred to as his “traphouse.” (I had never heard the expression before this week; Urban Dictionary gives: “Originally used to describe a crack house in a shady neighborhood, the word has since been abused by high school students who like to pretend they’re cool by drinking their mom’s beer together and saying they’re part of a ‘traphouse.’”) If you’re wondering who could possibly care what it means or that anyone used it in an email about a party, I’m with you, but there’s another detail: The event was to be cosponsored by the conservative Federalist Society. The two things combined made Yale Law School briefly “unsafe” (one of those labels that is both accusation and conviction, like “counterrevolutionary”), whereupon the Commissar for Diversity advised the student to apologize, or else.
At my own alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, an event recently occurred that deserves some sort of prize for the most mind-numbingly idiotic cancellation of modern wokeness: Some students got riled up because a massive rock perhaps 2 billion years old that had stood prominently on Observatory Hill for most of the last 12,000 years was, at the time of its inauguration, described in a local newspaper by a racial slur. The rock, which had no control over how that person had described it, was promptly removed and is now in a safe place, like an ancient text in the library of a medieval monastery, waiting for the Dark Ages to pass. No explanation was given of why the offending newspaper article was allowed to survive the purge.
Read the full article at National Review.